As the incumbent occupier of subsidized housing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue works on his legacy by fending off mad dogs of the neo-zio-con right and still bringing us closer to provoking war with Russia, a seemingly eternal presidential race for the next tenant continues while the nation passes through a critical period of confusion, disinformation and social-economic disorder. All this is part of the divide and rule politics to reinforce the weakening foundation of a political economic structure that threatens a global as well as national population if it ever collapses.
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy offers some hope for reform that will make things as humane as social democratically controlled capitalism was back in the days of FDR and the New Deal. This means better for some but only at the expense of most, with the groups showing profit and loss undergoing some degrees of change. Exercising more control of banks and corporations while offering a higher minimum wage and lower cost education and health care can almost seem nirvana in the face of damnation, but a victory for Sanders may actually help the nation survive long enough to initiate a second phase of truly revolutionary change in the system and not just some of its aspects. But many divisive old myths and newer fables about capitalism and democracy will have to be confronted and dealt with if that is to happen. Among them:
That “people of color” are all members of the 1%, or at least seem so to those who think raising the minimum wage and lowering the cost of education and health care only offer help to “people of no color”. Those who subscribe to this belief often entertain the nearly demented notion that great power in America somehow accrues to working “people of no color” who do not have college degrees, whose jobs have vanished, whose income has declined, who’ve seen taxes, crime and immigration increase, social costs rise, public budgets cut, and income inequality assume epic proportions. Particularly guilty in this group, according to many with incomes, college degrees and enough financial security to afford being judgmental of others, are religious Christians, with evangelicals being the worst and most disrespected of all.
This segment of the population is often stigmatized as enjoying “white privilege”- shared along with other “whites” like Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, Bill Gates and some homeless woman sleeping under a bridge - or worse, mounting in racist opposition to social change as a result of losing this alleged privilege to working “people of color”, with college degrees.
Such notions are especially popular among beneficiaries of marketplace trickle down success through commercial gentrification, cheap labor immigration and all other profits-for-some-at-loss-for-most policies. Many upper middle-professional class members of society who truly wish for a more just nation are either helpless to, totally incapable of, or have little desire to confront real power or create social transformation beyond electing one or another member of their class to represent their interests on the board, the council, the congress or at the White House. And that class includes more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial and gender fluid people than ever before. Hooray?
Scapegoating those who have less but are not quite poor only makes sense to the innocently thoughtless or those most consciously responsible for maintaining a system that demands a social underclass in order to tolerate and rationalize a wealthy overclass.
An accompanying fable has it that privilege in America is awarded or denied almost exclusively by identity group membership, with special separatist labels assigned, as in designations of “gay” or “ Latino” or “white” or “black” or more up to date separatist euphemisms like people of color, some color, or no color. Of course we are treated by authority according to these separatist designations and need to initially respond as members of them, but if we continue living by those imposed restrictions we might as well become an opaque race of species fluid creatures who accept further reductionisms that maintain social divisions so the one minority with real power, the rich, can continue controlling an oligarchy and convincing its subjects they have a democracy by remaining in their proper roles as minorities.
Existing evils inflicted upon people negatively treated as minorities must be opposed and overcome, most obviously when they take innocent lives as when unarmed “black” men are shot down by police. But it must be understood that even before the movement called “Black Lives Matter”, some black lives mattered a hell of a lot more than others. Rest assured that few if any among the “Black Bourgeoisie” that has grown far beyond its number when Frazier wrote about it back in 1957, are likely to be shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop for not having proper headlights or no license plates. If Lebron James or Bill Cosby or Beyonce or Denzel Washington were stopped by a cop it would more likely be for an autograph, but if there was any legal complication, lawyers and media would be on the scene very quickly to make sure justice would be served on their behalf.
Those who suffer the worst outrages of injustice, whether part of an alleged racial minority or not, are almost always among the lower, not higher, economic class.
In fact, when a past incident took place in which an upper class and famous African-American Academic was insulted at being mistaken for a burglar by a police officer – after a caller to the police advised he might be one – it became a national incident and ended up with the president inviting everyone over to the half-white house for a friendly chat over beer or coffee or whatever beverage was served. No such invitation has been extended to the next of kin of any of the black men recently murdered – not simply insulted, but murdered - by the police. This is class speaking more loudly than race, and that’s the way our rulers want it. And far too many of their servants accept it as long as the checks keep coming in and there is a group or cause to identify with that talks the proper talk, and then walks the proper walk. To the bank.
Under our political economic rules there is a very thin line between dedicated service to the people suffering injustice, and almost as dedicated service to perpetuating the system which creates the need for such service. Back in the 1960s, rising consciousness and anger at racism led to radical and even revolutionary demands for change. The most militant activists were often hired to administer government and private non-profit programs that maintained things as they were by helping out only some and not all, and soon they were derided as “poverty pimps” by many necessarily left out of programs that would only serve a relative few, in the interest of profits for even fewer. Many of those militants, just as now, were sincere about helping others, but they helped themselves first with paychecks offering entry to the middle class, and the system far more by rationalizing its limitations.
Even now, entertaining theatrics at the Super Bowl reduced some to being all a-twitter about the alleged political impact of a halftime performance in which dancers wore black berets, like the Black Panthers did in the 60s, forgetting that some of those Panthers died for being truly revolutionary, while their memory was to become a fashion-pop culture moment at a commercial orgy watched by millions who wouldn’t know a black panther from a blue dahlia. The sincerity and talents of the artist-performers was nice, and they got paid big money for dancing and singing at a national circus but nobody in the projects or the penitentiary will see a check for that performance, nor will the kin of dead black panthers likely be invited to the White House for a sympathetic chat over beer, or sangria.
According to some of the reductionist identity games played with the consciousness of Americans, we, or at least “Latinos” should be proud because not one but two wealthy “Latinos” are running for president in the republican primaries. Yippee. Better yet, an even more wealthy woman is in the democratic primaries and has already been coronated as first CEO of the empire to use the lady’s room and not the men’s room before giving orders to destroy one or another nation. Wowee, is this an exceptional nation, or what?
War, colonialism, racism, sexism and all the other categories of inhumanity still practiced and profitable to minorities must end if we are to have a future as a truly human race. Some parts of Islam have it that “there is no god but god” and that needs no science to be accepted by the faithful. But we need to learn the scientific, material fact that “there is no race but human” if we are to rise above the material horror of abuse of people and the environment in order to achieve benefit for a relatively tiny group at cost to the entire race. That is the root of our present dilemma, and we won’t solve our problem by continuing to go along with the program.
Living in observance of hyphenated divisions among ourselves does not make us any different in the eyes of those who hate us for what our country does to them. “Terrorists” who attack us do not observe identity politics beyond the identity we share, whether we understand it, like it, accept it, or not. We are Americans who pay the price for what a minority exercises in policy while we argue among ourselves over which of us should be affirmed this cycle, and which should be forgotten. Democracy means majority rule with respect for the minority, not what we have under capital, which is minority rule with contempt for the majority. Vote for what may make us a materially better, stronger and democratic human race. You owe it to your racial brothers and sisters, and our future depends on it.