Alright, I want to talk about Dear White People, the new TV show on Netflix. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to share my thoughts while they’re still fresh. Right off the top, I’d like to say I found the show to be extremely well-written and performed. It presents several viewpoints on the very divisive and controversial issues of race and identity politics (sometimes called “idpol”, defined as a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances) in the setting of an Ivy League campus. I don’t want to go into any specific plot points, but suffice it to say it’s about a black girl who has a campus radio show where she talks about all the idiotic and insensitive things white people say to black people about race, even when the white person thinks they are being friendly.
As the show progresses, the characters discuss the topic of race frequently and in-depth, and in doing so I learned a ton of new viewpoints and perspectives on what is probably America’s oldest and simultaneously most volatile issue. There’s a ton to talk about here, way more than one post can possibly cover, but I want to talk about some of the issues that are relevant to me as a leftist and critical thinker.
Now, I fully realize that I am a white, cis-hetero male. That means there are certain things about being a victim of racism that I will never truly understand or have to deal with. Privilege checked. But let me ask this question, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but should it not be “Dear Capitalism” or “Dear Bourgeoisie”? I’d even accept “Dear US Government” as a better title for a show about racism.
Hear me out. I am not trying to diminish or minimize the harmful impact of institutional racism in America nor the fact that we have struggled with this issue since before this country was even colonized. This show does an amazing job of depicting how that racism exists in the modern era. White people have gone from being outwardly hateful to being condescending instead. Racism has gone subliminal and passive-aggressive. I’m not talking about personal prejudices and biases of course, as every person on the planet has those. However, as white people are the majority in this country and in control of most institutions (public and private), the collective prejudices and biases of white people result in racist laws, racist cultural tropes, and racist government institutions. These aspects of society perpetuate themselves over time and we are left with what we have today. It’s not as bad as it once was, but it’s still bad.
But why does it persist? Why is something as ignorantly stupid as racism persisting (and thriving, it seems) in our society? Having been raised by and around white people for a lot of my life, I think I can safely say that deep down, most white people do not feel blind rage or anger towards other races. This is not because white people are inherently more virtuous than anyone else, it’s because they simply don’t care. They don’t care because they don’t have to care. I can personally tell you that I usually don’t have to think about my race on a daily basis. It is a luxury us white folks have we frequently take for granted. It seems that because we/they don’t have to care, there is no real pressing reason to do anything from correcting racially biased laws to stopping others from making racist jokes.
So, as we are the majority and we seem to be in charge of most things, our inherent self-centered nature is partially to blame for the persistence of racism. However, if you want to really find the source of racism, the very reason why we have racism, you need to look no further than capitalism and the government policies that support it.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” These immortal words by Karl Marx outline my point. The idea of race, as an institutional feature of society, is entirely a social construct engineered and perpetuated by the ruling class and their legislator-servants in our government. The ruling class preys upon people’s prejudices to create conflict within the working class. White people as a majority let it exist, but the wealthy of this country stand to benefit the most by a divided working class. That’s the name of the game, people.
“Sex and race, because they are easy, visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups, and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends.” Gloria Steinem is absolutely right. The rich, who are admittedly mostly white, want poor whites and POC to keep hating each other. To keep fighting. To keep arguing about what it means to be black, white, or any other ethnicity. Indeed, they are counting on it. If we are all obsessed with our own ethnicity and obsessed with claiming our own ethnic identities, it’s much harder to get people to realize how much they are being exploited by the ruling class (the 1%, the bourgeoisie, whatever you want to call them) and how the government is enabling the ruling class to do that. Here’s one more quote: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” That’s not a communist or radical feminist saying that either. That’s a quote from Lyndon Johnson, ardent capitalist and former US president. He’s literally giving away the strategy!
This, to me, is the most glaring issue with Dear White People and the glaring issue with idpol in general: it focuses everyone way too much on their own identity. It re-enforces the inherent selfishness we are indoctrinated under in a capitalistic system. America is all about looking out for you and yours, and idpol re-enforces these ideas. Who we are and where we come from is very important, but if you want to eradicate the root cause of institutional racism in America you have to get rid of capitalism and the governing body that supports it. This cannot be done if the people are divided. This cannot be done if the people are obsessed with themselves and their own identities. A truly liberating revolution cannot be achieved by a select few. It must be the people en masse.
I don’t want anyone to forget who they are or where they come from, of course. Wouldn’t dream of it. If you identify as white, black, green, or even as an Apache attack helicopter, it honestly does not matter as long as you don’t let it prevent you from seeing the struggles of your fellow proletariat. Let’s focus on what we have in common: the overwhelming majority of us getting our labor exploited for the profit of the ruling class and the state. A black woman and a white man, both of whom make minimum wage, have wayyyyyyy (7 y’s!) more in common with one another than the black woman does with Oprah Winfrey or the white man has with Bill Gates. We have to look past the physical differences we have and see each other how the ruling class sees us: as cheap and replaceable labor.
I’m not here to start a pissing contest about which group of people is exploited more or who has had it worse, because the obvious answer is that POC, women, religious minorities, and LGBTQ community usually have it the worst out of any portion of the working class. That’s obvious. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. One suggestion for white comrades: stop getting pissed off when a POC calls you on your racism. Instead, just stop being racist. Even if you think you aren’t being racist, you aren’t the person who gets to decide that. Simply stop doing the thing they are asking you to stop doing. It’s not hard. I did it, and so can you. To my black comrades and other POC comrades: please be patient with us. That’s a lot to ask for after 500 years of oppression, but we are coming around slowly, believe it or not. You can help by continuing to call us out on our racism when you see it, and also by pointing out the similarities between us instead of the differences.
I don’t know exactly what each person should say to another in any given situation, so I won’t try to tell you. Generally though everyone should be as respectful of one another as possible, be patient, express yourselves clearly, and always remember that at the end of the conversation you are both workers who’s labor is exploited for the profit of others. I don’t envision scenes of hand-holding and singing happy songs, but I do think it’s possible for us to begin to heal divides if we focus less on identity politics and more on our common enemy: the ruling class.