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Racists Gonna Racist, Not a Surprise

I'm fascinated by the constant attempts to revise recent history by stripping context while speaking of events in discrete, simplistic, almost dichotomous terms. The autopsies of Trump's election are a great example of this. There has been a back and forth over whether his win is the result of racism or economic anxiety as if either limited answer is sufficient to contain the full context-- the history of the candidates, voting trends, insecurity of our electoral system, voter disenfranchisement, voter apathy, etc. One could look solely at the people who voted for Trump, their racial attitudes, their economic situations, ask each individually why they voted for him and still not have a sufficient explanation for his win. It doesn't speak to why people didn't vote for HRC or why so many eligible voters didn't vote at all.

Not to put too fine a point on it but before declaring Trump's win the result of racism one must first recognize that both candidates employed white supremacy to contrast with Obama, which makes it impossible to definitively say whose voters were voting for racism between the two rich, white candidates.

This short article from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones illustrates this point. Drum opens by asking the reader to look at this chart:

He then points specifically to the period after Obama was elected to talk about the declining identification with democrats among the white working class. Without making any explicit point he just notes the trend and leaves it to the reader to determine why. One thing worth regarding is that the number was higher for Obama than it was for Kerry. This matters. Whether intentional or not Drum is doing what all of the "it was racism" proponents do, he focuses on voters in a vacuum without acknowledging that they may have been responding to external actions by Obama rather than internal racism towards Obama. He is removing Obama's influence as if running on policies you have no intention of enacting bears no political consequences. More than his race Obama's commitment to making banks whole with no constraints or consequences while millions lost their homes as well as abandoning the public option and offering up Social Security in a 'grand bargain' after his populist toned campaign is a how-to manual on fostering voter apathy and cynicism. This narrative animates racism with a sort of omniscience while rendering us without agency, without options in the face of it. It's dangerous and cynical, especially when looking at Trump's win and thinking about defeating him. It's a perspective focused on external factors over which we have no control instead of the millions of factors that the left might actually manipulate in our favor. A MacArthur Genius Grant winner with whom I argue employs an interesting rhetorical flip when discussing this topic. She very much feels that racism is THE reason for Trump. Whenever one mentions the level of disdain for HRC, her absence of of an agenda, or self-immolating campaign strategy, she pushes back before acknowledging those were also factors and then again finally resettling on "it was racism" ignoring every factor which we might manipulate to focus on the one thing about which we can do nothing.

Many of the same people who flatten the reasons behind Trump's win to a false dichotomy often do that with history. As a product of a public school system more intent on replicating the larger society than creating deeply engaged citizens my knowledge of history is incomplete. Fortunately there are many people who want to strengthen my grasp of history on Twitter. From these people I have learned that The New Deal was racist, unions have all been racist, and every multi-racial class-based coalition has fallen apart because the white people inevitably return to racism. Many of these people would have me believe the New Deal was racist because Social Security excluded domestic and agricultural workers, which were disproportionately Black. Reality, like most of history, is a bit more complex than that:
Though there is little doubt that southern Democrats argued passionately against extension of Title I Social Security benefits to African Americans, the contention that racism was the principal impetus behind the SSA’s exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers is hard to defend.
The most obvious problem with the claim is that it ignores the fact that the majority of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, mixed farm laborers, and domestic workers in the early 1930s were white. According to the 1933 labor census, roughly 11.4 million whites were employed as farm laborers and domestic workers, compared with 3.5 million blacks. This meant that the SSA’s farm and domestic exemptions excluded 27 percent of all white workers. To be sure, blacks — who were just 10 percent of the total population — were overrepresented among exempted workers, comprising 23 percent of such individuals. Whites, however, accounted for 74 percent of all workers excluded from SSA coverage. 2

It's important to recognize the degree to which Blacks were left out of the New Deal and to place it in the context of the time.  To dismiss all of the New Deal because of the racism of the time also disregards its actual benefits to Blacks people. It's also important to understand that every positive systemic change in the lives of Black Americans was the result of our struggle in multi-racial class-based coalitions. I spent several days challenging people in Black Nationalist/Separatist Twitter to offer an example that proved me wrong, figuring if anyone could it would come from them. I often leave Twitter with many unanswered questions.

I am uninterested in a history that offers no lessons for action or examples of resiliency and effective resistance. I am especially uninterested in a history that renders all people, but Black people in particular, into passive objects instead of the actors we have been. I'm interested in working to create the next coalition, and being afraid of the past plays no part in it. I have started explicitly looking for moments of coalition, especially that were expressly anti-racist to understand how internal pressures worked in concert with the entrenched systems they were working to dismantle. I am looking more closely at the Union League movement during Reconstruction, the history of the International Workers of the World (IWW union), and The Young Patriots Organization and Fred Hampton's Rainbow Coalition.  All of these moments offer glimpses of hope and reasons to be cautious. They are worth exploring and illuminating. Attempting to erase our history on the basis of racism is erasing our moments of triumph. I'd expect anyone interested in challenging our history of racial inequity to look for and remember the  moments of struggle, to celebrate the successes and learn from them and the failures.


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