“That black people, who have lived for centuries under such derision and condescension, have not yet been driven into the arms of Trump does not trouble these theoreticians. After all, in this analysis, Trump’s racism and the racism of his supporters are incidental to his rise. Indeed, the alleged glee with which liberals call out Trump’s bigotry is assigned even more power than the bigotry itself. Ostensibly assaulted by campus protests, battered by arguments about intersectionality, and oppressed by new bathroom rights, a blameless white working class did the only thing any reasonable polity might: elect an orcish reality-television star who insists on taking his intelligence briefings in picture-book form…So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class.”
The above passage comes from a powerful and poetic article that appeared in the Atlantic recently written by Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC). Above, Coates is commenting on the whole phenomenon of white pundits blaming the “liberal elite” for causing working-class white people to vote for trump by shaming them for being moronic, gun-toting, redneck racists. I agree with Coates’ analysis here, racism (as wells as sexism of course) was a major driver behind the Trump victory.
I also tend to agree with the criticisms of TNC’s metaphysics that come from folks like R.L. Stephens who point out how TNC sort of tends to mystify racism, almost making it some sort of unstoppable cosmic force, etc…. That said, however, TNC (among other liberation and postcolonial theorists) have convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that race and class are inextricably linked in our American context; this latest article by TNC gets at this really well, in my opinion, digging deep into America’s racist past. Our particular American flavor of capitalist classism is inherently racist, there is no doubt. At one point in the article TNC quotes a 1848 speech by Senator John C. Calhoun; It’s absolutely horrifying! Here it is:
“With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.”
Anyway, the various commenters I’ve read in various places may be right that TNC is indeed writing to a largely white audience and making a moral appeal to them, but I for one think that that is absolutely needed. Like he says, “The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of.” Politics is only as radical as the values behind it. My question lately has been: How large is our scope of concern? And, back to metaphysics, to my fellow radical leftists who think addressing the deep roots of systemic racism is not radical or as important as class struggle, I ask: Do you want to know what might be more radical than a monistic marxist materialist who wants to collapse all of our troubles into classism? Personally, I think something like radical empiricism mixed with metaphysical pluralism, which allows one to understand that all of our troubles are real (not just secondary and, ultimately, illusory appearances of class exploitation or whatever), as well as inextricably and complexly connected, is a way more sensitive, sophisticated and, consequently, radical position to hold.
Painting above by Jesse Draxler