Wake Up and Smell the PR

Revival time is here again.

I can smell it. The nation’s preachers are out in full force. First, there was President Obama telling us we needed to have a great race healing. Now, Attorney-General Eric Holder comes out to tell us we’re still segregated. We work together, but then we live and play by ourselves in segregated groups. We’re all cowards when it comes to race, says Holder.

Holder might have had a point and so might Obama had they spoken at any other time…and in any other way. But frankly the only segregation that really matters now is the segregation of the political class and its clients from the rest of us. It doesn’t matter which neighborhood you live in, black, white, brown or parti-colored – they all spell b-r-o-k-e the same way.

Barack Obama is a likeable guy. Not for one minute do I believe that he ‘s doing anything but the best he can. He’s sincere.

That may just be the trouble. It seems to be the delusion of societies to think they lack precisely what they have too much of. C.S. Lewis said as much. Cultures awash with hedonism believe themselves puritanically repressed; societies long lost to any orthodoxy fear religious dogma; and now with race at the center of talk shows and college seminars, of gym etiquette and prison protocol, we’re told that more race-talk is what we need.

Is it?

Do we really need to spend more time spewing what we think of each other like inbred cousins on a Jerry Springer show? Jerry used to be my vacuum time, so I actually know how those things ended – in a scrum of tattoos and ripped shirts, fake hair and flying cusses.

If that’s togetherness, a bit of segregation might be more civil.

And a bit of proportion might be more sensible.

We can call it segregation today, but I wonder what people segregated a century ago would think about that. Students clustered in groups of their own choosing are not terrified men and women fleeing dogs and police batons.

Actually, you don’t need to go back a century. You can find the same thing today in prisons, at non-violent demonstrations, wherever people are rounded up and snatched out of their houses. The victims are black, brown and white. And they’re not where they are because we don’t talk enough about race in this country. They’re there because we don’t talk enough about the state.

I’m almost afraid to write this way because any criticism of the current shibboleths about race is apt to get you into trouble. Many people, for instance, think we should hear out any African-American voice on race, without dissent. It seems like the decent thing to do after their history of oppression in this country. So African-Americans get race and soul, much as Indians get non-violence and yoga, Native Americans get medicine-men and beads, the Chinese get martial arts and acupuncture…and the Irish get shamrocks, booze and dreadful childhoods.

This we call authentic. Lived experience makes for credibility, we tell ourselves.

Maybe so.

But from another perspective it looks a lot like segregation too. Intellectual segregation. If African Americans get to talk to us about race, and only race, then we don’t really have to listen to them on anything else. Conversation becomes a fairly predictable thing with each party trotting out the lines allowed to them…and the rest of us compelled to sit through it because we’ve learned that to question might taint us as bigots, haters, mean-spirited, bitter, resentful, and any of the carefully chosen buzz words that police the boundaries of polite discourse.

Mr. Holder worries about college students picking whom they want to sit next to at lunch. He wonders why we should be integrated at our workplaces but set apart in our play-time and in our living.

But that’s no mystery.

It’s precisely when we’re focused on things outside our group identities that those identities recede into the background. When someone’s throwing me a rope to get me out of a burning house, neither of us has much time for thinking about skin colors or nose shapes. We’re more interested in making sure we escape without being scorched to a crisp. Should we survive, we’ll feel kindly to each other. Our differences might even become a plus. If anything goes wrong, we might blame it on those differences. But at least, we’ll still focus on what we accomplished or didn’t accomplish as human beings.

What I mean is this: at work, in school, on a team, race recedes quite naturally into the background. If you doubt it, ask why integration took place first on the battle-field and on the sports-field.

It’s in our off-time, with no task at hand, that race begins to loom as a problem. And not only race. Gender, age, occupation, class, religion – any of these can become trouble. It usually takes some strong belief to paper over the trouble.

Now, in America religious beliefs are – at least, theoretically – banished from the public sphere. The rationale is that they’re too different to live together peaceably. And among political beliefs, the most American of them – the belief in individuals and free markets – is, at least theoretically, at odds with a strong notion of the public sphere. That tends to leave us more fragmented than smaller, more cohesive societies. That’s the way it is with multi-ethnic, multi-cultural empires

With common purpose absent, all that’s left to us is affirmation of process. Which is why constitutionality becomes paramount in America.

But even constitutionality can’t be unhinged entirely from common purpose or common meaning. Because, if there’s no point to a process, all things become equally point-less.

Or, to put it another way, equally point-ed; they are meant only to score points.

That is to say, a process devoid of an underlying common meaning tends to become purely and entirely political; it’s only rationale is to produce whatever results we want at the moment.

So, when we get rid of purpose, in sneaks production. Not production driven from the bottom by demand. This production is driven from the top, by planning.

And so you get the commissar. And the clients of the commissar.

You get the corporate-state.

In the corporate-state, getting what you want is all that matters, and the words by which you get what you want, the words by which you score points and keep score, are not conversations among citizens. They’re slogans intended to scatter the herd hither and thither or drive it from this point to that.

Words in the corporate-state become forms of coercion. We’re fed language whose purpose is less to bind us together in common humanity as it is to drive us where we cannot truthfully be led.

It is a language of fraud. It is propaganda.

It is the language of empire.

An empire that has to keep its white, black and brown citizens, its Christians, Jews and Muslims, its men and women, its poor, middling and rich, constantly focused on the most divisive things about them, in order to keep them from focusing on what might actually bring them together – the task at hand.

We may or may not be cowards about race, Mr. Holder. But we’re far bigger cowards about facing up to the way race is used in politics in this country today:

   as a red herring – to distract

   as a red rag – to goad

   as a red light – commanding us to stop and go no further.

No amount of preacher talk can hide that. No amount of cant about race should stop us from talking about the one thing we do need to talk more about: the nature and goal of the state power under which we live today.

Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World: Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Read other articles by Lila, or visit Lila's website.

39 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mtnlynn said on February 28th, 2009 at 12:43pm #

    Distraction by division is probably the oldest weapon in the ruling class arsenal. Poor southern blacks and whites suffered together at the hands of the same people while demogogues kept them divided. It is not just race, it is whatever identity that can be raked up from the many things that each of us are. I recommend reading “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny” by Amartya Sen. I admit that at some points you may nod off but all in all it’s worth the time.

  2. Lila Rajiva said on February 28th, 2009 at 5:02pm #

    Thanks! I’ll check it out.
    There’s some biological hardwiring that encourages that kind of divisive propaganda..
    Human beings seem to have a need to find “outsiders” against whom they confirm their group identity.
    If they can’t find anything else, they’ll locate it in sports, differing accents, anything, really..

  3. Gideon said on February 28th, 2009 at 7:06pm #

    Stimulating article! How real is the risk of the commissars? “Intellectual segregation” in a conversation, outside of educational context is an interesting idea.

    Are we already driven where we cannot truthfully be led?

  4. Lila Rajiva said on February 28th, 2009 at 7:07pm #

    Are we not?

  5. Brian Koontz said on February 28th, 2009 at 7:07pm #

    People only target what can be brought into their sights.

    If they don’t believe the elite are accessible to their weapons, they won’t target the elite, regardless of what they think of the elite.

    The enemy that is not *there* cannot be defeated.

    Putting power in the hands of a machine (the faceless and headless corporation) was brilliant from that perspective. It’s far more effective than the days of chattel slavery when the slavemaster was made of flesh and blood.

    What a human can’t kill he makes peace with. This disgusting habit has led to Americans failing to oppose corporate power.

    The psychology of race propaganda works like this – promote the idea of race as a problem (through repetitively stating that we need to “talk about the race problem”, for example) so that people believe that they are racist, and so that this belief becomes prominent in their mind. Once it’s prominent in their mind, they enter into a downward spiral of addiction to additional, more extreme race propaganda.

    Note that race propaganda does not imply a non-racist society – it likely requires a racist society in order to work. But the propaganda is largely independent of truth – it says little about the actual society while saying much about the agenda and motives of the propagandists.

  6. Lila Rajiva said on February 28th, 2009 at 7:17pm #

    Race consciousness is a visceral thing and I don’t think that just the consciousness of it or a non-aggressive group feeling is racist, as Holder seems to imply.

    Constantly charging ‘racism’ in some contexts isn’t productive of anything but a backlash..

  7. Deadbeat said on February 28th, 2009 at 8:58pm #

    But from another perspective it looks a lot like segregation too. Intellectual segregation. If African Americans get to talk to us about race, and only race, then we don’t really have to listen to them on anything else. Conversation becomes a fairly predictable thing with each party trotting out the lines allowed to them…and the rest of us compelled to sit through it because we’ve learned that to question might taint us as bigots, haters, mean-spirited, bitter, resentful, and any of the carefully chosen buzz words that police the boundaries of polite discourse.

    The author seem to be belittling a real concern to African Americans. The issue of White Supremacy (aka: racism). The resent killing by the police in SF of a young African American, Sean Bell in NYC, and the Jena 6 are very real events. This also includes institutional racism such as the targeting of Black with bad home loans and their over-representation in poverty and prison. These are not abstractions to African American.

    The author has some very bad misperceptions about Black people. Her premise assumes that Blacks get to talk to us about race, and only race. Where did she get this from? Is this a reflection of her own stereotyping of African Americans?

    And what if Black do often talk about race? Unfortunately the author believe that somehow a dialogue about racism is “zero sum” and that it takes away from talking about capitalism.

    In fact the history of African Americans has been one that has tied together RACISM AND CAPITALISM. Unfortunately the author misses what has occurred for decades on the Left from especially prominent “leftist” intellectual like Noam Chomsky who seeks to decouple racism from capitalism because of the risk that Zionism would be coupled into that disucssion.

    Perhaps the author should read W.E.B DuBios, Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, Paul Robson, Huey Newton, Manning Marable, and the long list of African American writers who has written about racism and capitalism.

    What the author be should concerned with is how her rhetoric will retard the kind of solidarity needed in order to defeat capitalism (and racism). In fact her article will have the opposite effect.

    Clearly identity politics is a bane to solidarity but racism is still a potent force in the United States that needs to be challenged and not dismissed like the author seem to be doing here by pitting racism against capitalism rather than exploring how the two are very much INTEGRATED.

    This is why African Americans has historically sided with the Palestinians and what Obama is trying to do is a kind of triangulation among people of color. Obama intends to try to build a rickety bridge between blacks and “Jews” (Zionist) but it IMO will not work and make him look like the Zionist sycophant that he is. Which is why I think the Left needs to be more involved in building solidarity with communities of color and challenging ALL forms of racism especially Zionism within the United States. Something that the “Left” has been reluctant to do for decades. Such solidarity with communities of color will build the movement needed to challenge Capitalism.

    If the author was more familiar with African American history she would aware that the Communist Party was very popular among Blacks in the 1930’s because of their strong stance against lynching and this help to educate Blacks about the linkage of racism with capitalism.

    It is rather unfortunate that the author took the tactic and voice of the ruling class to write an essay touting “political correctness” to belittle and to take a gratuitous swipe at a very deep concern and struggle among people of color.

  8. Beverly said on February 28th, 2009 at 9:09pm #

    Barack may be likeable, if one fancies the smarmy, suave, hustler type, but he damn sure ain’t sincere when it comes to giving a damn about the have nots. Never mind the pious, p.c., “I feel your pain” babble coming from the Crown Prince. If there were any substance to back up his words, his cabinet and advisory team wouldn’t be knee deep in neolibs, hawks, and free traders – many of whom had a big hand in the disaster that is our country today.

    Like so many others, Obama and Holder roll out the race card 1) when it serves their own self interests; 2) to avoid doing a damn thing about the bigger issue – economic inequality and the govt’s role in facilitating such via policies aimed to fatten corporate bottom lines, not individual’s wallets. Who gives a shit, Mr. Holder, if the races aren’t mingling after work? The bigger problem is not having a job at all.

    And what is up with Obama’s sudden concern about racial healing? He ran like hell from anything remotely racially related while campaigning so as not scare white people – except for adopting that patronizing black preacher/street cadence to drum up black votes. If Obama wants to do some racial healing, he could start with providing sufficient funds to rebuild a New Orleans that will return the overwhelmingly black, displaced Katrina victims. This includes employing said victims in the rebuilding effort. Currently, few are able to return to New Orleans due to housing prices and rentals that are out of reach to the average non-white, non-high wage earner. In addition, support services such as schools and hospitals serving poor and working classes are not being rebuilt to discourage the “undesirables” from seeking residence.

    Just what kind of “healing” and discussion of race do these dolts have in mind? And what happens after we convene, sing Kumbaya, become even more cloyingly p.c. than we are now? Oh yeah. We go back to our about to be foreclosed on homes or to a rental that eats up over a third of our wage-stagnant paycheck; continue our exercise in futility, i.e., seeking gainful employment; worry about paying bills; postponing medical treatment til it’s too late; watch friends/family get shipped off to wars that don’t have a damn thing to do with spreading freedom and democracy; etc., etc. Wow. Won’t we be some busy racially healed campers?

  9. Deadbeat said on February 28th, 2009 at 9:13pm #

    Brian Koontz writes …

    What a human can’t kill he makes peace with. This disgusting habit has led to Americans failing to oppose corporate power.

    Huh Brian did you forget about the GM sit-down strike of 1937 and the union struggles of that period. Apparently people where challenging the corporate power; the banks; etc. throughout the Progressive Era. What happened was that the “white” working class was bought out after WWII and radical and leftist were crushed by McCarthyism. It has now taken 3 generations for the Capitalism to hit the proverbial fan. During the past 60 years, because of the unique position of the U.S., people assumed that their living standard would rise automatically and that they didn’t need unions and solidarity.

    That right Brian all those suburbs being built after WWII was to DIVIDE the white working class from people of color as they were relegated to the “ghettos”. It was WHITES who got the AFFIRMATIVE ACTION of the GI-Bill and Social Security and and FHA and Small Business loans. Apparently you fell for the author’s troll as she presented a selected view of politics and omits the history after WWII that created the the American Dream that is now turning into a NIGHTMARE.

  10. Deadbeat said on February 28th, 2009 at 9:25pm #

    Beverly writes …

    Just what kind of “healing” and discussion of race do these dolts have in mind? And what happens after we convene, sing Kumbaya, become even more cloyingly p.c. than we are now?

    Kumbaya won’t happen. Unlike white America who can be bought off with nationalism, Blacks economic situation is so dire that brothers and sisters remain practical. Until there is an electoral alternative to Obama he still will have the support of African Americans but unlike what is implied by the author, Black people live with the day to day events like the SF killing, Sean Bell and the locking up of Blacks they won’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors.

    So IMO let Obama and Holder talk about race. Bringing up the issue can’t hurt and it sets a better tone than GWB, Clinton, and Reagan. But the fact that it won’t result in any material change means that Blacks especially during these economic times will have to engage in more radical solutions to solve their problems.

  11. Lila Rajiva said on March 1st, 2009 at 5:23am #

    Actually, I am quite familiar with African-American history in this country.

    My comment had nothing to do with it and I don’t presume, as some do, to speak for any group. They are all quite capable of speaking for themselves. And do.

    I spoke as an individualist and a a minority myself.

    My perception has been that the way we talk about race in this country is in fact divisive.

    By, the way replying to reader comments is not “trolling.” It’s engaging your readers.

    It’s quite clear, even from this exchange, how little anyone can say on race, even respectfully, without inviting ad hominem.

    That’s exactly my point.

  12. Tree said on March 1st, 2009 at 6:54am #

    I like this article, the author makes some very good points. By coincidence, I watched an interview with a linguist (can’t think of his name just now–McWhorsley?) on Bill Moyers Friday night who stated similar ideas.
    How much longer do we have to feel sorry for Blacks in America when the fact is they have achieved all levels of success and exist at all levels of society? Let’s drop the “Black” and “White” talk and deal with the real issues.

    It seems in the comments only Deadbeat is set on replaying the same old scenarios and stereotypes. I think people, and I mean all people, need to drop the victimization talk in order to move forward and create a better society. When one group not only believes it’s more disadvantaged than other groups but puts a great deal of effort into saying so, no progress will be made.

  13. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 7:00am #

    Perfectly stated, Beverly.

  14. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 1st, 2009 at 8:39am #



    Only love, Jesus Christ, Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, Mao, Liberation-Theology, humanism, forgiveness, morality, peace, and a total spiritual change in each american citizen can save this country from collapsing and destrying itself !!

  15. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 1st, 2009 at 8:52am #

    Lila Rajiva: i am sorry to not be in agreement with you. But the history of USA has been a history of death, blood, and suffering against the black population and other oppressed races of this country. Racism is still real in the US fascistic capitalist empire. We need to dig out the racism of this society more not less. And as Bob Avakian from the US Revolutionary Communist Party said, that in order to reach race equality, blacks and oppressed sectors of this society like women, gays, workers, etc. need more special treatment than the priveleged sectors like the white upper class citizens.

    What USA needs is a socialist system, a people’s state, a workers state in which the opressed of today, seize the corporate-state, overthrow its fascistic laws, reform it totally in order to democratize this nation.

    We cannot fix the USA without a socialist theory, without a revolutionary theory of the state. Ron Paul, Kucinich, and other mainstream political candidates had good intentions, but their theory and program is/was flawed.

    You cannot fix capitalist-state from the inside of a capitalist-state.


  16. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 8:55am #

    What is racism? And what causes it?

    The experience of a people can never be collectively reconciled in a meaningful satifactory way.

    Racism is an invention used to perpetuate by extention imperial tool of divide and rule, one used regularly by power structures of all sorts.

    Historically, slavery is not racial. But what is racism? This is not simply an attempt to perform some kind of reductio ad absurdum argument. The kind of deep demonizing that the State of Israel appears to have generated so that large portions of Israeli citizens see Palestinians in a sub-human way is a case in point. This is a condition not simply of one person’s prejudice towards another, but a tool used to control and dominate. Such control and domination is not simply a one on one issue. It is a systematic demonization of the other, to make the other less human and therefore unworthy of life itself. It sets the case for war, for genocide, for all forms of treachery toward other human beings.

    Once this demonization is deeply embedded, once it is viewed by a population as an answer to their own predicament, they act out the demonization – as do Israeli settlers, and US Southern past lynchings of African Americans. But I would argue that racism is not about “race” it is about power, control and divide and rule. It is manifested as a pathology (as previously mentioned).

    The problem with a “conversation” about race, is it seems to be geared toward the mythical narrative about race (we all know the loose narrative, simplistic and personal. In other words, it is a loose explanation experience). A thorough discussion would require clarity and such clarity would dispell the honored (and sanctified myth). The “myth” is the particularity of racism; that is the special American history of slavery and racism.

    In other words, talk of discussing racism is disingenuous because it will never satify and will always create an argument that cannot and will not rectify the past, nor improve the future.

    Beverly is absolutely right. Economics is about relationships. A new economics is needed which re-creates relationships. We can create through our narratives a transformation of what is, but conversations about “racism” are red herrings, at best.

    This is far from a denial of the past, recognizing the debauchery of slavery, the inhumanity of a people toward another needs always to be dealt with vigilence. But, the ugly demonization of the other is about power.

  17. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 8:57am #

    Post-note: I’m reminded of the German laws outlawing “Holocaust denial”. Is this a perversion of a ‘conversaton’? What say yea?

  18. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 1st, 2009 at 9:06am #

    max shields: Your psychology, sociological education is impecable. Unlike most people out there who think that Political-Science is like wrestling, baseball or football game where the strongest win. But politics and society is different. I mean ruling a whole nation-state, is very different from sports in which a stronger team conquers against a weaker team.

    What i mean is that what you are saying about racism is so true, and i think that racism, like chauvinism, classism, are just *mental-viruses* thrown into the oppressed and ruled citizens of a nation by its *capitalist social controllers* as a tool to pit each citizen against another, or each group of oppressed citizens against another group of oppressed citizen.

    And this is the case of USA, where the oppressed whites hate the oppressed spanish people, and the oppressed blacks hate the oppressed whites. Note how all are oppressed.

    I think that only a true people’s revolution, using revolutionary theory of Lenin, Marx and other sociologists can really democratize USA and unite this society at lot more withering away its racist mental viruses


  19. bozh said on March 1st, 2009 at 10:27am #

    simplicities are connected to complexities; an event is conneceted to every other event.
    and since i like or intend to get mostly to people who are only marginally connected to the ‘educators’, diplos, pols, plutos, clergy, i’ll posit in this post a few simplicities only.

    which, in order to be perceived/understood, do not entail any ‘elucidation’ from the illuminati.
    in fact, the less ‘illumination’ by the litterati, the better.
    ?all societies are structured in layers. this iniquity may have been instituted even before recorded history.
    for further simplifying, we cld divide a social structure into just 3 classess: high, middle, and low.

    by now any child, upon hearing just the words “high” and “low”, wld react in some way. s/he might say, But why? How come? Why are we low, dad? etc.

    so far i have posited two simplicities.
    the third one is, an iniquity engenders another, and another; just like a ripple causing ripples; every [ except the first ] ripple caused/affected by all the others.
    of course, the first ripple or FIRST CAUSE caused by the universe; now we are in neckdeep complexities.

    animals don’t rate or grade one another; thus, the body-mind stress caused by rating [ discriminaton/racism ] is obviated.

    can we either completely destroy one of the greatest inquities that ever befell us or can we dull the existing sharp differences of a societal structure?

    that we can is a must hope!

  20. Barry said on March 1st, 2009 at 1:02pm #

    In America, blacks are more likely to die in infancy than whites, blacks do not live as long as whites, they are more likely to contract diabetes, several cancer types, hypertension and heart disease than are whites. Black incomes are on average – mean or median – significantly less than that of whites. Black household assets are miniscule when compared to whites. Blacks are less likely to have health care and pensions. Blacks are more likely to drop out of school before getting a diploma, less likely to go to college, less likely to to finish college, and far less likely to gain an advanced degree. Blacks, especially males, are far more likely to be involved in the judicial system – that would be prison – than are whites. And they are more likely to be imprisoned for longer terms. Blacks are more likely to live in racially segregated neighborhoods than whites (when one also considers other non-white populations). Blacks are more likely to live in environmentally contaminated areas, more likely to be renters than homeowners, more likely to have only fast food restaurants and limited selection convenience stores near their homes, and live further from quality supermarkets.

    There have been changes in all these stats over time – a few for the better – but none the less, these are long term entrenched patterns. So obviously we have two societies – or at least two – and they are separate and unequal. So clearly there is racism going on – it is systemic, it is institutional, it is violent.

    Yet race is not an imaginary thing – it is not entirely a social construct. Early band societies had to make decisions in their encounters with other groups and quickly decide who was the ‘other’ and who was kindred. Of course, that would not necessarily break down on racial lines – as the various races were less likely to be in contact in the Neolithic – but it does establish a notion of suspicion of those who appear to be different – whether in speech, dress, or manner.

    Capitalism did not invent race or racism. In capitalist societies however, race (and other human differences) are used to divide groups – so while racism existed beforehand, it now manifests itself in a thousand ways hitherto impossible. It’s not new, it is racism in new forms.

    Today, we have, at the ends of the racial spectrum, whites and blacks whose fortunes on average are literally poles apart. We now have other minorities who might be said to be in between blacks and whites. These groups also serve a function in capitalism and we are all familiar with the stereotypes (it should be admitted there are usually grains of truth in stereotypes). We don’t know how this mix will play out over this century. But it does appear that white and black cultures have grown irreparably apart (which is not to admit they were ever one). Most of us on this site I’m sure are white (and male). We will likely date other whites, eventually marry white, and discuss racism and other politics with fellow whites. We will live in largely white neighborhoods and work largely in majority-white jobs.

    So it’s a pretty intractable problem we have here with race. We can ignore race and go simply with a class analysis – but we do so at the peril of our own analysis. Marx is required but insufficient. Feminist theory is required but insufficient. Diversity studies are required but woefully insufficient. And in a society where genetic science is increasingly revealing racial differences, how much of it do we reject outright and what do we incorporate into social analyses?

    I have no faith that the deepening depression we now live in will bring us together to overthrow the system that put us here. I have no faith that working and middle classes will discard race and band as one against corporate culture. It seems to be out of our hands – there is far too much suspicion that functions as a bulwark against recognizing commonalities.

  21. Lila Rajiva said on March 1st, 2009 at 3:19pm #

    I have no great faith in political coalitions either…
    But politics is not the only way to effect change
    There are many tools of empowerment…..
    Education is one.

  22. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 4:41pm #

    “Yet race is not an imaginary thing – it is not entirely a social construct.”

    But of course it is a social construct! A social construct is real. The term race has defied clear definition from a biological perspective. It is purely a social construct.

    That there are greater cases of certain diseases among black Americans as well as increased incarceration all need to be taken with some understanding of which is environmentally based (and re-inforced) and what might be genetic, but for the most part, the Western diet alone creates most of the diseases you mention. So, what is it about a given population that exposes them to more of the so-called Western diet than more affluent Americans – primarily it’s economics as well as education. This is not to deny that various human populations have acquired genetic adaptations, but these are not examples of “racism”.

    Incarceration is certainly a social construct. The mere fact, Barry that you said it was primarilly systemic indicates that this is a social construct.

    This is an important point, because problems don’t find sustainable solutions when we mystify them, when we relegate them to something byond the material. I’m not saying that all problems are economic, but that all systems outside of the ecosystem, are social constructs of one sort or another sustained by some feedback loop within those systems.

    It is clear that the “other” will never go away. It could be a freckle or the color of hair that distinguishes if it suits a social construct – the desire to dominate.

    I do however agree, Barry, that this is an intractable problem which cannot be “talked away”. It will find a way to pop up in one form or another (in the future it may not be a black/white issue).

    But racism (as we tend to think of it) is a means of domination. It is a social construct of power. In the universal and more abstract sense it has nothing to do with skin color but with distinctions of one sort or another. Remember the film: Rwanda? I can’t tell a Tutsi from a Hutu. And yet there was a power struggle which bears all of the markings of racism, with genocide and at bottom, that power is a strugggle over control of resources (land).

  23. Tree said on March 1st, 2009 at 5:07pm #

    The US boycotts a UN conference on racism due to Zionist language.

  24. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 5:37pm #

    That’s typical. Racism Vs “anti-Semitism”. The ultimate word game.

    I think racism should be a term that finds its way into the language of genocide and apatheid. These are all manifestations of aggression and power struggles. What makes “racism” different is that it is a tool of oppression, through demonization and dehumanization. Genocide is taking the demonization to the ultimate end – eliminating the existence fo the “other”, annhilation or an attempt to do so, and apartheid is a tactic whereby conditions are created which reduce living conditions to the command and control of the more powerful over the less powerful (a living hell).

    In the US “racism” has not taken on all of the symptoms of domination in terms of African Americans, but it did most assuredly with Native Americans.

    By making Israel accountable for “racism” we have a world-view that sees racism as a systemic means to destoying a group (however distinguish) through dehumanizing the other. In Israel’s case, that state has actually moved on all fronts of crimes against humanity: racism, apartheid and attempting genocide of a people .

  25. joed said on March 1st, 2009 at 5:38pm #

    a great book on the history and creation of “race”,
    THE MISMEASURE OF MAN by Stephan Jay Gould (revised 1996)
    also, Tim Wise
    also, Robert Jensen (u of texas) articles on race

  26. Barry said on March 1st, 2009 at 6:16pm #

    Let me be clear – I was not saying that racism is not a social construct. Racism is indeed a social construct. I am saying that there is a biological entity called race. Today, that term has fallen out of favor – so most academics refer to ‘population groups.’ In biology, the term race used to be employed with regard to sub-species of an animal (or plant, I suppose) as in races or sub-species of Indian pythons or the Florida panther as a race or subspecies of panther concolor (and ‘sub’ does not imply ‘less than’). But biologists know that races exist in animals, even if they blend at the margins. Biologically speaking, this is also true of humans, including the blending part (Obama comes to mind).
    Having said that, it is no doubt true that all humans are incredibly genetically similar. AND, the socioeconomic differences between blacks and whites are indeed socially constructed. (I have in fact, worked on a study of food insecurity and its relation to our capitalist-constructed diet. I should add that I worked on it from a position sympathetic to social construction, not genetics.)
    And my references to the black condition (and the white condition, for that matter) in America as being institutional and systemic was indeed intended to imply they are socially constructed.
    And I do think that racism is an old idea that manifests itself in various ways in a capitalist system – a system that has no interest in mass movements of unified peoples. If I am nothing else, I am a materialist.

  27. Barry said on March 1st, 2009 at 6:25pm #

    Well Lila I would agree with you on the importance of education – or re-education, but education is political, and the people who run the country have made it clear they only need a top-strata to run things. That’s why we have great elite schools. The rest of the ‘commercial intellect’ needed for maintenance they can get from immigrants whom another country has paid to educate. As for the balance of the nation we get abysmal schools, underfunded, and staffed with low-wage teachers. And we are fooled into thinking that – ‘my child is a scholar at Bull Run Middle School” and similar gag lines on auto bumpers – mean that he or she has gotten a good education. What inner city schools need is a preferential option for their success, not the threat of closure.
    Of course, there are other ways to educate people that by-pass the state, and maybe you are getting at that. But man, the education system in America counts for a whole lot of ignorance or relief there from.

  28. Barry said on March 1st, 2009 at 6:36pm #

    Yes Joed – Mismeasure of Man is still a great book. But two things. Late in life he wrote a column (his regular column) in Natural History where he did not deny the possibility of inherent racial differences. He was discussing “The Bell Curve “- and while justifiably carving the book up – could only say where those authors were wrong, not that differences could not possibly exist. (It might be that his understanding of baseball enabled him to see racial differences. I don’t know.)
    And another time, I was present at a talk, maybe in Chapel Hill NC where he said that races meant that populations had been living in near isolation for a long time. And if history had not intervened (and I suppose that might mean the interaction of peoples thru colonialism and imperialism) or populations had not grown into each other, then the races might eventually constitute different species – as in bonobos and chimps. That was his biologist side speaking. He was of course, not in any way denying racism as a prime agent in our society.

    I once had lunch with Jensen. He’s really good on Palestine’s Israel problem.

  29. Max Shields said on March 1st, 2009 at 7:03pm #

    I’d be interest in the Stephen Jay Gould book, but Tim Wise is all about insufferable waging a personal war against racist. He would like an endless conversation that ends with him still ranting how we’re all a bunch of racists.

    Some people want to see if problems can be resolved or at least if they can bring us to a new beginning and others like Wise seem bent on living off the problem. The problem becomes his raison d’etre.

    The other condundrum is the human condition that seems to demand problems be institutionalized our problems and thus self-sustaining because we’ve built livelihoods or University departments require that problem is NEVER resolved. The war on drugs is a perfect example. How many institutions require that those billions allocated to “fight the war on drugs” STAYS right where it is. It’s the institutionalization of the problem.

  30. Lila Rajiva said on March 1st, 2009 at 7:33pm #

    That last line sums it up. Many people make a living off research/activism about certain things – we can’t ignore the fact that sometimes their research/perception/programs might be skewed by that fact…
    A certain amount of separatism seems just fine to me…
    Frankly, it’s not a matter of race…I can hang around any humans only so long…after that I prefer segregation, with animals…or nature…or books…

  31. Deadbeat said on March 2nd, 2009 at 3:29am #

    Frankly, it’s not a matter of race…I can hang around any humans only so long…after that I prefer segregation, with animals…or nature…or books…

    Listening to the conversation herein it is no wonder why solidarity on the left is so retarded. It appears that change will not come from the contributors on DV. It will come from those who can empathize with people who are really struggling for change. The sweeping labeling by Ms. Rajiva of “activist” as living off of research/activism is reckless as she doesn’t identify who these people are and what their advocacy is and why they should be described in that manner. For example while that may be true of Noam Chomsky is that true of Tim Wise for example? Max Shields sure seem so yet he doesn’t explain why he would lump Tim Wise into that group.

    Racism is clearly an issue that is very sensitive to communities of color who has been struggling against white supremacy in the U.S. for the past 400 years. For Ms. Rajiva to throw the rabid bone of dismissiveness is to insult this legacy of struggle. Has Ms. Rajiva opened the Pandora box of latent racism of the Left and the Left’s hostility toward people of color?

    What Ms. Rajiva should explore is how to build solidarity with people of color because right now the struggles against Capitalism is being led by people of color especially by Latino/a in Latin America. Clearly only by expanding and building solidarity with people of color will America begin to truly build the kind of successful challenge to Capitalism and also to Zionism which has gripped the political economy of the United States.

  32. Lila Rajiva said on March 2nd, 2009 at 5:39am #

    “Many people make a living off research/activism about certain things – we can’t ignore the fact that sometimes their research/perception/programs might be skewed by that fact…”

    This is a sweeping generalization?
    This qualified, careful statement preceded by apologies and trepidation is a sweeping generalization?

    I rest my case…

  33. Max Shields said on March 2nd, 2009 at 6:41am #

    I have absolutely nothing against researh and Lila makes the important distinction concerning “activist” researched or paid for activists.

    This as I expressed is a dilemma (conundrum to be exact). Is there ever closure to a social problem once it has been institutionalized?

    I used the example of the “war on drugs” a bankrolled problem/solution which has been fully institutionalized with no doubt a “lobby” (which is yet another issue confounding the conundrum) to boot. Once in place these institutions just don’t go away… this is an issue with military industrial complex which has taken over at least a 1/3 of the economy to support it’s mindless and endless tenticles. I know someone who has devoted his life to “saving” the homeless. Of course, he has no plans to solve the problem of homeless, but to keep providing food and the like. It’s good for his “soul” and “keeps him going”.

    But back to social problems. Systematic racism, that is the kind that incarcerates people of color in greater numbers, that effects their lives in early deaths from all sorts of diseases which could be avoided entirely, and all the stats that Barry gave before are REAL. This is not an imagined problem.

    But a systemic problem can be resolved. So, why isn’t it solved? How come the problem remains in place for most poor people, and particularly people of color? Who benefits from this systemic problem? As a social construct, racism is a narrative. What supports the narrative? I submit it is the economics which is the root cause fo the systemic problem, and that the narrative changes when the systemic problem diminishes (and one hopes disappears).

    I don’t think endless talk about “race”, whatever that means to Tom or Bill, or Sue or Luther or Tipper, is ever going to deal with the systemic problem and until that changes the “talk” will be fruitless. But that “talk” will be fine for the institutions who keep the problem essentially where it is and has been.

    In other words, it is only the material objectification of the problem and solving it, that will address real grievances. The dynamics of groups and dominance will likely stay and manifest itself in some other horrid way with no regard for black or while, but some other differentiating factor. (Perhaps, I’m including a touch of Marx here, purely unintentional, but he like other classical economists understood that relationships and behavior are driven by economics.)

  34. Tree said on March 2nd, 2009 at 7:00am #

    Deadbeat, lots of white people in Appalachia who deal with the same issues put forth by Barry. Just something to think about.

  35. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 2nd, 2009 at 8:19am #

    HELLO ALL: Beware of libertarian, right-wing conspiracy-theory websites such as Alex Jones, Jeff Rense, News with Views,. etc. They are right in some things, but in others they are nationalists and racists. Read what the site News With Views says blaming foreigners for US economic collapse:


    “Every foreign born worker, every free trade agreement, every action by the private federal reserve bank, and every unconstitutional act are responsible for all of our unemployment and pain”

    That statement by News with Views website is almost Nazi, and Hitlerian because it blames non-americans for the collapse of USA. when in truth it is the American population, and the US voters who are to blame for the capitalist dictatorship of Democrats and Republicans, the main responsables for USA’s bankruptcy, collapse and destruction.


  36. Barry said on March 2nd, 2009 at 9:21am #

    Tennessee – Sometimes I blame the American population and US voters. But then I also realize that the US education system is abysmal. When it is not educating at all, it is miseducating. When the student is done with schooling, he or she is likely to be operating 99% on emotion. That’s the reason we have grown men, with families – but with no job, no health insurance, and no prospects – who think the main issue of the last campaign – indeed, the main problem of society itself – is that the Dems are letting gays in San Francisco get married. And they vote accordingly. This group can be counted on in the coming months and years to rail against Barak’s commie agenda to nationalize (as if!) health care. And I am certain our woeful educational system plays a major role in the mystification process – that is, these people have no idea what their objectives should be.

    But you are right about the blaming of foreigners – they are giving gays a break on this one.

  37. Six Five Son of a Slave said on March 2nd, 2009 at 12:28pm #

    As a child of Afrika and the son of enslaved Afrikans who were brought here AGAINST their will(NOT looking for a better way of life..as a matter of fact, history proves that EVERY group of color lost a better way of life since “meeting” europeans), I am completely offended. I totally agree with Barry. Too long have others tried to tell Afrikan people what “the REAL political picture is” and what “REALLY important”, as if we are naive or politically immature. And, almost all of the time, it is someone coming from the left claiming to have “everyone’s interest” at heart.

    Regardless of what outsiders think, only Afrikan people(home and abroad) determine who we are, what moves we should make, who our friends/enemies are, how OUR resources should be handled, etc. Like Michael Eric Dyson said yesterday…”I am not trying to be post-racial…I am trying to be post racist”. Meaning we refuse to deny our BLOODLINE heritage just to make other “johnny-come-latelys” feel comfortable or accepted, but at the same time we still continue to struggle against white supremacy(capitalism, imperialism, or whatever you want to label it). This talk of racism being “divisive” or somehow “an old, outdated issue”. In my opinion, liberals and this “classism” and “We all need to come together” rhetoric is not only divisive, but also destructive. It also shows the arrogance and selfishness of liberals. They are basically saying “the battle you all have been hung for, had feet cut off for, etc. is no longer relevant. Put that down and join our fight.”

    I stand in solidarity with anyone who stands and proves solidarity with Afrikan people. But no one should have the audacity to try to swindle anyone into letting go of their TRUE national identity(not an identity which was created by slaveowners). You all need to either accept it or move the f on………..

  38. Lila Rajiva said on March 2nd, 2009 at 1:01pm #

    Nobody was telling any particular racial group anything.

    Quite the opposite, as I clearly stated in an earlier comment.

    Nor was anyone denying the existence of racism. Racism in not any one thing. There’s racism in India against dark people equal to or even worse than anything in the US. (How productive is it to calibrate human suffering by racial groups, by the way?)

    And as for slavery, whites have enslaved whites (Russian empire, for example) in ways quite as savage as any. No race has a monopoly of suffering if we go back far enough into history.

    The point being made was that right now we are in a financial collapse and our African-American president hasn’t meant that the banksters responsible have been brought to account, now has it?

  39. Tree said on March 2nd, 2009 at 1:15pm #

    What Lila wrote.

    Six Five, try existing in the here and now rather than creating a fiction about yourself.