More Communist Party usa Crap.
|They were, by law, second-class citizens. On top of that, many Black families lived in fear for their lives, especially in the South, in the face of lynchings.Much has changed since then, but much has remained the same. Racism still exists, even though it is de facto instead of de jure. All statistics point to a simple fact: African Americans, and other non-white peoples, are forced into worse lifestyles, with more poverty,less access to healthcare, and so on, than white people in general.
But today, in much of the parlance of the political left, the words of the civil rights movement have given way to a new phrase—white privilege.
According to the website www.whiteprivilege.com (which displays the headline “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity”), white privilege is “a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.” In short, white privilege is the denial of the rights of people of color for the benefit of all white people as a group in general.
But the term “white privilege” totally misses the point about what is behind the incidents of racial and ethnic discrimination against people of color. Can we really say that all white people benefit from racism?
Gus Hall, past presidential candidate and former General Secretary of the Communist Party USA, didn’t. In a 1987 collection of his work, Fighting Racism, Hall noted that,
Southern Black families earn 54 percent of what white families earn, whereas in the North, Black families earn 72 percent of what white families earn. If racism benefited white workers, they would be better off in the South. But look at the facts. In 1967 the average white family in the South earned $1,212 less than the average white family in the North. That means a total loss of $15 billion for all the Southern white families—most of whom are workers, of course.
What Hall was pointing out was that all workers suffer when one group is suppressed. It is simply harder to demand a wage increase from your employer if s/he can always get the job done cheaper by someone else.
Wage exploitation is not the only place where “white privilege” theory misses the point. We can see how racism, not privilege, is at play in other areas, where people of color are oppressed, causing working class whites to be deprived as well.
People of color are routinely relegated to failing schools and denied access to continuing education. When they do gain entry to universities, financial burdens often ban them from attendance. The student bodies of American institutions of higher learning are largely white, the Ivy League schools especially so. White privilege points to this as an example of white people gaining from racism. True, these white people do have it better than people of color, generally. This, however, is not the full story. Limiting access to education is the name of the game across the board.
The privatization, underfunding and closing of our public schools denies everyone without the finances to attend private schools a decent education. In addition, the overwhelming cost of a college education restricts virtually all working class people from full participation.
The majority of white people do not gain free and full quality education based on their whiteness, but must struggle along with all working and poor people to gain access. It is obviously ridiculous to the extreme to say that white people, even working class white people, don’t fare better than African Americans and other people of color. But the simple fact is that racism, which divides working class whites and Blacks from uniting to fight against an education system where really good schools are only available to the rich—not guaranteed to every single person—also harms white people. White privilege theory, far from being progressive and anti-racist, simply plays into that divide.
The same is the case with healthcare. Racism in our society has relegated people of color to the most under-funded under-staffed and ill-equipped hospitals and clinics. The health facilities in communities, of people of color are the first to face budget cuts and closings. Healthcare and coverage is by no means readily available to all whites either: over 46 million Americans were uninsured in 2006. That is not to mention those underinsured, numbering tens of thousands more. Can any of us say that all white working people have access to quality healthcare? The same dynamic is at play here: African Americans, Latinos and other minorities are specially oppressed, but this divides and harms working class white people as well.
In education, healthcare, workplaces and virtually everywhere else, the truly privileged group, the rich, enjoy all the necessities and pleasures available, and rake in billions in profits off of it all as well. On the labor front, like in Hall’s time, employers continue to pit white workers against their Black counterparts. They pit white workers against Black workers, those workers against immigrant workers, paying each section of the working class differently, in order to create animosity and division. Once again, the left should never play into this division—which is exactly what white privilege theory does.
So then, who is responsible for racism?
It is not these mythical masses of “privileged” working class white people sitting around on their benefits dreaming up ways to oppress others. It is, in fact, the corporations who use racism to divide working people from each other. A majority of these capitalists are white, but they are far from the majority of white people in the U.S. as a whole.
This highlights the main problem with the notion of white privilege. This concept directs us away from the root causes and functions of racism in a corporate dominated society. White privilege implies racism for racism’s sake, when in fact it serves a much more damaging purpose—to keep working people divided and blind to the big-business hand that’s keeping all working people down.
The notion of white privilege also alienates working class white people who, as we can conclude from the above, have a real, material stake in fighting racism. Even a first year activist knows that the crux for victory in every fight is unity. The fight against racism is no different. Unity in the fight for what all working people deserve is injured by the “divide and conquer” mentality perpetuated by the concept of white privilege. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified this best in the campaigns of the Civil Rights Era. He proved time and time again, locally and nationally, unity proves victory.
It’s easy to see how and why many grasp onto this idea of white privilege. On the surface, it really does appear correct. White working people generally do live better than working people of color. But in the long run, this idea blurs the root problem, the real reason why whites are better off than others, and thus the real solution. If we want to get rid of racism; if we want to bring the living standards of racial minorities up to the levels of white working people, and all people up to a really decent level, we have to understand the nature of the problems we’re fighting. The terms we use must not only ring true to them, but it must also be true.
By Carl Lipscombe and Shane McEvoy