Is it racial or class cause?

Is it racial or class cause?

The “news” is that Republicans do not want racism lessons in American education, as is often read in the American press and scholarly articles. More specifically, Republican governors and other officials have engaged in a series of bans and restrictions on educational programs based on Critical Race Theory, treating racism as a systemic phenomenon and not as a question of individual prejudice.


Critical race theory, dating back to the late 1970s, is coming to light in the wake of recent shocking events in the United States, such as the death of George Floyd and a series of murders of black civilians by police officers. The anti-racist mobilizations that followed, the awareness and the public response to racism have sparked a wide controversy in the public debate on the causes and perpetuation of racial discrimination and racism, despite efforts in recent years to eradicate this racist phenomenon.


In this controversy, Republicans come across as critics of the idea that racism is a social structure, embedded in legal and political systems, supported by critical race theory. Some of these critics even believe that adopting such views leads to the demonization of whites in the name of eliminating racism.


Democrats, on the other hand, appear progressive and want racism to be a thematic unit across all levels of education, allowing for in-depth debate in schools and universities. Indeed, President Biden himself has promised a series of legislative reforms to narrow the gap within racial discrimination.


It is a fact that the United States is a country with perhaps the greatest multiculturalism in the world, a crusade of tribes where whites, blacks, Latinos, mestizos, Asians, indigenous people and others coexist. It is also a fact that racism is a timeless problem in the United States and historically, values ​​such as freedom, prosperity and equal opportunity have been the prerogative of whites, through a conscious and selective oppression of the people of color, regardless of race. Despite all the efforts made in the past, racism is intensifying rather than decreasing.


But what escapes this controversy that has erupted lately is whether the privileges of “whites” and the exclusion of “coloreds” are really a question of race or, ultimately, of class. In other words, there is an abstraction, where because from a historical juncture the ruling class is composed mainly of whites of Anglo-Saxon origin and the lower strata consist mainly of people of color, the emphasis is on race and not class. .


The two parties have raised the tone of the political confrontation with a focus on national identity, to avoid the debate on the real cause of the problem, that is, the economic system that generates social inequalities and racism. This system is capitalism and that is why there is no real confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. Both are staunch supporters and have no problem bombing countries like Yugoslavia and Iraq to serve the financial interests of multinationals, be it Clinton (Democrat) and Bush (Republican), intervening militarily in other countries to change the regime despite the election of the own people, be it Kennedy (Democrat) in Cuba, to support the Palestinian genocide by Israel – no American president has ever supported Palestine – etc.


Furthermore, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Obama himself, despite their color, represented the bourgeoisie and waged imperialist wars. They and their ilk never felt racism, even being people of color!


Without a doubt, the Republican Party in the United States is the political expression of the most conservative part of American society, in favor of far-right positions that encourage or even incite racism, perhaps not in the same way as in the 20s or 60s, but with the same perception. As for the “progressive” Democrats, they are not that progressive when it comes to labor rights and freedoms. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not recognize May Day, a day of strike in honor of the working class, due to its affiliation to the communist movement, and on that the Democrats agree.


The socio-racial makeup of the 21st century America simply shows that classes in this country have color, and the social inequalities and exclusions that are real problems follow the origins of class and not of race. According to 2019 census data, the U.S. population by racial classification is:


Non – Hispanic white 60.3%
Hispanic and Latino (of any race) 18.5%
Black or African American 13.4%
Asian 5.9%
Native American and Alaska Natives 0,18%

Fuente:  “US Census Bureau July 1 2019 Estimates” (web). United States Census Bureau. July 2019. Retrieved June 6, 2020.


Therefore, 40% of the population consists of non-white people, while at the same time, according to data from the American Community Survey Data[1], the total working class consists of 40 to 50% of population of color, depending on the state. So most people of color belong to the working class and lower social strata, although the majority of the working class is white.


If we could imagine for a few seconds the United States without different races, but that supposedly all the inhabitants were Indian or black, as in some African countries, there would still be exclusions and racism, as is the case in countries that do not have such racial diversity. In all the big cities of Europe there are working-class neighborhoods that function as ghettos. They are underserved and degraded districts, where working-class children do not have easy access to formal education due to economic hardship, and the lower classes generally face problems similar to those in the US, such as ongoing and unjustified police violence, which, especially in the recent quarantine period due to the COVID19 pandemic, has increased sharply.


After all, if we look back at the history of the United States and observe how we arrived at the social and racial composition of today, we will realize, that in time, it is a violent conflict and the imposition of more strong -in this case the white Anglo-Saxon- over other races and social groups, always with an economic incentive. This is how the current racial composition of the classes is finally explained.


First, the European settlers (first Spanish and French, then English who prevailed after a 9-year war) exterminated the indigenous people, who were the natives of the region, to loot their ancestral lands and exploit them themselves. Thus, the natives became a minority in their own country, today being a meager minority and completely marginalized from the system.


The labor shortage, mainly for agricultural production, was met with the forced transport of black slaves from Africa, which was a common practice in many European colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, during this period, mainly in the second half of the 19th century, the reactionary theory of the biological superiority of whites over other races developed, to justify slavery and violent exploitation of blacks, but also of other indigenous peoples in all European colonies.


The American Civil War that ensued between the North and the South after the country gained independence from Great Britain, and was apparently based on the abolition of slavery, was in fact a conflict between (Southerner) feudal lords who needed to black slaves mainly for agriculture and cotton cultivation, and industrialists (Northerners) who needed workforce for their factories and businesses, that is, to free people who would sell their work at a low price.


This is how, after the domination of the North, the old slaves were transformed into modern workers, while the newcomers were added, coming from migratory flows, mainly from Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The rapid growth of industry in the United States, the construction of railroads and other infrastructure, the rebuilding of large cities required a lot of labor, which came from immigrants of all colors and races. However, already in 1882, with the prohibition of the entry of Chinese immigrants to the country, a production of laws began that determined the entry of immigrants with racial criteria, which over time became increasingly restrictive. These laws were endorsed by all American presidents, whether Republicans or Democrats.


During the 1970s and 1980s, US imperialist interventions in Central and South America and the civil wars they sparked in the region led to massive immigration of Latinos to the United States in an effort to escape poverty, bloody conflicts and death. For example, in 1980, when El Salvador had a population of around 5 million, it was estimated that around 2 million people, or 40% of the population, immigrated to the United States due to the civil war in the country and the poverty it had caused.


In fact, all races, except whites, begin their historic journey in the United States as oppressed, exploited, as an underprivileged working class. So discrimination starts on a class basis and not race. That is to say, whites, and above all of Anglo-Saxon descent, were those who mainly owned the means of production, land, capital, power, as emerged from the wars and violent conflicts that we mentioned earlier. Indeed, it must not be forgotten that white European immigrants, such as Irish, Italians, Greeks, European Jews, etc., also suffered from racism and ghettoization, especially in the first years of their arrival. And some still continue to suffer.


So this controversy between Republicans and Democrats about who is the most progressive, based on the problem of racism, seems a bit theatrical. It is like any political confrontation between parties and political forces, which, although they do not have differences in the main, must nevertheless differentiate themselves in order to address their electoral audience. After Republicans targeted the “white working class,” with President Trump blaming unemployment and poverty primarily on immigrants of color, Democrats had to come across as impressive rivals and supporters of minorities.


We do not equate the two parties, nor do we ignore their small ideological differences. We do not minimize the extreme violence that Black Americans have suffered at the hands of far-right organizations for decades. We also do not ignore the sad reality of today, where the public education system is completely degraded due to lack of funding from both Republicans and Democrats, and is mainly aimed at minorities of color (Black, Latino, Asian) who have no alternative, so their children are condemned to reproduce the same poverty. Infinite are the examples of racism, racial discrimination and exclusion that we can cite, with the political responsibility of both parties.


If racism is a systemic problem, as the critical theory of race establishes, it is beyond all doubt, since it is an inherent problem of capitalism. The change of the social subject, however, from class subject to race subject, is often disorienting and absolves the economic system that generates inequalities, an expression of which is racial discrimination, ghettoization and racism. The rest of the superstructure, the laws, the political system, education, etc. they are always built on the economic system. If we really want to eradicate racism, the debate must focus on the real emancipation of man. It is a revolutionary process that implies a class change in power. And this is the working class, regardless of color, race, religion and gender.


Alfonsina Rojas


[1] https://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/economy/news/2018/07/06/170670/makes-working-class/