Sunday, November 13, 2005

Beyond Diversity to Justice

Beyond Diversity to Justice!

The danger to our democracy is not race-- it is racism; the oppression of a group of people based upon their perceived race. Racism is both a belief system and the domination of a people based upon these beliefs.
Prejudice, is closely related. It is the a negative attitude toward a person or group of people.

Racism has produced a tortuous history in the U.S. intellectual community and among socialists and progressives . Approaches based upon the "science" of racism have now been demonstrated false.

Although racial definitions, and ethnic definitions, are often vague and imprecise, racism continues to divide our communities and our movements. For a racist: defining race is easy. A race is "them", those people, the other, the not you. Any group which the racist hates or fears. Often it is a group that shares certain characteristics with the hater , but instead the differences are emphasized to a high degree as to draw distinction and justify intolerance and oppression.
Institutional racism is the use of power and authority of a dominant group to enforce prejudices and to prevent the subjugated group from gaining access to public services such as schools, health care, and equal opportunity.

Socialism has a troubled relationship with anti racism struggles. Marxism has contributed significantly to the understanding of social and economic relationships, but has proven inadequate to explaining the structure, development and role of racism in our society. ( See Toward a Socialists Theory of Racism, Cornel West)
DSA presents itself as a democratic, socialist, feminist organization. Since its founding in 1982, the Anti Racism Commission of DSA has defined itself as pursuing an anti racism agenda. This agenda includes participating in the dialogue and intellectual efforts of DSA to advocate for a pluralist, anti racist description of our society and of the democratic socialist project within the society.
• Since our 1983 publication of Third World Socialist, we have defined the anti racism project beyond the white-black paradigm to include a multi-polar understanding of the role of race and the connected role of class oppression in the US society.
• In 1985 the organization adopted this language: " In our society thater are few problems more urgent than the effects of racism and sexism. While rooted in the history of slavery, invasions, and the early development of the Americas, racism has remained a central characteristic of modern capitalism.
• Racism and sexism are brutal and oppressive system of institutions and ideologies which we must be committed to resisting as a a fundamental part of the struggle for new economic relationships."

In 2001, we decided, " The politics of DSA will be guided by a demand for social and economic justice for all/now! In pursuit of justice, multi racial and anti racism politics shall become a priority in our work. Agendas in our organizations should consistently include the issues of communities of color. This calls for an immediate re-orientation of our practice toward multi racial coalition building. We will consistently look for opportunities to work with activists in communities of color."

As Democratic Socialists we propose to create a multi racial class based movement for social change. Only such a movement has a possibility of success in the U.S. To build a multi racial movement we need to have a conversation about race, oppression, language and culture.

Generally people are willing to consider race and class oppression when they see the specific effects of these oppressions on their own lives. Our movement can not exclude the white working class from the dialogue while we seek to understand the role of racism.
Racial oppression is such an integral part of economic and political domination that the struggle against racism is necessary for working class progress. And, working class unity is necessary part of any realistic strategy for positive structural change.

Some of the white working class are influenced by racist ideology dominant in our society. While rejecting white supremacist ideology, we also need to explore oppression which these working class whites experience.

First, We choose to briefly deconstruct whiteness. Many have been influenced by the currently popular arguments known as white privilege. First, we acknowledge that white is a socially constructed category with both positive AND negative connotations. Negative, you ask? Much has been written about the verbal connotations attributed to "white", "black", etc
But we propose that the same mechanisms that bestow privilege upon those who self-identify as "white" also rob them of the ethnic associations that people of color are forced to use (for positive and negative ends). Being classified as white prevents one from choosing another identity (Irish, progressive) or combination of identities that more accurately and usefully describes oneself. THIS INCLUDES CLASS IDENTITY. For a black factory worker and a white factory worker have a lot more in common with each other than either has with the CEO, no matter what color the CEO is.
The whole argument about white privilege is complex and often distorts the issues of class. The advocates in the debate have all too often been a rather homogenous group of middle and upper class faculty and students whose recognition of and subsequent writings about the concept of white privilege has been, at its root, a positive development. We do not dispute that whites in the U.S. have privilege. But let's compare oranges to oranges.

To be accurate, we should really discuss white middle class/upper class privilege,
Please read Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Nickeled and Dimed.: On Not getting By in America. These subjects are not privileged. They are oppressed.

Many advocates of the white privilege position are middle class, and are coming to terms with their own privileges. Their argument really doesn't work well with working class folks; because they are not privileged. They are oppressed.Having middle class and upper class academics preaching about the idea of white privilege contradicts their experience.

Further, persons, good folks, allies from a liberal persuasion argue for diversity. They argue that we need to develop a more representative group of teachers, faculty, etc. As socialists, we find diversity to be a weak, corporate, commodified goal. We seek justice!
Let us suggest a more useful response.

Some people learned their anti racism by going to diversity workshops. Others learned it in social movements.
Many in a younger generation has learned anti-racism by not learning racism in the first place. This group has learned anti-racism first hand from their advantage of growing up in a less racially stratified society than that of their parents. We must recognize this progress as well as the changes in realities of working class life in the United States as important variables in the anti-racist equation.

By working with popular movements, we learn anti racism on a practical level. The white privilege argument really
does not help within movements. And the diversity argument is too limited.
The people who push these limited views , usually are not in movements. They are talking to other white people. . Now, that is not bad. It is good for white folks to discuss their problems. It is ironic that this argument emerges from the middle class where they fail to, or refuse to recognize working class oppression.
The critique of white privilege has often been misguided and misappropriated to cloud class. Yes, a Black man in Manhattan may encounter a problem getting a cab, even from a Black cab driver. And so would a white person who is obviously homeless. Yes, a Black or Latina college professor may encounter prejudice while shopping in a botique clothing store- as would a poor white, or working class white woman who entered the store in her work clothes or even the Salvadoran sister who sewed the clothes.
The white privilege argument is a non-class argument, and it is often self indulgent.
More importantly, it does not build activist movements. We can move beyond the white privilege argument by recognizing that here is a difference between guilt and responsibility. The white privilege argument is usually about guilt. (not a very useful emotion). We prefer to deal with responsibility. ie. what are we going to do different.?

The important task is to do something about oppression. Rather than focus of guilt it would be better to work in solidarity with people of color :in opposition to real oppression and in favor of real change.

Our goal is to build a movement to change the nation. To do this, we need unity- - unity with justice.
Socialists point out that one of our difficulties in seeing class in our society is that we look at poverty (class) and we see race. We racialize class . As a consequence we seldom accurately see poverty and class oppression.

Lets talk about the working class; If we are going to do class politics, we need to look at our own attitudes toward both race and class.
Class refers to the economic and social differences between groups in our society. (poor, working class, middle and upper class).
Socialists recognize the working class as a potential agent for change. The U.S. has a multi racial working class. Workers of color make up the majority of workers in many cities and industries. And whites of the working class make up at least 40% of the potential voters in the nation.

U. S. unions have historically been divided over racism. Some perpetuate racism and discrimination and social inequality and others fight against racism. Left organizations have a similar history. This division is central to our struggle in building a progressive majority. Are we going to support racism, and divisions, or are we going to build a unified social movement to change this society?

At present the working class is losing . If you are interested in doing something about this, please join us.

Many in the working class are ready for socialism and a socialist analysis. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Anglos in the working class are ready for socialism because they think it is wrong for some people to live in mansions while others live in public housing that looks like a bombed out war zone. We think it is wrong for some people to live in luxury while others can not adequately feed their children. We can't accept that one in five children live in poverty and the U.S. has one of the highest infant death rates in the modern world.
We need to build a movement broad enough, and powerful enough to change this system. Only a multi racial movement with multi racial leadership can organize such power.

If you want peace, work for justice.

We strongly repudiate and oppose terrorist actions such as the Sept. 11,2001, attack on New York City and the Pentagon. Those who planned and executed this horrific act bear full responsibility for it, and should be held accountable. But innocent Muslims are not responsible for these acts. The U.S. Muslim community did not organize these acts. They are innocent.

The assaults and threats against Muslims living in the U.S. are wrong.
Arab Americans, and Muslims, like all Americans, were injured and died in this tragedy. They too have family and friends who worked in the World Trade Center and for the Federal Government. They mourn with us for those who lost their lives and those who were injured.

Terrorist actions undermine the moral, political and economic struggle for global justice. We oppose terrorism as a strategy, including terrorism when used by the U.S.A., such as in the Coup in Chile in 1973, the Contra War in Nicaragua, and others. We find it deeply troubling that the present administration has appointed John Negroponte as Ambassador to the United nations and Elliot Abrams to be Under Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy, since these individuals themselves organized and carried out terrorist activities in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

We urge all to stand for our democratic values and against intolerance and hatred. We urge all to repudiate these racist attacks on Muslims and international terrorism. Our position is that terrorism is a criminal matter, and those guilty should be brought before an International Court, as has been done with prior war criminals. In addition to opposing terrorism , the broad progressive and left movements need to join the struggle for social justice and peace .

We in the Anti Racism Commission unite with the effort to create a broad, effective Peace and Justice Movement. War and racism are combined in the current Administration efforts . We need to make the connection between war , economic justice and racism clear in our work.

The world is experiencing a major restructuring of the global economy. This restructuring is directed by the transnational corporations to produce profits for the corporate owners. In many developing nations "neo liberal" economic restructuring plans imposed by the US dominated World Bank and IMF have produced unemployment rates of over 40%. The economic forces of global corporations are unrestrained. The impoverishment of the vast majority in pursuit of profits for the minority has pushed millions to migrate in search of food, jobs, and security. Global capitalism produces global misery. Matters will only get worse as we are now entering a period of global recession.

Global corporate led development has made the rich richer, and millions poorer. Children are starving in Africa, Afghanistan, and Central America. Making the majority poorer has produced new forms of resistance. Some of the people will be organized into resistance, such as the Zapatistas resistance in southern Mexico. Terrorism is the response of offended people who can not build nuclear weapons and guided missiles. Terrorism is the poor persons military strategy. Lacking a left social movement, many will be organized into terrorism as a response to global injustice and U.S. policies.

If we want peace, we must work for justice. We must feed the poor and the starving. More importantly, we need to change the international economic and power relationships which produce starvation, murder, and terrorism.

The brunt of this administration's war effort is aimed at and will be borne by innocent people of color, first in the Arab world and South Asia. Muslim's are being demonized in the media as "terrorists" and "fundamentalist " whose lives are dispensable.

The current crisis challenges all progressive to understand the connections between war, the global economy, and racism. The U.S. left is deeply divided, politically endangered and ill-prepared for this campaign. The isolation of the left, and its lack of organizational strength, the gap between the left in communities of color and the White left, permits and encourages the growth and success of the Right Wing agenda.

Hopefully this new context can awaken a new left, and orient progressives toward unity of struggle. A left can best be built by combining the works of the several communities of color. A new left must be a multi racial left, for that is the only political force which can sustain itself. A new left will not be created by asking the diverse communities to submerge their issues into one anti war movement .
Duane Campbell
Sean Campbell

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