Ethnic Studies: Class Dismissed

Class consciousness is knowing which side of the fence you’re on.

Class analysis is knowing who is there with you.

America has finally developed a movement for social change that seems conscious of political economic divisions that transcend race, sex or other very serious but sometimes overstressed problems. That movement offers the only solution to the inequality which grows more glaring and unjust. Calls for the 99% to take control from the 1% at the top of the financial pyramid are threatening to that ruling minority, its agents from the upper levels of the 99%, and the totally misinformed from the bottom. But those upper level agents represent the beneficiaries of divisive social policies that have brought personal gains for some, always at serious social costs to others.

This is according to the dictates of profit and loss, hardly free market capitalism. These agents often stand in strong support of socially divisive policies because those policies are good for “their” people. More often, those policies are good for “their” political and economic security.

Affirmative Action programs have enabled many previously shut out of the system to make progress and gain footholds within it, achieving professional, corporate and government positions that tend to make the upper strata look diverse, at least according to the limited definition that word has taken on in American culture.

Almost always overlooked are the shortcomings of AA programs which have set groups and individuals farther apart when action of an affirmative nature for some creates, as should be expected, action of a negative nature for those on the other side of the ledger. A system which creates profits on one side must always create loss on the other; there can be no profit without loss, as eloquently explained to his clients by a former great hero of finance capitalism, Bernie Madoff.

This basic structural truth of the system still escapes most because it is supposed to, having been taught out of reality by an education business that serves the production of individual consumers without social consciousness. This helps strengthen the competitive drive to personally consume while gulling us into thinking as first person singular egos only identifying with groups when they are minorities and thus powerless.

Though women and other minorities have benefited far more from them, the old criticism of AA programs when they were supposedly focused on so called blacks still resonates:

Send one to Yale and send ten to jail.

While the college population of African Americans is considerably higher than it was before AA programs, the population of black Americans in prison has skyrocketed far beyond that. Note also that the new upper and middle class members are called African American – despite the fact that they have been native to the USA  far longer than many, if not most, European descended people who are no longer identified with hyphenated labels unless they adopt minority status and defensive postures – while ghetto and project dwellers of the working and poorer class are still seen as “black”.

Both labels are among many used to disguise commonality among humans. They all serve to keep the divisions within society strong, even to separate alleged members of the same group ethnicity by class. The programs originated to do exactly what they have done; maintain, protect and strengthen consumer private capitalism by rewarding a minority at the expense of the majority.

We are presently seeing a struggle around Ethnic Studies programs at colleges and universities which relates to the same maintenance of minority power of the 1% over a divided 99%. What passes for academic diversity, cultural education and histories of subjugated and neglected people often turns out to be branding labels for cultural and ethnic marketing. It has served to keep groups divided into sub categories in order to prevent them from ever threatening minority power of the 1% on top.

Much neglected reality is confronted in Ethnic Studies courses, but the consumers of these studies are tracked into, and out of, programs as minorities, slated never to become anything more. By having previously unknown pains and joys of their groups preached to them they will hopefully strive to be just what their rulers want them to be: happy, proud, diverse identity groups who support the status quo by believing they are different from everyone else who lives under the same regime but can acquire professional class status within it and thus help their families and communities. In other words, stay divided from fellow citizens not seen as members of their own ethnic, racial, sexual or intellectual groups and remain democratically powerless in a class, not ethnic society.

And so we have programs in the marketplace to reward some members of some groups at the expense of most members of most groups with supposed meritocracy strengthened by success achievers allowed to rise to the upper middle strata: affirmative action. And in academia, the teaching of American history in balkanized form, with various groups ghettoized into special studies that make them separate from – but equal to, in some warped return to past racist policies ? – the great majority. Rather than teach American history as a subject in equal parts concerning settlers, invasions, discoveries, exploration, land theft, slavery, fights for survival, massacres of indigenous people and more, these become special areas only studied in special classes aimed at special groups. Result?  Warped, balkanized views of American history, divided groups and sects among Americans, and a stronger control by the 1% ruling class and its agent servants of the upper levels of the 99%.

American groups identified as minorities by virtue of their not being direct descendants of Europeans have been tracked into patterns of discrimination no longer officially acceptable. But alleged social changes that only transform certain individual members of an ethnic or other identity group and leave larger populations still operating as second class citizens while being manipulated into showing pride in the fact that they are hyphenated and not whole Americans is hardly social progress.

Ethnic studies classes were introduced as a means to allow “out’ groups to learn “their” culture and soon become “in” by having increased knowledge, pride and general academic acceptance that could lead to further affirmation, as long as action continued along officially prescribed system- enforcing lines. America’s professional class and upper middle strata has become a more diverse group in the look, sex and ethnic makeup of its component parts, but members of groups still identified as “minorities”  suffer many of the same injustices the ethnic studies classes teach them about, while instilling resentment to the society that commits the injustices and grossly mis-identifying the sources and power groups that profit from them. Which is exactly what they are supposed to do.

Thus we have “racial” animosities growing as supposed “diversity” increases, and this along class lines that do nothing to increase community, social cohesiveness and solidarity among Americans, but simply creates more division, individualism and hostility that maintains and expands animosity among the 99%.

While it is admirable to connect with sometimes ancestral cultures and often those merely a generation or two away, it can become a socially compulsive disorder to be forced into boxes of ethnic and alleged racial difference while a nation claims diversity and democracy as its credo, all the while infantilizing the first while making the second impossible.

Of course, electing a Chicano, or gay, or white, or black or Asian, or Jewish, member of congress, the city council or the presidency, can seem wonderful when reduced to minority consciousness. But from the standpoint of majority good, continuing the system of private profits accruing to ever smaller minorities at the expense of the great majority can only be seen as progress by the dim witted, the ignorant, the misinformed, or those who gather the profits: the 1%. And their agents, however racially, sexually, ethnically or intellectually diverse they may think themselves.

Frank Scott writes political commentary which appears online at the blog Legalienate. Read other articles by Frank.