How Black Americans See Discrimination

Taken altogether, these survey results aren’t terribly surprising: They’re backed up by the reams of data that show the extent to which African-Americans are far more likely to live in areas with concentrated poverty even when they are high earners, are more likely to go to segregated and underfunded schools, and more likely to be stopped by the police and searched once they are. Black folks are living objectively more difficult lives than similarly situated white folks.

But here is a sobering thought: What if the black respondents to the NPR survey, who almost unanimously assumed that anti-black discrimination was a given, were like the people in the Urban Institute study and actually underestimating the drag that discrimination exerts on their lives? As data becomes more accessible and granular, we can more easily see how race is often the only variable that explains disparate treatment. If these responses are how people feel about discrimination based largely on what they can glean from their own direct experiences and commiserating with relatives and neighbors, it’s not hard to imagine that the full picture is even less rosy than these data suggest at first glance.

– Gene Demby

The Urgency of Fighting Against the Racist Right-Wing


Interview on October 26, 2017 with 

This post first appeared on

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an assistant professor at the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. After Taylor called Donald Trump “a racist, sexist megalomaniac” at a commencement speech earlier this year, she received several deaths threats, leading her to cancel a number of public-speaking events. We caught up with Taylor recently while she was touring the country talking about her new book, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. She speaks here about the importance of building an anti-racist movement, how people can get involved and her vision for a just America.



Gail Ablow: Unlike many professors, you are also an activist. Was there a moment in your life, a tipping point, where you thought, “I’d better do something?”

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: I think that when I first became active in politics, in the sense that I felt there was something that I needed to do, was probably in high school. In my junior year of high school, I had just moved to Buffalo, New York from Dallas, Texas. I remember being in a history class where a black student complained to our history teacher, who was a white woman, that he was tired of hearing about white people, and wanted to hear about black people. She called the police, and there were police in the school building as is common now in public schools, and had him removed from the classroom for talking out of turn and being disruptive in the class.

I had another situation where a teacher would regularly come to the class with a JCPenney catalog, and read the catalog during the class. I told my dad about this, my father who’s a professor at the University of Buffalo, and he went to arrange a meeting with the teacher to discuss this. She called the police on my father when he raised the issue of her reading a magazine during class.

I went from being what I would call a critic of things that were happening to actually doing something while I was the editor of the school newspaper. I wrote an editorial opposing the compulsory nature of the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, I was removed from my homeroom, and my new homeroom became the vice principal’s office. That’s where I had to go every morning, so that I was not “disruptive.”

I think ultimately when I turned the corner into full-fledged activism was when the US went to war with Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. That was my initiation into regular, full-time activism and organizing.

GA: You are still active; what are the biggest challenges that you are confronting now?

KYT: I think one of the biggest challenges is that there’s often a lack of confidence that we can actually change things. It’s very difficult to overcome, because everything in our society tells you that someone else is supposed to fix your problem, or the problem is your fault to begin with. It’s up to you to have some kind of personal transformation or revelation to change your circumstances.

So between those two poles — either entrusting your own self-preservation to an elected official or some other authority figure, or self-blame and having some kind of personal transformation — there is little space for people to understand that they have the capacity to collectively transform their conditions and the conditions of other people.

Having an analysis of where oppression comes from and where inequality comes from — that cuts against the idea that these are self-contained problems or conditions of our own making. And that actually points to how they are manufactured by a system and by a society that actually thrives on that inequality. That is why history is so important: because it provides real examples of where ordinary people have been able to break through those kinds of constraints to change things.

GA: What are you working on now?

KYT: I’ve been touring the country to talk about my book, From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation. Everyone wants to know where the Black Lives Matter movement is now. This is no longer only a question about police abuse and violence. What we’ve seen over the last several months is the growth of the fringe extreme right, of neo-Nazis, of neo-Fascists — or actual Fascists — who in many ways have not just been emboldened by President Trump, but by the people he has around him. We have to think about what signal that sends to people who identify themselves as the “alt-right,” or the new neo-Nazi white supremacist.

I think that there’s a larger question of “How do we build a larger anti-racist movement that can marginalize the extremist right, and that can demonstrate that the vast majority of people in this country reject those ideas, and are able to stand up to the intimidation and violence of those forces?” I think this is necessary because without a visible manifestation of our forces, it gives these extremists confidence. It continues to embolden them to think that it’s their ideas that are on the rise. When those people have confidence, it has very detrimental consequences for those of us who they despise.

I think that’s a big challenge for progressive and left forces in this country: How do we knit together a large, visible movement against racism and its many different forms, whether it’s Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria or anti-black racism?

GA: How do you answer when somebody asks, “Where do I start?”

KYT: I think the first place to start is locally. There’s not a city in this country that isn’t grappling with these issues in some way or another. I think that if you’re on a campus, it’s fairly straightforward what to do, which is to put up flyers and get in touch with people who are having the same questions and concerns that you are. Get together, discuss what they are, and figure out ways to act on them.

In neighborhoods and communities, there’s a similar way to respond, either through churches or community organizations. The main thing is, we can’t begin to deal with issues individually or alone. It’s critical to connect up with other people, either through formal or informal organizations, and begin to discuss what are the issues that are of most concern to you, and how do you connect with the next group of people who share those concerns?

GA: Is there something that you think people can do to fix our broken system?

KYT: To me one of the most powerful events I was involved with, after the election, was the Women’s March in DC after the Trump inauguration. To me the best antidote to despair, to sadness and isolation in the political and also the human and emotional sense, is to connect with other people who are experiencing the same kind of collective emotional and political trauma: to not suffer through that alone. Some of that can sound like new-age, self-help therapy, and it’s really not. At its essence, it’s really about the politics of ordinary people. We can’t confront the things that damage our lives individually.

There’s something to be said about being in big demonstrations and to really put flesh on the idea that we are many and they are few. The transformative impact of being in a protest, where the sense of isolation and atomization begins to disintegrate, and you feel like you are a part of something. That’s why the key social and political movements, over the course of history in this country, have always involved the mass protest. It’s a way ordinary people can collectively assert themselves. You’re not the only one who feels alienated by this, and you’re not the only one who wants to do something about this.

How you go from your living room to organizing is a complicated question, but I don’t think it’s as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be. It is about talking about that issue, connecting with other people, finding those people and beginning from that standpoint.

GA: What is the vision of America that you want to pass along to your child?

KYT: A vision of a just world anywhere means fighting for everything that you want. No one will give you anything, in this society or any other society. You have to know what you think is just and what it is that you think is important, and you have to connect with your fellow humanity to demand that. It is, in some ways, the struggle itself that is a part of what makes life important.

It’s very easy to sit back, if you have the ability to do that, and to just let life happen to you. But it’s a hard country to rest in, even for people who may have the means to do so. The world around us is a very complicated and complex place, and if we’re even going to have a world to live in, it’s going to be something that we struggle for and that we fight for.

GA: What does this just world look like?

KYT: For me, having an economically just country, where the majority of people are making decisions about what happens with the resources of our country, and of the world, really, means that you don’t have to use scapegoating to make decisions. You don’t have to blame the most powerless among us to justify your own decision-making; it’s not necessary.

Right now there’s a billionaire who’s the president, half of Congress is made up of white men who are millionaires. We have somewhere between a kleptocracy and a plutocracy in the United States, where these people make decisions in the name of the people, but most certainly for themselves.

It really is a basic idea of divide and conquer. It’s the reason why racism becomes so pervasive; why gender discrimination, why religious bigotry and nationalism become so pervasive: because they get us to fight each other, while they literally hoard the wealth. People may think, “Is that hyperbolic?” But think about Donald Trump and the way that he’s come into office. It’s not just promising this austere budget of nothing for poor and working-class people and everything for the rich. It’s that it comes accompanied with vile, anti-immigrant hysteria, like blaming Mexican immigrants for the economic problems of working-class white people. It comes with the most racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric, to get working-class people, black and white, to think that their No. 1 problem is radical Islamic terrorism and not the kind of economic terrorism that goes on in this country on a daily basis.

People talk about racial resentment, and the white working class. Is that what produced Donald Trump? It’s understanding that the rich and the elite in this country have always used racial resentment as a way to deflect from the real crimes that they are engaged with. We’re seeing a master class in this right now. It’s a naked agenda of stealing from poor people, to give to the rich, and it’s all couched in the most racist and vile language.

That isn’t just a nasty aside. I think that Malcolm X once said, “You can’t have racism without capitalism, and you can’t have capitalism without racism.” It’s because they work together to create and perpetuate the kind of inequality that is at the heart of our society.

GA: Do you think we can solve this through our political system?

KYT: I think that elections can play an important part. But, there are some things that are not policy questions. Like: “How do we end poverty?” That is not a policy question that, if you get Democrats in, maybe you’ll have decent policy, but if they get voted out, then you’ll get rid of the policy. How do you have a policy that may be this way under one administration, but then may be completely jettisoned under another?

The Affordable Care Act, Obama’s health care bill, is deeply problematic but then that becomes the law. Can another administration just come in and decide, “Well no, we’d like to do something different?” — and you throw millions of people’s lives, potentially, into upheaval. Some of these fundamental questions about what it means to be human are not policy questions. Health care should not be a policy question. Whether or not you get to eat should not be a policy question. If shelter, housing, is critical to the perpetuation of the species, then how do you put a price on it?

I think that we have to fight for whatever it is that we can fight for, as the political system is currently constituted. These are questions that are existential to the human condition and are not partisan issues. It raises bigger questions about what kind of system is it that we actually want to live under. That’s the kind of world that I think not only means that there is justice for everyone, that people have real self-determination — meaning that they get to determine what happens in their lives, without coercion, whether it’s economic, whether it’s physical. That’s a long struggle, but I think it’s a world worth fighting for.

The Souls of Black Folk (Audio and ePub)

Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

W.E.B. Du Bois


  The Forethought
I.   Of Our Spiritual Strivings
II.   Of the Dawn of Freedom
III.   Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
IV.   Of the Meaning of Progress
V.   Of the Wings of Atalanta
VI.   Of the Training of Black Men
VII.   Of the Black Belt
VIII.   Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece
IX.   Of the Sons of Master and Man
X.   Of the Faith of the Fathers
XI.   Of the Passing of the First-Born
XII.   Of Alexander Crummell
XIII.   Of the Coming of John
XIV.   Of the Sorrow Songs
  The Afterthought




“It Wasn’t Me!” Post-Intent and Correlational Racism – More Better, More Terrible

Excerpt from More Beautiful and More Terrible
The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

by Imani Perry

American history is longer, larger, more various,
more beautiful, and more terrible than anything
anyone has ever said about it.
—James Baldwin

Chapter 1
“It Wasn’t Me!”
Post-Intent and Correlational Racism


Today, there is no longer any single articulating principle or axial process which provides the logic required to interpret the racial dimensions of all extant political/cultural projects. 1

—Howard Winant

Since the mid-1960s, Americans have lived within a nation that announces racial equality, democracy, and fairness as fundamental to its creed. During the same period, Americans have witnessed little movement in the most egregious signs of racial inequality. Although the percentages of African Americans and Latinos in professional schools and occupations have improved over the past several decades, these groups are still significantly underrepresented in virtually all professions relative to their percentage of the general population, 2 and, while Asian Americans and African immigrants have become distinguished as two of the most highly educated sectors of the U.S. population, 3 these groups are minorities within minorities. Ongoing and dismaying racial gaps in health, employment, education, wealth, and imprisonment persist. The American Dream is not lived by all hardworking and upstanding residents of the United States. While the borders to achieving that dream are more porous than ever, the forces diverting many from the dream are extremely powerful.

In the early 1990s, scholars studying race began to alert the nation that we were failing in our equality mission. 4 Their accounts were divergent, even competing or conflicting, but few could neglect the reality that the twenty-first century would arrive with the problem of race unresolved. Although academic interest was high in the 1990s, this message hadn’t translated to an understanding in popular culture for the most part, with the general public reporting a belief that racism was dead or dying. 5 But things began to turn at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and while 9/11 forged a thin nationalism across our differences, it also highlighted our hysterical fears of difference. 6 The deep partisan division in American politics reignited debates about race and racial ideology. And, by 2006, the public at large acknowledged that we were faced with some sort of race problem, as evidenced by the decision of CNN (a cultural common denominator of sorts) to run a special series on race 7 and, in 2008 and 2009, to offer featured programs titled “Black in America” and “Hispanic in America.”

Most of us, from our various points on the political spectrum, look to the current state of Black and Brown people in the United States—the persistent gaps in income, education, health, crime, and other measures—with frustration. Yet we are divided, in the midst of our shared frustration, about where we place blame, why we are frustrated, and what we think ought to be done about the situation. These divisions do not fall along simple race, class, ethnicity, gender, or political party lines. However, in the midst of a complicated set of responses to this landscape, there are two dominant explanatory frameworks provided in both the academic and the popular literature to describe why racial gaps persist, despite our nation’s transformation under the moral authority of the civil rights movement. One says that racism has been largely ameliorated in our society but that gaps persist because of deficits (moral, cultural) among these particularly low-achieving populations (especially poor Blacks) and because of misguided remedial efforts that encourage dependence and victim complexes rather than striving and achievement. The other argument says that the civil rights revolution failed to resolve the structural inequalities that are responsible for ongoing poor outcomes for people of color. We are still seeing the effects of a historically, as well as contemporary, racially discriminatory society with inadequate policy and judicial responses to racism. 8 Although universities today are filled with those who have devoted entire careers to presenting sound evidence of persistent racial inequality, our popular culture sways in the direction of the former explanation. We are all quite familiar with the argument that, given that the society no longer embraces formal or philosophical racism and yet gaps persist, they can best be explained by behavioral failures or lack of human capital among sectors of communities of color. Depending on the political perspective of the authors of these explanations, the inequality may result from moral or cultural problems inherited from the oppressed generations past or from paternalistic social policy that offered handouts and expected little responsibility. 9

Mainstream media conversations about racism in the twenty-first century have frequently been episodic responses to celebrity episodes of one sort or another. Sometimes public figures make racially inflammatory statements that hearken back to old-fashioned racist discourse and yet also prompt accusations that the subjects of racist language are “too sensitive” or “can’t take a joke” because, after all, we aren’t really a racist society anymore. Other episodes are framed around the treatment of a public figure who is a person of color. The treatment looks undeniably like racism to some and like innocent or easily explained behavior not involving racism to others. In both scenarios, what follows is a headache-inducing soup of outcries, humiliations, hysteria, public apologies or standoffs, a flurry of anonymous hate speech, cries of unfair treatment of Whites, abstraction from individual episodes to general truths for people of color, public outcries from civil rights activists, right-wing backlashes, and then the proclamation of racial exhaustion. These moments, which have the potential to be highly instructive, often leave us simply confused, angry, or self-satisfied (either because we are not like “that” or because “that” is unusual). The reality is that the media and most educational institutions do not train us to think about race in its complexity. We don’t learn how to put together our understanding(s) of race in terms of material realities; everyday race talk; new, old, and corporate media; law; religion; geography; patterns of consumption; economic competition; and human interaction. Sure, Americans generally disavow a belief in an ideology of racism. 10 But we must understand the terms of that disavowal. What, precisely, is being disavowed? What is the definition of racism that we have rejected in our purportedly racially egalitarian society? In U.S. race talk, we generally define racism as comprising two components: intentionality and determinism. More specifically, racism requires both the intent to disadvantage someone on the basis of race and the belief that a person must necessarily be a particular way or have particular characteristics because he or she belongs to a specific racial group. Likewise, in constitutional law, with the exception of the employment discrimination context, in order to prevail, one must show intent to establish racial discrimination. 11 This is an extraordinarily difficult standard to meet and often requires a “smoking gun”—virtually irrefutable evidence of intent to discriminate. Rhetorical gestures (e.g., “judging by the color of your skin,” “color-blind society,” “I’m not a racist,” “White guilt”) reflect the way constitutional interpretation has dovetailed with the popular interpretation of the messages of the civil rights movement. Racism, in the minds of many, is a question of blame, what is in someone’s heart, and the impoliteness of race altogether. There is an analogy to this popular perception in our constitu tional law. In constitutional law, courts fixate on a concept of equality that depends upon treating “like” in “like” fashion, that is, treating person A in the same fashion as person B, irrespective of differences in race or national origin. The absurdity is that, in our culture, we know that our behavior isn’t consistent with the principle that we are all fundamentally (a)“like.” Federal courts have not completely abandoned the idea that remediation of cultural and institutional practices of discrimination is lawful, but they are seen as barely legitimate departures from the principle of equality. The dependence on “likeness” as a principle central to equality also creates discomfort for many people over the differences we see and about our awareness of the aggregation of certain “differences” in groups. Who can deny the concentration of certain ethnic groups in service jobs and their invisibility in other professions, the state of disrepair in certain neighborhoods, and the rarity of certain types of people in others? In acceptance of a narrow multiculturalist poetics that was adopted in the late twentieth century, we can generally celebrate differences in food, clothing, traditional music, and (sometimes) language, but the differences that aren’t decorative or entertaining aren’t so easy for us to engage.

To say “I don’t see color” not only is likely to be inaccurate but also reveals a central anxiety about race. Indeed, it is perhaps the fact that “no one wants to be called/considered a racist” 12 that animates our mainstream sense of racial justice. And yet the disparities and distinctions between groups are so visible that they cannot be denied. As a result, no explanatory frameworks for the “seeing” and “not seeing” of race emerge. In this vein, one deeply troubling trend is the proliferation of what Howard Winant has identified as a civil privatist vision of racial equality. This “civil privatist” vision is one in which “equality is strictly a matter of individual actions, of striving, merit, and deserved achievement on the one hand; and of intentional discrimination against specific individuals on the other.” 13 Hence, the apparent disparities appear not because we “see” race in ways that lead us to act in a racially discriminatory fashion but because of the accumulation of behavioral failures in the underachieving “group” or the accumulation of behavioral successes in the achieving group.

But, as shall emerge over the course of this book, social scientists continue to demonstrate that in fact people do act in ways that reveal both “seeing” and distinguishing and advantaging or disadvantaging on the basis of race. And so the civil privatist vision is clearly false.

In truth, the racism we see in the United States is more appropriately called “correlational” racism, in which disfavored qualities or, for preferred groups, favorable qualities are seen as being highly correlated with membership in certain racial groups and dictate the terms upon which individual members of those groups are treated, as well as the way we evaluate the impact and goals of policy, law, and other community-based decision making. Correlational racism is communicated in a plethora of ways that provide powerful counterscripts to the idea of “racial equality.” Certainly, the fact of disparities in education, wealth, and power can and do support correlational racism so long as those disparities are not explained in the light of historic and current practices. Additionally, the ideology of correlational racism is communicated outside the formal talk about beliefs in race and in informal ways that people can easily write off as not reflecting sincere racial beliefs but rather as offering entertainment or emotional release, such as jokes, pornography, comics, the talk of intimate association, adolescent social banter, and workplace chatter. 14 There are clearly both external and internal evidences of this practice. An external example can be found in research that shows that people associate Black faces with primates, even though it is socially unacceptable to walk around now saying, “Black people are monkeys.” 15 An internal example can be found in the evidence of the impact of stereotype threat and stereotype lift 16 on student performance, even though it is unacceptable to walk around saying, “Black people are intellectually inferior.”

That said, while biologically deterministic ideas of race (i.e., the idea that “Black people are stupid”) may be out of the mainstream of popular currency, they intermittently recycle back in through publications like Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, 17 which identified Black people as having lower levels of intelligence in general, and through the comments of DNA pioneer James Watson about the intellectual inferiority of Africans. Although public outcries ensued over the work and comments of these men, the construction of their statements needs to be watched for indications of an increasingly popular riff on racial determinism; indeed, these statements can arguably be reconciled with the antideterminist and correlationally based racism of today. This is a result of the idea, present in both arguments, of “in-group difference.” Neither has said that people of African descent cannot be intelligent—in their eyes, there is the prospect of intelligence among Africans— but both believe that the levels of intelligence among Black people as a group are significantly lower. For example, Watson has said that, while he hopes everyone is equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.” But he also says that people should not be discriminated against because of their color, because “there are many people of color who are very talented.” 18

The search for subcategories of Black people who possess deficiencies through practices like looking for a “crime gene” 19 indicates the presence of a form of “new biological racism.” At the same time, the concept of in-group difference allows a logic to emerge whereby people consider themselves nonracist even when they feel disdain for the overwhelming majority of the members of a racial group.

The kind of racism that we currently generally decry but that had broad currency in an earlier era includes the following elements: a belief in the inherent racial inferiority of non-White people, a belief based either in biology or theology or some combination thereof, along with the belief that such distinctions should find expression in our social and political lives, through mandated or informally practiced segregation and domination. In the social science literature, this kind of racism has been given several names, including redneck racism, 20 blatant racism, 21 and classical racism. 22 While there are distinctions between biological/theologically rooted racisms and other kinds of racial bias, there is a murky space in which “behaviors” are attributed to racial groups without accounting for whether the cause is found in biology or in culture. Here is a sphere in which correlational racism exists and even draws in believers with widely divergent political perspectives. The stereotypes of Black people as lazy, stupid, amoral, loud, violent, and out of control have been in circulation for many years even as popular explanations for these traits have changed. 23 Even those who believe that such behaviors reflect social inequality may be likely to believe that social misbehavior has greater currency among African Americans or within African American culture than in the majority population.

There have been many theories developed about “new racism,” including symbolic racism, 24 modern racism, 25 subtle racism, 26 racial resentments, 27 ambivalent racism, 28 laissez-faire racism, 29 and aversive racism. 30 And these theories have their critics. One line of criticisms has questioned whether racism today is actually any different from what it was in the past, suggesting that those with racist attitudes have simply learned to superficially mask their attitudes. Others have said that focusing on the sentiment behind the racism is a troublesome diversion, because it doesn’t matter whether the racism is rooted in biological or in cultural arguments if the negative impact of the racism is the same. This approach is philosophically consistent with the “victim-centered approach” to problems of racial discrimination espoused by the critical race theorist Alan Freeman as early as 1978. 31 It suggests that the immediate causal explanation for the discrimination is less relevant than the impact of racial inequality and the structure of racial hegemony, which may take different forms at different moments but ultimately supports one particular ideological position—the superiority of Whites.

While impact is of paramount importance, if we want to move through remediation and ultimately achieve a society where racial fairness and equality are the norm, we have to look at how to stave off the perpetuation, the practices of inequality. And we have to do so in both practical and informed ways. One problem with ascribing old-fashioned racism to these times is that it implies that little has changed since the social transformations of the civil rights movement, and, whether one is satisfied or not with the current state of affairs, it is undeniable that significant changes have taken place with respect to racial inequality. Moreover, given that no one wants to be called a racist and that few will admit to being racist, why would we remain committed to a definition of racism that is dependent upon a self-consciousness about racist beliefs? Do we try to force people to admit they hold racist beliefs that they don’t believe they possess because we have an inapt definition of racism? Do we encourage people of color to always assume that inequality has conscious malice associated with it? 32 As an ethical matter, if we imply that the practice of inequality is nothing more than a contemporary manifestation of old-fashioned racism, then we run the risk of accusing millions of Americans of deliberate hypocrisy, rather than developing opportunities to revisit how we define and respond to racism. Another problem with holding fast to the concept of old-fashioned racism, and even the term “racism” generally, to describe practices of inequality is that it limits our interpretive frame. Dave Chappelle’s ironic skit about the blind black racist is satirical as well as instructive. We consider it absurd for a black person to be racist against black people. But, in fact, it is not so unusual for African Americans to hold negative in-group stereotypes about African Americans. African Americans have countercultures around race but are part of the larger project of racial socialization and so participate in the practices of racial inequality even as their efforts have been key to eradicating many of the most egregious forms of racism. Or, take for example this response to Glenn Beck’s accusation that President Obama is a racist, which I read on many a message board: “He is biracial, so how can he be racist?” This, to me, is an illogical response, although I was sympathetic to the expressions of support for the president. One’s parentage, lineage, and intimate associations do not determine the existence or nonexistence of practices of inequality. They may have an impact upon them, but that impact cannot be assumed, given how complex our lives and relationships are. We must look to how people make decisions to treat or respond to others, not just how they are situated.

Moreover, if we identify racial inequality exclusively in terms of impact, institutional formations, and unconscious bias, we limit our belief in our capacities to change the society in which we live. If we locate the problem outside our conscious actions, we also move it beyond the realm of individual or small-scale community intervention. In order to advance racially democratic principles, we have to maintain some belief in will, deliberation, and agency. Research in the fields of metacognition and “critical thinking” are established enough that we should all know that we have the capacity to think about and revise both our thinking and our learning. There is ample ground for hope in human agency and capacity for change. So, while our definition of racism need not be dependent upon intent or determinism, we must be intentional and determined or, in other words, willful about addressing racial inequality. We have to challenge the assumptions that accompany “correlational” racism and racial narratives in all their guises. As Banaji and Bhaskar write regarding evidence of unintentional bias, “Unawareness of the discrepancy between intention and behavior as well as the discomfort that accompanies awareness of such discrepancies cannot justify the characterization of these errors as anything but errors . . . conclusions about decision-making that are disturbing ought not be mischaracterized as benign or correct.” 33

The demands of addressing race today are distinct from those of a previous era. It is clear that the civil rights generation understood that the terms of the particular social, cultural, and historic moment had to be considered in strategizing action. For instance, the movement changed significantly after the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Supreme Court decision because, for the first time in nearly sixty years, advocates enjoyed the prospect of having the law on the side of racial justice. Likewise, part of working for racial justice in the twenty-first century is developing a nuanced understanding of the politics of race in this particular moment.

That said, the fact that I am arguing that we should look beyond intent and determinism as signature elements in the definition of racism does not mean that intentional racism and racial determinist ideas are gone from the American consciousness. Any look at an online message board that has even a marginal reference to race will reveal extant old-fashioned intentional and deterministic racism. Even though the cyber world allows angry individuals to overrepresent themselves through repeated entries, the ubiquity of these assertions cannot be ignored. Following Obama’s election to the presidency, White supremacist militia activity dramatically expanded. 34 Old-fashioned racism is still around, but that’s not the normative form of practices of inequality.

We should no longer frame our understanding of racially discriminatory behavior in terms of intentionality. It is too unsophisticated a conception of discriminatory sentiment and behavior. It doesn’t capture all or most discrimination, and it creates a line of distinction between “racist” and “acceptable” that is deceptively clear in the midst of a landscape that is, generally speaking, quite unclear about what racism and racial bias are, who is engaging in racist behaviors, and how they are doing so.

If articulating a deep antipathy for a people is against the rules, not just as a matter of politeness but as an ethical norm, that doesn’t mean the antipathy necessary disappears. Rather, it means that the terms according to which that antipathy is ordinarily communicated and taught are no longer a matter of simple articulation. Our continued devotion to defining racism by the simple articulation “I don’t like X people” reflects two things: a resistance to really addressing the antipathy and an anxiety about how diligently we must monitor the simple articulation precisely because the ethical norm of racial egalitarianism seems so frail in American society. Both situations demand a better toolkit.

To say we must think post-intentionally is also a means of escaping a problem with what is meant by intentionality. One could read post-intent as simply referring to the growing body of cognition research showing that there is a great deal of unconscious bias. But, at the same time that there is unconscious bias, there are quite conscious racial narratives about groups and places that are expressed all the time, in our humor, our entertainment, our schools, our news, our government, our places of employment, and on and on. When Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character,” perhaps he wasn’t prepared for the widespread impugning, in the twenty-first century, of black character, not on a deterministic basis but through what appears to be race-neutral evaluations regarding behaviors, culture, and morality. 35 As Glenn Loury notes, “It is a politically consequential cognitive distortion to ascribe the disadvantage to be observed among a group of people to qualities thought to be intrinsic to that group when, in fact, that disadvantage is the product of a system of social interactions.” 36 It is not a simple matter to assess whether we, collectively or as individuals, are saying or thinking what we mean when it comes to race. So, rather than say that racism is now unintentional, I am saying that intentionality isn’t a good measure any longer, in part because the notion of intentional racism truncates the realm of intent. An employer can intend to hire a particular person and make that decision while being highly influenced by racial stereotypes and yet not intend to be “racist.” One can promulgate racist imagery and ideas without having any interest in identifying oneself as a racist. One can decry racist jokes and opinions as morally untenable while acting in ways that diminish others on the basis of race. Americans have a long tradition of reconciling inconsistencies between professed values and cultural practices. These inconsistencies have existed in arenas as diverse as domestic norms, sexual mores, economic policies, political rights, and democratic principles. Therefore, we do not experience cognitive dissonance when such inconsistencies arise; rather, we cultivate explanations that allow them to operate in tandem.

In sum, our cultural logic allows us to easily distance ourselves from both the people who make mean-spirited racist remarks and the inequality of the society we live in. The problem is that such a neat package neglects a great deal of research that has been accumulating for decades about the persistence of race-specific inequality, its operation, and its meaning, research showing that our habits, attitudes, behaviors, entertainment, and a plethora of choices we make actually work to support racial inequality. The question with regard to this evidence can no longer be “What is wrong with the Black and Brown poor and how can we fix it?” Rather, the question must be “What is wrong with a nation where people act against the racial equality we trumpet, and how can we fix it?”

  1. Howard Winant, “Difference and Inequality: Postmodern Racial Politics in the United States,” in Racism, the City and the State, ed. Malcolm Cross and Michael Keith (New York: Routledge, 1993), 110.
  2. See Victor M.H. Borden, Pamela C. Brown, and Amy K. Garver, “The Top 100: Interpreting the Data,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education 23 (June 2006): 36-39, and “African Americans Continue to Flock to Graduate and Professional Schools,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 40 (Summer 2003): 10-11


Commencement Address at Hampshire College

“Obviously, they don’t mind illegals coming in. They don’t mind drugs pouring in. They don’t mind, excuse me, MS-13 coming in. We’re getting them all out of here…Members of Congress who will be voting on border security have a simple choice: They can either vote to help drug cartels and criminal aliens trying to enter the United States, like, frankly, the Democrats are doing. Or they can vote to help American citizens and American families be safe. That’s the choice. Who do you want to represent you? We’re finding the illegal immigrant drug dealers, gang members and killers, and removing them from our country. And once they are gone, folks–you see what we’re doing–they will not let them back in. They’re not coming back.”
— Donald Trump, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 29, 2017

“The free world…all of Christendom…is at war with Islamic horror. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
— U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, Louisiana Republican, June 5, 2017

“You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values.”
— U.S. Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, March 13, 2017

THE FANTASY-fueled discussion that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 ushered the United States into a post-racial period has come to a stark and dramatic end. Far from post-racial, what we are seeing at the highest ranks of government is open fawning toward white supremacist and white nationalist ideas and politics.

The Ku Klux Klan and David Duke endorsed Donald Trump. His candidacy was met with enthusiasm from white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other organized racist hate groups. Steve Bannon, a self-described architect of the so-called “alt-right,” is Trump’s chief strategist and has an office in the White House. It is not hyperbole to say that white supremacy is resting at the heart of American politics.

And it is a deadly serious matter. It can be measured by the weight of the bodies of those, known and unknown, who have paid the price for the normalization and sanctification of racism, bigotry and hatred in this country.

Ricky John Best. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche. Richard W. Collins III. Nabra Hassanen. Srinivas Kuchibhotla.

Since the election of Donald Trump, people who may have been considered the racist fringe have been emboldened and activated to engage in intimidation, violence and even murder. From Washington, D.C., to Portland, Oregon, from the East Coast to the West, racist violence has been documented.

In the 10 days after Trump was elected, there were 900 reported incidents of hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 40 percent of those cases, Trump’s name was used when victims were attacked.

Between January and March of this year, the Council on American Islamic Relations received 1,597 complaints. Of the verified reports, nearly half involved abuse by representatives of federal agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security officers were implicated in 23 percent of those complaints.

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CAMPUSES OF all varieties have been targeted for racist hate speech. Between November and the end April, there were racist incidents at 284 primary and secondary schools and 330 incidents on college campuses. These numbers did not include a flurry of neo-Nazi and other racist posters that went up in the weeks after the election and then during Black History Month in February.

The right views college campuses as sites of political struggle. At its national meeting in April, the National Rifle Association’s vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said, “It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats.”

Its no coincidence, then, that college campuses and universities are under attack by groups like the NRA and right-wing media sites that publicize and more fully articulate their agenda. Part of the attack includes trolling students and faculty members–parsing closely every word they write or say and then deliberately twisting and distorting those views to egg on and fuel their readerships and viewerships. In effect, right-wing media, in particular, organize racist and sexist cyber-mob attacks not just on faculty members of color, but they specifically target any faculty who speak out against racism.

Campuses have become easy targets for manipulative campaigns aimed at scaring administrators into admonishing, but more importantly disciplining, or if possible firing radical and left-wing faculty. When administrators act in this way, it is an act of surrender that will not bring quiet, but feeds the mob and invites a continuation of these orchestrated attacks.

And it is orchestrated. Fox News published a story–based on a story originally published by Campus Reform–about my commencement address at Hampshire College. In my opinion, both news organizations published the story with the intention of activating a racist mob made up of its readers and viewers. Fox ran various news stories about my 19-minute speech four days in a row over a holiday weekend.

As a result, I received 54 e-mails in a span of five days. Here is some of the content of those e-mails:

“would not piss in your mouth if you were dying of thirst, lib bitch FUCK YOU, FUCK LIBS”

“I read about your nasty tirade against the president.. Have you ever, just for a moment, considered counseling, a good shrink, or if all else fails, a .44 round to the brain?”

“If Trump is what you say, you are a dirty ass coon dyke cunt. Jus sayin…Cunt..”

“Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a stupid FUCKING NIGGER!!! Burn in HELL Nigger!!”

“Saw your tirade bout Mr. TRUMP…u like your isms, “race ism, corp ism,” and so on. Be clear, what you preach is 105 percent NIGGER ISM…fuck you and your hate speech!”

“Hey nigger keep you keep talking down on the President of the United States we will try you in federal court for hate crimes and have you lynched”

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FOR THE right wing, it’s not just the thrill of victory in humiliating weak administrators, but there is the agenda of isolating, intimidating and ultimately silencing radical faculty, staff and students. The university is one of the few places in this country where, if you are a faculty member, you can freely express your politics and radical ideas.

The right seeks to kill that atmosphere while simultaneously benefitting from it. If nothing else, the right wing recognizes that part of the political struggle is the battle over ideas. That is why alt-right, neo-Nazi Richard Spenser was on a campus speaking tour in the spring that will resume in the fall.

The right doesn’t want to just have fistfights over its presence on campus, though they love the free attention that comes with it–but they actually do want to speak on campus. They believe that their ideas can get a hearing. And make no mistake about it, they can get a hearing on campus and off campus.

But the onslaught of racism and repression are not just about hate speech, the racist cyber mob or nasty fliers placed on campuses. It has real implications when those sentiments are reflected in the government itself. It leads to violent attacks. It has led to murder.

And it has to be organized against in numbers that demonstrate that they are a minority and our side–the side against racism, murder and the terrorism of the right wing in this country–is the majority. They are confident right now because our side has yet to mobilize in a way that reflects that we are the majority.

But the violence of the right is obviously not the only problem. The most profound and dangerous aspects of the Trump agenda can be found in the growing list of policy initiatives to remove regulatory protections while emboldening agents of the state to act against oppressed and exploited individuals across this country.

In other words, the actions of the racist fringe have been amplified in the policies of the Trump administration. Consider as a single example the case of Jean Carlos Jiménez-Joseph.

Jiménez-Joseph, a 27-year old Black Panamanian immigrant, was taken into custody by ICE in March. He was placed in solitary confinement for 19 days after he hopped from a second-floor landing to a first-floor landing, instead of using the stairs, breaking the detention facility’s rules.

After spending 19 days in solitary confinement, he hung himself. When officials in the private detention center where he was held found him, an ambulance was called, and he was driven to a hospital 35 miles away, where he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, ICE has arrested more than 41,000 people–a 37 percent increase over the same time period last year. ICE agents are arresting, on average, 400 immigrants a day. Some 11,000 immigrants of those immigrants had no criminal record at all.

The Muslim travel ban, in combination with a policy of endless war across the Middle East, underpins an unrelenting campaign against Muslims led by the Trump administration.

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THE GROUP of people who may ultimately absorb the brunt of Trump’s policy changes are African American. Black people suffer from disproportionate poverty and certainly from racism in this country. As a result, African Americans have historically called upon the federal state to intervene to defend against racial discrimination that runs rampant in the private sector.

Because Black people have been poorer because of discrimination, we have relied on the federal state to improve conditions through vigorous defense of existing civil rights legislation as protection against discrimination, while also pursuing affirmative policies aimed at lifting and improving the material conditions of Black citizens.

The efforts to dismantle the “administrative state,” as Steve Bannon puts its, will have a devastating impact on those who need those protections. This is clear in the Department of Education, where officials seem to be avoiding even platitudes professing a commitment to racial equality in education.

It certainly applies to the misnamed Department of Justice, where the administration is calling for an official return to the kinds of law-and-order policies that created the conditions of “mass incarceration” by rationalizing racial profiling as a crime-fighting tool and signaling to police departments across the country that there will be no pretense of reform or oversight–and that they are empowered to harass, arrest, beat, detain and even kill whomever they choose.

These moves are known and understood by many, but the rollback of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protections is just as dangerous.

Black and Latino communities live in closer proximity to toxins, whether in the form of poor air quality, abandoned industrial site, active industrial sites, highways or railroads, and more. As a result, nearly half of Latinos live in counties that do not meet EPA air quality standards, for example.

The Flint water crisis has tellingly demonstrated the intersection of racial discrimination and environmental degradation. It is not only evident in the fact that city officials allowed Flint’s water supply to have dangerous levels of lead, while doing nothing to clean it up.

But when a city employee in Flint was asked about the water crisis, he said, “Flint has the same problems as Detroit — fucking niggers don’t pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them.” This wasn’t a public official, but given the fact that Flint’s water is still polluted today, it would not be difficult to envision a public official saying the same thing.

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THESE ARE the three components of Trump’s racial regime: anti-immigrant hysteria, Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.

But racism in America is never just about racism for racism’s sake. It is always in the service of a larger agenda.

In the case of Trump it is obvious. It is no coincidence that the racism animating much of Trump’s politics accompanies a harsh and draconian economic agenda intended to gut the living standards of the entire working class.

In other words, Trump and the Republican Party explain the inequality experienced by workers–white workers in particular–as the fault of Mexican immigrants who steal jobs; or the fault of Black criminals who make us unsafe; or the fault of Muslim terrorists who make us spend billions on defense. And meanwhile, they pursue policies intended to destroy the living standards of those same workers.

The ruling elite doubled down on the idea that the least powerful among us is responsible for the hardship experienced by millions in this country–while the rich white millionaires and billionaires at the helm of the government are innocent bystanders.

During the campaign, this was not just an appeal to white workers–Trump used scapegoating to appeal to Black workers as well. Donald Trump’s campaign drafted a “New Deal” for Black America, which included a 10-point plan. Number seven of that plan was a crackdown on “illegal immigration.” Trump’s campaign website explained:

No group has been more economically harmed by decades of illegal immigration than low-income African American workers…We will suspend reckless refugee admissions from terror-prone regions that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. We will use a portion of the money saved by enforcing our laws and suspending refugees to reinvested in our inner cities.

Scapegoating and lies: the essential ingredients of the Trump candidacy and now the Trump presidency.

But here is where the cynicism of both liberals and the right converge. Both think very little of ordinary people–the much-maligned working class.

On the right, they believe that a steady diet of racism and war is enough to satisfy the appetite of working-class white people. This is what Kellyanne Conway meant when she got into a post-election argument with Clinton surrogates and sneered, “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” It is also what Donald Trump meant when he bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose any support.

Among liberals is a similar attitude, in which ordinary white workers are boorish Neanderthals who eat and drink racism, bathe in their privilege and are an unchanging ignorant bulwark against any and all progress in the United States.

Of course, what has been lost in this stultifying picture of race, class and consciousness is that the bulk of Trump’s support did not come white working-class people. According to the most recent reports, only a third of Trump voters made less than the national median income of $50,000. Another third made between $50,000 and $100,000, and another third made over $100,000. According to one study, Trump received one in four votes from whites without a college degree making under $50,000 a year.

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THE TWO main things that stand out about the election are: one, Trump lost the election by more than 3 million votes. And two, tens of millions of people did not vote. There are 238 million eligible voters in the United States, and slightly more than half of them voted. That means that more than 120 million people did not vote.

Of course, we know that the Republican Party continues to try and find ways to strip Black voters of their right to vote, but there is an even bigger reason for such a dramatically low turnout. Neither party offers a serious attempt to grapple with the vicious inequality that exists in this country. They used to say, “There is no alternative” to the status quo and to inequality. Now we can look at them and say, “They have no solutions.”

Those people who continue to insist that we give our support to the Democratic Party while getting nothing in return have lost touch with reality. The reason that 120 million people did not vote in last year’s election is quite simple: tens of millions of ordinary people do not believe it is capable of delivering the changes that are necessary to make their lives better. You cannot run a candidate who is a millionaire and who collects speaking fees from the most powerful banks in the country on Monday and then turn around and insist she’s for ordinary and working class people on Tuesday.

Barack Obama promised to change Washington. He promised hope and tens of millions of people believed him. And then we experienced eight years of the status quo, and in some cases, worse than that.

Angrily repeating that Trump is worse–and he undoubtedly is in every way–won’t change the fact that people want something to vote for–and simply saying that they are not Trump or the Republicans is not enough. What are you for?

Instead of grappling with this issue, the Democratic Party stays transfixed on Russia. The mass media is obsessed with finding the smoking gun that finally connects Trump to some Russia scandal.

Meanwhile, they ignore the ongoing assault on working-class life and living standards in this country. They turn the hardships and anxieties of white working-class people into a caricature to explain their supposedly unquestioned support of Trump, while simultaneously ignoring the hardships and anxieties of Black working-class life altogether.

How else do we make sense of the utterly vapid commentary from the Trump administration in response to the crisis of guns and violence in Black communities across Chicago?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the spokesperson for Trump–if you can imagine a worst lot in life–said last week that shootings in Chicago were an issue of morality. It was as callous as it is ignorant. But it is also the exact same thing the Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama have said for years, whether it was Obama complaining about the absence of role models in Black working-class neighborhoods or Emanuel blaming Black parents.

What none of these elected officials will do is tell the truth: that poor and working-class African Americans in Chicago have been abused and abandoned. Through a combination of public policy and the private actions of banks, real estate brokers and universities on both ends of this city, residential segregation has been entrenched and enforced for almost 100 years.

Segregation has created substandard and inferior housing. It has cut Black people off from the best jobs. It has strangled public schools, public hospitals, libraries, parks and clinics of desperately needed resources. It has isolated and demoralized young and old. Fifty percent of young Black men in Chicago aged 20 to 24 are not in school nor are they employed–35 percent of Black women in the same age group are also unemployed and out of school.

These are structural and institutional problems created by an absence of human and material resources. And this is the exact reason why the political and economic establishments cling to their explanations that blame and punish. What would it mean to tell the truth about the real reasons behind the social crisis in Chicago and in every city around this country?

It would two things. It would explode the myths the capitalism and its free market can actually end poverty and suffering through privatized provision. And second, it would require that they do something about these material conditions, rather than ignore them. Put simply, structural problems demand structural answers. Instead, in Chicago and across the country, human need is met with cruel shouts of “personal responsibility” and policing, policing and more policing.

Of course, we will see the full-throated revival of rhetoric like “culture of poverty” because it has always been a way of blaming the victims of free-market capitalism, instead of looking at a system that has produced poverty, misery and human suffering on scales that seem unimaginable in a world as rich as this one. How do they get away with it? They blame the victims for their hardship, and they get everyone to believe it.

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AND IT is not only Black and Brown people who experience this. As more ordinary white people become visible markers of the failure of capitalism, conservatives increasingly blame white poverty and social crisis–most notably drug addiction–on a morality crisis.

In Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart: The State of White America, he blames declines in white working-class living standards on high divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, dwindling church attendance, and men who can’t hold jobs. Murray, of course, became infamous by insisting that disproportionate rates of poverty in Black working class communities were because of biological differences between Blacks and whites. He rehashes these ideas to analyze white poverty and also concludes that low IQ and biology are factors–but instead of between Blacks and whites, the biological differences are between rich and poor white people.

The much lauded but underwhelming Hillbilly Elegy also argues that white Appalachian poverty is driven by poor choices behavior and morality, and not material deprivation. But perhaps the most succinct contempt for poor and working class white people came from an article published in National Review:

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy–which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog–you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be…Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence–and the incomprehensible malice–of poor white America.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.

Of course, liberals don’t provide a credible alternative to this uniquely American cruelty when they parrot the same contempt by reducing the experiences of ordinary white people to “privilege” in ways that do not resemble and certainly do not make sense of the actual experiences of working-class white people.

There are 20 million poor white people in this country. The imprisonment of white women is “surging,” according to recent reports, because of growing alcohol abuse and drug addiction.

Life in poor and working class white enclaves is increasingly defined by economic insecurity, alcoholism and opioid addiction. And while it is important to point out how elected officials are very willing to paint a sympathetic picture of opioid addiction as a health care issue and not a criminal issue, as they did with the crack phenomenon in the 1980s and 1990s–because opioids affect white people and crack was centered in Black neighborhoods–I would caution against believing all of that rhetoric that opioid addicts are getting loving care from the government.

For example, in Middletown, Ohio, a town of 50,000 people that is 87 percent white and where 532 people died of opioid overdose last year, a member of the city council has proposed that drug addicts get two opportunities for medical treatment in the event of an overdose–but if there is a third call for an ambulance or medical treatment because of overdose, there should be no response. The councilman says the drug is too expensive at $36 a dose.

This is not white privilege. This is capitalism in its most savage form.

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THE POINT of this is not to deny that racism exists among working class and poor white people. It obviously does. Not all working-class white people voted for Trump but millions did.

So the point is to not deny the reality of the depths of racism in our society–it is to understand why it exists and the conditions under which it can be challenged and changed. Of course, it is easy to uniformly dismiss ordinary white workers as hopeless racists, but in doing so, we uniformly give up on the chance or potential to build a genuine mass movement that can fundamentally change this country.

In a country where public officials readily serve up racist explanations for social and economic inequality, it should not be surprising when those ideas take hold. Of course, not everyone readily accepts racism to explain their life circumstances–most people just blame themselves and the people they know in their families or neighborhoods for their troubles.

But there is a difference between people’s perception of reality and reality itself. Even when ordinary white people buy into the idea that the stagnation in their standard of living is because of the presence of immigrants or because the presidency of Barack Obama improved the standard of living of Blacks at their expense, that doesn’t actually make it true.

But it takes more than an assertion or argument to convince people that their perceptions are not reality. So when well-meaning people suggest that the way white radicals can fight racism is to talk to their racist uncle or father-in-law at Thanksgiving, it is both a sign of the low expectations of the anti-racist movement, but it also reveals the extent to which people accept that racism is just bad ideas that someone can be talked into or out of.

Of course, political argument is crucial, but it actually matters what you are saying. It takes radical politics and struggle to uncover the true nature of any society, but especially one like ours, where the political establishment regularly uses rhetoric, lies and distortions to cloud the truth.

For example, the social eruption of Occupy Wall Street helped to lay bear how the wealthy live at the expense of everyone else, with the simple yet extraordinarily clarifying idea of the 1 Percent versus the 99 Percent.

The Black Lives Matter movement helped to expose the systemic and routine ways that police abuse and violence shape the social reality in Black communities. Despite the efforts of the Trump administration and the misnamed Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, to return to an era of mass incarceration of African Americans, millions of people, including white people, have had their consciousness change about the police.

Ten years ago, the immigrant rights movement brought millions of undocumented immigrants onto the streets and challenged the right wing’s efforts to criminalize their existence. Their struggle gave us the slogans “No human is illegal” and “Undocumented and unafraid.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline struggle made the powerful connection between land rights of the Indigenous and the need for and access to clean, unadulterated water. It also demonstrated what it means to struggle, and how struggle can transform an impossible situation into a winnable one.

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OF COURSE, none of these examples has been enough to completely transform the circumstances or conditions they have exposed. And how could they? Racism is the lifeblood of American capitalism. We cannot end racism and the inequality it produces within capitalism. It means that even when we move forward, the political and economic establishment responds quickly with their best effort to return life to the way it was.

We don’t necessarily forget our victories or forward movement right away, but unless there is an active effort to assess those victories, draw lessons from them and quickly transform those lessons into new strategies and tactics for moving forward, it is all too easy to regress.

No movement is guaranteed success simply by existing. We will not win just because we believe that our side is right. We have to know what it is we are fighting for, and we have to openly debate and strategize our way forward. And most of all, we have to be involved in protests and demonstrations and building social movements to win concessions from the political and economic establishment.

This is all true, but at some point in the feverish effort to build the next movement, and then the next movement, and the next and the next–we must ask: What is wrong with a society, an economic and political system, that will make you beg, fight and struggle for the basic rights of existence?

Why do we have to struggle for affordable housing when everyone knows that the human species cannot live without proper shelter? Why is housing not a right?

Why do we have to struggle for health care when everyone knows that the human species cannot continue without proper medical care? Why is health care not a right?

Why do we have to struggle for a living wage just so we can afford the ever-growing cost of food when everyone knows that our species cannot live without food?

Why do we have to struggle against Corporate America’s insistence on polluting the air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat?

The list could go on, but the answer is simple: Capitalism is killing our planet; it is destroying our future; it is destroying the lives of millions of people in this country and on this planet today.

These are crises that no political party in the United States can solve. They are the permanent problems of the market: misery means profit; hunger means profit; disease means profit; prisons mean profit; racism means profit.

What does any of this have to do with the struggle against racism? Everything. Racism is the central divide between ordinary people in this country, and without a struggle against it, it will be impossible to organize any coherent movement for anything. What I’m suggesting is not organizing on a false basis of unity for unity’s sake, but unity on the basis of solidarity and the understanding that an injury to one is an injury to all.

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IT IS no mystery why socialism is no longer a dirty word in the United States. It is no mystery why 13 million people voted for an open socialist–Bernie Sanders–in this country. Not only is this an indictment of capitalism’s failures, but it is also an expressed desire for a better way. We want real democracy, where the people who create the wealth in this society are entitled to have a say in how it is distributed. We want real freedom–freedom from racism, imprisonment, borders, detention, and second-class personhood.

This is not the first time in history that socialist ideas were dominant, and where ordinary people demanded a social prioritizing of human needs and not corporate profits. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, where for the first time in human history, the poor and the peasantry, led by the Russian working class, organized a revolution against capitalism and built a different kind of society.

The revolution was hailed by the working class around the world, which saw ordinary people like themselves take their country out of the First World War and take democratic control of the direction of society. In this country, the Russian Revolution inspired socialists and radicals and eventually Communists to get serious about political organizing and building a revolutionary alternative to the viciousness of capitalism and all of the horrors that came with it.

I am going to close with a long quote from American socialist Eugene Debs. This quote is from a speech he gave in Canton, Ohio in 1918 in opposition to the First World War. Debs is known for this speech because, as a result of giving it, he was found guilty of sedition and imprisoned. But this was so much more than an antiwar speech. It was a speech that was also imbued with the hope and optimism that found expression in the Russian Revolution. He said:

Socialism is a growing idea; an expanding philosophy. It is spreading over the entire face of the earth: It is as vain to resist it, as it would be to arrest the sunrise on the morrow. It is coming, coming, coming all along the line. Can you not see it? If not, I advise you to consult an oculist. There is certainly something the matter with your vision.

It is the mightiest movement in the history of mankind. What a privilege to serve it! I have regretted a thousand times that I can do so little for the movement that has done so much for me. The little that I am, the little that I am hoping to be, I owe to the Socialist movement. It has given me my ideas and ideals; my principles and convictions, and I would not exchange one of them for all of Rockefeller’s bloodstained dollars. It has taught me how to serve–a lesson to me of priceless value. It has taught me the ecstasy in the handclasp of a comrade. It has enabled me to hold high communion with you, and made it possible for me to take my place side by side with you in the great struggle for the better day; to multiply myself over and over again, to thrill with a fresh-born personhood; to feel life truly worthwhile; to open new avenues of vision; to spread out glorious vistas; to know that I am kin to all that throbs; to be class-conscious, and to realize that, regardless of nationality, race, creed, color or sex, every man, every woman who toils, who renders useful service, every member of the working class without an exception, is my comrade, my brother and sister–and that to serve them and their cause is the highest duty of my life.

Life Finds A Way: Bodies, Futures, Embodied Futures

Professor Ruha Benjamin presented at Future Perfect, a conference sponsored by the New York City based research group, Data & Society.

Full conference summary.

Future Perfect resumed with a presentation by Ruha Benjamin, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Benjamin used speculative ethnographic field notes to deliver her talk, entitled “Designer and discarded genomes: Experimenting with sociological imagination through speculative methods.” In order to “explore the antecedents and implications of the current era of genetic engineering,” Benjamin read a series of field notes from the Human Genome Project-Write initiative, a 2016 convening at Harvard for discussing the implications and logistics of producing synthetic human genomes. Benjamin subsequently read fictional field notes from 1816 and 2216 — 200 years into the past and future, respectively.

Benjamin drew attention to the changing standards of what constitutes “human life,” using her notes from 1816 to explore ideas of “humanity” as applied to enslaved peoples during the Middle Passage. Her 2216 notes explored speculative divisions between beings modified so that they no longer have to eat, and unmodified beings which still used food as an energy source. By doing so, Benjamin had the audience consider what part of “humanity” was discarded in the context of slavery. In the future, she asked, when we have the power to design “‘ideal’ genomes, what versions of humanity are discarded?” Benjamin concluded by observing that “fictions are not falsehoods, but re-fashionings.”


‘Filming the Future’ – Ferguson is the Future

Panel 2 of ‘Ferguson is the Future’

Filming the Future
Invisible Universe, M. Asli Dukan
Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire Talk, Dennis Leroy Kangalee and Numa Perrier
Black Radical Imagination, Erin Christovale and Amir George
Vow of Silence, Be Steadwell
Facilitated by Lisa Bolekaja