Dear White People? Shouldn’t It Be Dear Capitalism?

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.

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Make Labor Great Again

In the past few months to a year, I’ve become a lot more interested in ideas like class struggle, class consciousness, and the rights of the working class, both in America and abroad. I’ve always had at least some degree of interest in those topics but they are at the forefront of my mind now more than ever.

I feel like Labor Day weekend is an appropriate time to discuss these issues, because people’s attitudes towards the holiday itself are reflective of their attitudes towards the working class in general. People are happy for a day off, but they’ve either forgotten or they don’t care about the original reason for the day off.

Labor Day, as it is now celebrated, is fairly far-removed from how it was originally celebrated. Much like Xmas, Labor Day has evolved significantly from what it started out as. The original holiday took shape over a span of several years, but it was always intended to be a celebration of labor unions and the triumphs of the working class in an unforgiving capitalist system. A history of labor struggle is beyond the scope of this post, but feel free to read about the Haymarket Riot as an example of how much blood was spilled in the name of achieving the relatively common-sense idea of an 8-hour work day.

Nowadays most people, even those in the working class themselves, see Labor Day as a final end-of-summer party where everyone eats, drinks, goes swimming, or enjoys other outdoor activities. Businesses even use Labor Day as an excuse to have sales, and then pound us with even more advertisements than usual for stuff we don’t really need.

The ad stuff is one thing, but the even sadder reality is that people whom Labor Day was originally intended for often do not get the day off themselves. If you work in retail, the service industry, agriculture, or a number of other sectors of the economy, you are lucky to get one day off during this weekend, let alone three.

It’s about more than just a day off in early September, though. The fact that Labor Day does not guarantee a day off to a large part of the working populace is, to me, indicative of a much larger problem. I very much get the impression that employers and business owners, along with government, care less and less about the people that make their businesses and offices run every day.

Several facts have led me to this conclusion. Wages have generally not kept up with inflation since the Reagan administration (citation 1). Union membership is also at a historical low, from 1 in 3 workers 50 years ago to 1 in 10 workers now (citation 2). Also, whenever a business runs into financial troubles, it is the lowest-level employees that are often sacrificed in order to keep profits steady (examples in citation 3). CEOs make a disproportionately higher amount of money than the median worker (citation 4). Workers are also routinely denied overtime pay, meal breaks, and paid time off (this I know from personal experience). The most damning example though is the fact that the only goal of a given corporation is to make money for its shareholders. Corporations have no legal duty to care for their employees nor to be responsible members of the communities in which they do business, and as a result, it is the ordinary workers who suffer the losses of the business most.

There has to be a shift in mentality among the working class. I’m not talking about just those who get paid hourly, I mean everyone. From the guy who picks strawberries in the hot sun to the six-figure salaried attorney, we all have to wake up and realize that we are being exploited by this system. Workers have to realize just how much power they really have. Think about it: who are the real wealth creators in a business? Does the boss do literally everything that makes the business run? No. He might have an idea for a business, but he needs others to help him run the business. He then hires people to do the various tasks needed for the business to be successful. So then the question becomes, “at what point does the owner or manager of a business become useless?” If all the workers are doing their jobs correctly and dedicated to making the business successful, why do we need an owner?

Until and unless the workers wake up, there is nothing to keep employers and business owners from shitting on those who actually run the businesses they own. Unless the workers collectively realize that the wealth of this nation is slowly being concentrated in the hands of a few, we will continue to be underpaid and unappreciated. The rich love to divide us in as many ways as they can, because the more divided we are, the easier it is for them to exploit us. Race, religion, national origin, politics, sex, and sexual orientation are some of the many mechanisms they use to make us hate others who are just as much victims of exploitation as we are. It shouldn’t be about black vs. white, Democrat vs. Republican, or gay vs. straight. It should be about the working class vs. the wealthy.

I’d like to think that some simple legislative reforms could fix these problems, and while reforms might make things a little better for workers, at the end of the day the problem is our capitalistic system. It is a system that is exploitative by it’s very nature. For every positive product or service capitalism produces, someone somewhere has to suffer. Any and all reforms would just be band-aids on a problem that requires intensive surgery. Until the workers own their own means of production, we will continue to be exploited, disrespected, and unhappy.

So what can we do about this problem right now? Well, I can’t in good conscious advocate for armed revolution right now. It simply wouldn’t work in the current mentality we have as a nation. No revolution will be successful without the support of at least the majority of the population, and we are a long way off from that right now. Right now we have conservatives (who generally think that only white Christian men should be allowed to exploit working class labor), and liberals (who generally think anyone should be be allowed to exploit working class labor). No matter who we vote for, all we get is more exploitation.

What we can start working on right now is a revolution of the mind. We have to stop looking down and being negative towards the poor. Being poor does not mean one is inherently lazy or incompetent. Don’t think less of a person because they are unemployed or working a shitty job. In essence, members of the working class have to stop hating other members of the working class. If we can spread some class consciousness (understanding your class position and recognizing exploitation of the lower classes), then that is big first step towards making the world a better place for everyone.

The good news is that this awakening has begun, kind of. Although Bernie Sanders is still a capitalist, he did a great job of spreading awareness about income inequality and the fact that corporations essentially run this country during his campaign. We have to take that momentum he created and turn it into something more substantive. More progressive/leftist leaders at the local, state, and national level can help create a new national mentality: one that favors people over profits instead of the other way around. Then and only then can we have a real revolution, one in which the workers take control and become masters of their own destinies.

1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/24/the-incredible-decline-of-american-unions-in-one-animated-map/

3. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/05/05/us-job-cuts-rise-to-65141-in-april-2016-layoffs-at-7-year-high-challenger.html

4. https://www.glassdoor.com/research/ceo-pay-ratio/