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Hullabaloo


Monday, February 08, 2016

 
The most potent solidarity


by digby











Ta-Nehisi Coates' response to one of his critics, Cedric Johnson, on the issue of reparations is excellent. Johnson sees the world through a Marxist lens (as we all do to some extent, even conservatives) and attributes all problems of race, indeed, every sort of social marginalization, as an effect of economics. Coates believes otherwise, and is very persuasive. This gets to the nub of it. He quotes Johnson writing this:

Social exclusion and labor exploitation are different problems, but they are never disconnected under capitalism. And both processes work to the advantage of capital. Segmented labor markets, ethnic rivalry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and informalization all work against solidarity. Whether we are talking about antebellum slaves, immigrant strikebreakers, or undocumented migrant workers, it is clear that exclusion is often deployed to advance exploitation on terms that are most favorable to investor class interests.
Coates points out, correctly, in my view, that this is a cramped view of solidarity that neglects perhaps the most important aspect of social organization:
No. Social exclusion works for solidarity, as often as it works against it. Sexism is not merely, or even primarily, a means of conferring benefits to the investor class. It is also a means of forging solidarity among “men,” much as xenophobia forges solidarity among “citizens,” and homophobia makes for solidarity among “heterosexuals.” What one is is often as important as what one is not, and so strong is the negative act of defining community that one wonders if all of these definitions—man, heterosexual, white—would evaporate in absence of negative definition.

That question is beyond my purview (for now). But what is obvious is that the systemic issues that allowed men as different as Bill Cosby and Daniel Holtzclaw to perpetuate their crimes, the systemic issues which long denied gay people, no matter how wealthy, to marry and protect their families, can not be crudely reduced to the mad plottings of plutocrats. In America, solidarity among laborers is not the only kind of solidarity. In America, it isn’t even the most potent kind.

Coates goes to great lengths to explain his own progressive philosophy which includes all the great political prescriptions of the American left and which I also endorse wholeheartedly. This is not an argument which requires one choose between policies like reparations and universal health care. It's really just addressing an age old question about what motivates human beings to do what they do and how societies organize themselves. Some of it is class, to be sure. But it's too easy to leave it there. As Coates points out with ample evidence, even accounting for class, African Americans are far more economically disadvantaged than whites over a vast period of time. Sexism and homophobia are not functions of class at all and yet one must recognize that they exist.

For me it's simple. My time on this planet has shown me that people are motivated by many things, only one of which is economics. And there is no doubt that economic solidarity (in both the positive and negative sense) are powerful forces. But it's not everything and never has been. And this country, with its history and at this crossroads, what Coates refers to as "intersectional radicalism" is the natural direction for the left to take.

Read Coates' piece if you're interested in this subject. His prose is beautiful as always and he makes the point much better than I ever could.


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