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What Happens When Class Warriors Ignore Race?

One of the things I think progressives who ignore history don’t understand is that just like racism is taught, so is distrust. Especially in Af-Am households where our parents & grandparents who have lived through Jim Crow, Cointelpro, Reaganomics, & the War on Drugs (better titled the War on Inner City Communities) talk to us early & often about how to stay out of trouble.

My grandmother had a “I won’t let the white man get you” speech that would curl your hair. And sure, it’s easy to claim that she was teaching reverse racism or whatever. But the reality is that she was a black woman born in 1924 who lost a brother to lynching, lived through segregation, & who had to get off the sidewalk for white people. I mean literally, get off the sidewalk and walk in the street because white people didn’t think they should have to share the sidewalk with black people. Think about having to do that for years.

My grandfather was less verbose, but one of the reasons he came North was his bad temper & complete inability to stay in his place in Arkansas. He sent money down home when they needed it, & we visited a few times when I was a kid. But a running theme in the conversations during those visits was that he left to keep from bringing trouble down on everyone. How would he have brought trouble home? By not being willing to be called Boy & for looking too many white men in the eye.

These are the people that raised me. And sure I went through my “racism is over”, “no one acts that way any more” phase. Then I got old enough to be outside by myself & I learned quick, fast, & in a hurry that racism is alive and well. But I stuck to the idea that it was isolated for a while longer. Long enough to marry a white man from East Texas & have a child with him. Somewhere around my ex defending his grandmother’s use of the word “Darkie” at our child’s second birthday party I figured out that racism is alive & well and perfectly capable of inhabiting people who claimed to not be racist. He had a black wife, a biracial son, & not a lick of concern about how the word darkie could be upsetting to me. Now we’re divorced & he hasn’t made an effort to see his son in years. Not since the last set of pics made it clear that kiddo can’t pass for white.

So, when progressives stand up & insist that race has nothing to do with anything because it’s a social construct, like a lot of Af-Am people my life experiences already have me side eying them. And then when you factor in coded language like “You people need to get off your couches and help us fight”, ” “Bringing up race is divisive”, or “Arrest the crack dealers & leave the protestors alone” I know it’s time to step back. Because race impacts our lives every day & in every way. From educational access to medical care to jobs to housing, our race is always a factor. It’s not just the history that we were taught by our parents & grandparents. It affects us in the here & now, and until it is addressed it will continue affecting everyone.

A War on Poverty, that is a class war, but that isn’t a War on Racism isn’t going to draw too many Af-Am folks out of the places they’ve already built to allow them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a racist society. We’ve learned from slavery, Jim Crow, Tulsa, Rosewood, the Red Summer of 1919, the Watts riots, the Civil Rights Movement, & America’s belief in the lie of the Welfare Queen that we cannot trust in people who are not explicitly anti-racist. That when we fight for our rights, we are fighting for our lives & the lives of those we love in communities that have always been the first to be attacked. So to be called to fight for the health of communities that have benefited from that history of oppression? Not a call that matters overmuch to us. Solidarity can never be a one way street, & until there is some recognition that fighting racism is fighting capitalism, I don’t see any hope of it developing between African American communities & the Occupy Movement.

10 thoughts on “What Happens When Class Warriors Ignore Race?”

  1. Farah says:


    Worst marital fight ever was when WASP husband decided that “if it was really important I’d have said something”* That we are still married is solely because he got the message, called out the person involved and changed his behaviour radically, and the change stuck.

    *It wasn’t actually my group being insulted/threatened, but who the fuck cares?

  2. Morre says:

    I think you are amazing. I still meet racism. And not only racists, sexist to. And I live in Sweden. We are supporter to be the best country in the world when it comes to such things, but it still isn’t good enough. We have a right-wing prime mikister and a nationalsocialist party in the parlament. I can only imagine how it’s in the US, with it’s bloody history.

    I’m a big fan of yours!

  3. Momsomniac says:

    Far too many people want to dismiss the ugliest parts of our history as “a long time ago”, when really, it was grandparents and great grandparents who were lynched (or did the lynching)…not some mythical abstract ancestor.

    As someone who grew up working class & ostensibly white, it is painful to see how *some* white people keep missing what’s right in front of them. Maybe I am lucky that we’re Irish/Cherokee and I was taught to keep that Cherokee part a secret; when you’re only pretending to be white, the more subtle racism becomes…visible. And when your personal history means you feel like you are only pretending to be middle class too, the inersectionality of class and race becomes personal.

    Thanks to you and Tempest, I am more aware of what I have internalized as well. As a Mom with 3 sons, one of them Asian, all I can do is say…thank you.

    I am truly sorry for the bullsh*t you have had to endure. I am sorry that OWS has not been all it could have been. I don’t know if that means anything at all, but I do mean it. What I bring to the effort to make a better future for your child and mine is tiny, and the impact is small, but I do my best to bring it. Indeed, solidarity cannot be a one-way street.

  4. Krista says:

    I grew up in a white middle class family, and within my family racism is not something to be tolerated. However, when I was growing up I witnessed a lot of racism going on within my high school(2006-2010). The high school I attended was about 80% Caucasian and about 20% small minorities. I only knew a handful of African-American kids while growing up, but I am appalled by what they went through in high school. Many of my fellow classmates put anyone within a minority into a category or stereotype. I never witnessed any one cause physical harm, but emotional abuse is just as damaging. Many students would say derogatory things or speak down to anyone who wasn’t Caucasian. In fact I once witnessed a student pull up a video on Youtube, called the Amazing racist. This host or bigot would go make videos of him traveling around town doing racist things and laughing hysterically about it (as did UNFORTUNATELY some of my fellow students). I wish I had taken more of a stand throughout my time in high school, but if we would stop allowing racism completely it wouldn’t even be an issue among students in school; which is a great place to put an end to such an awful and serious issue within the United States of America.
    Krista V.

  5. Carolyn Moon says:

    A perspective well stated and brings to mind that exhaustive debate of classism vs racism. It’s BOTH and depending on the context of the former–it can be dominant at times, however, racism remains constant…ALWAYS!

  6. pitbullgirl65 says:

    Krista, one of the things we can do besides calling out racist remarks/ incidents, is to educate people on their white privilege. You’ll get a lot of resistance, including the tired reverse racism trope (another battle) but if you can change just one person, it’s worth it.

  7. Anna Renee says:

    Is this why I don’t have that burning in my heart for OWS?
    In the beginnings of it, I felt, wow, the white kids are finally standing up. As the movement progressed, I became laid back – let them fight their war themselves, it’s not about black folks. But there were those few blacks that prodded me into getting more excited about it. OccupytheHood for example.
    But then OWS came to Oakland, where Im from. At first I was proud when they occupied the Port of Oakland, stopping the economy for a minute. They occupied a civic center park.

    Then we realized that OccupyOakland hurt those black civic center business folks; the black hair braiders, the black clothing boutique; and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants. Even the small white businesses.
    Then I realized that occupying is not as simple as it seemed.
    Add to that Occupy Oakland started taking over foreclosed properties in the impoverished black communities. I felt they should have occupied vacant corp buildings in downtown. On the news one night, the camera captured a brother driving past #OO and he stopped and yelled out at them, “I love what you’re doing, but don’t do it in the ‘hood, we’re already occupied”. That resonated for me.

    They wanted to occupy a vacant lot in the center of a new low income condo complex. They refused to occupy the park that sits by the Pacific Bell, Kaiser, & other corp buildings, where their presence would have made a political impact.

    I don’t believe they are as effective or influential as before. It seems that the movement has devolved, and are just playing cat and mouse with the police. Whatever.

  8. BMac says:

    Thank you for these words.
    We here at Occupy Anchorage are doing our best to recognize the voices of the Native Alaskans who were occupying this space way longer than us white folks.
    We had a community dialogue hosted by a third party organization that was attended by mostly older white folks. There was one black man there who noted during introductions that he was the only rep for his race, “they are still doing a good job of keeping us apart,” he noted.
    Please don’t disregard the whole movement just yet. It’s voices like yours that need to be shared and that’s exactly how I found this piece. Hope we can find solidarity as we occupy for real change.
    Thank you again for your brave and honest voice.

  9. pablo says:

    so sad that you still have to say these things 25 years after i thought we’d wrestled them all to the ground… not Racism – i knew ThAT wasn’t dead since it was slapping me or my friends one side or the other everyday. but i thought we’d got thru to the progressives and the sympathetic middle-class anglos and that they would no longer question a “target-class” person about their perception of targetting — AND they’d learn and clean up their language and advocate for us and and and — boy, was i naive! i’m still seething about having to walk out of a meeting 5 yrs ago that was supposedly “inclusive”, “all communities had been invited”, “representatives of minority groups’ organizations will be present to advocate…” when i was asked to speak for all people of color and all LGBTQ people (after i pointed out that they’d forgotten to actually call and confirm their participation) even tho by looks i pass for middle-class str8 WASP like most of my ancestors. My own WASP grandfather, who loved me very much, referred to “spics” and said his mixed race Af-Am great-grandson didn’t count in racial slurs because he was “ours” … humans – can’t live with’em, can’t live without’em.

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