Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

NC Readers are already familiar with Adolph Reed; his “early call” on Obama is famous. Here’s a video from Reed on The Benjamin Dixon Show; it’s only ten minutes, and well worth a listen.

Here’s what I think is the key exchange:

DIXON: … the unbelievable use of identity politics to undermine a class-based argument. You diagnosed this problem before we even got to this problem. … In this election, I’ve seen like a swift-boating of class-based arguments, using race to the detriment of black people.

REED [O]ne of the nice things about being an old guy — and there aren’t a lot — but one of them is that you see phenomena like this happening and you recognize what’s going on, and what’s happened now — and I think that this largely was consolidated by the Clinton administration — and subsequently the centrist or dominant wing, I should say of the Democratic Party as its been tightening its grip — is a disconnection of the notion of social justice from economic inequality and economic security.

And that’s a notion of racial justice that first of all fits very comfortably with the people in elite colleges where I’ve been teaching for the last 35 years because they’re all expected to be part of the upper class, but it also has meant that we have a national politics now. And this takes us back to the fault lines in the current race, that that we have a national politics now that has for 20 years at least, longer, given us two choices. And one of them is a party that’s committed to Wall Street and to neoliberalism and is deeply and earnestly committed to a notion of diversity and multiculturalism, and a party that’s committed to Wall Street and neoliberalism, and is deeply opposed to multiculturalism and diversity.

So, if we have to choose between those two, obviously for most of us who are committed to the ideals of justice and equality, the one that’s committed to multiculturalism and diversity is less bad than the one that’s opposed to them. But the deeper problem is that they’re both actively committed to maintaining and intensifying economic inequality, and as I and my friend and colleague Walter Benn Michaels have pointed out tirelessly over the last decade or so, that that ideal of a just society is one in which one percent of the population can control ninety percent of the stuff, but it would be just if twelve percent of the one percent were black, fourteen percent Latino, and half of them were women, and whatever percentage were gay, and what that means, then, is that most Black people, and most Latinos, and most white people, and most Asian Americans would would be stuck holding like the end of the stick with the stuff on it that I assume I can’t call by its right name.

Notice that if a “Reed Coalition” were to be created, it would encompass the 80% or 90% of the population that doesn’t own or control “all the stuff.” The “Obama Coalition” (so-called), which Clinton hopes to leverage, is necessarily smaller, because of conflicts and contradictions between the identity categories it seeks to assemble. Hence, Clintonian incrementalism is the flip side of identity politics; it’s just math.

The audio, from which the video is taken, is a good deal longer, so sit down with a cup of coffee; it’s well worth it.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. cripes

    The man is brilliant, and has a gift for clarity of ideas that is unequaled in a time of obfuscation. He recognizes a bullshi**er without a second glance. The best I could come up with when I saw the staged elevation of brilliant orator Obama at the the 2004 Dem convention was “Obama, making the world safe for billionaires of every race and gender.”

    “one of them is a party that’s committed to Wall Street and to neoliberalism and is deeply and earnestly committed to a notion of diversity and multiculturalism, and a party that’s committed to Wall Street and neoliberalism, and is deeply opposed to multiculturalism and diversity.

    Nailed it.

    He is also an old-style labor unionist and leans to a Marxian class analysis: something we could probably do with more, not less of. It is the foundation of his world view.

    Decades have passed poking at the diversity tea leaves without, well, progress in any direction. Class struggle has been nearly erased from our history and our present. The legacy of the civil rights movement has been corrupted and debased into a masturbatory spectacle in service of the class overlords.

    I have to wonder if this is the result of deliberate “pre-planning” on the part of our malevolent overlords, or did they simply see an opening to co-op and pervert every expression of social rebellion into a tool for continued elite domination? Nevermind, the result, from corrupting the entire black misleadership class, to the drug war and carceral state, to destruction of organized labor is the same. The successive shocks become more frequent and traumatizing while simultaneously we are fed a steady diet of trivial controversies like Donald Trump’s latest gaff and transgender bathroom habits.

    MLK, who died before he could build a poor peoples movement to maturity, is surely spinning in his grave.

    1. Roger Smith

      If you have not read it, Martin Luther King Jr’s last book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community is a really great read. I had not heard of Reed until today but much of this idea that race equality is tied to class equality is present in his writings. He talks about the movement away from the segregation front as he tries to turn towards class arguments. Even then he describes many people in his arena not being open to idea that poor whites should be included etc…

      That was not helped by the lack of agency in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we he describes as having to defined timelines for state implementation and largely left structures intact. On top of that were the white liberals (the floozy neolibs like we have today) saying “you won, don’t push it”, in response to ending segregation as the first step to fixing class inequality and moving to phase two. This friction helped splinter the group and allow for the younger, more physical Black Power movement to rise up.

      It really irritates me that he was killed. I would love to hear him comment on Obama (if he lived long enough). Maybe we would have already been somewhere better if he was alive. He certainly would have been a great person to have around for longer.

      1. Norb

        I see economic justice as the issue that sheds most light on choosing allies and determining where someones true loyalties reside. When pressed, those supporting economic injustice are forced to admit that they support oppression and exploitation upon the weak and unconnected. There is no other explanation for the working poor, unable to support a family on current market determined wages. It is just slavery by another name.

        Staying focused on the idea of economic injustice as a condition built into the current system is key to moving toward lasting change. The system needs to be changed, not made less oppressive. The hearts and mind of the citizens need to be changed. The elite cannot win this battle because they are too few to actually reach out and BE with the citizens- and also, and more importantly, the notion with sharing any time or bing in physical contact with the plebes disgusts them. Having the plebes supporting and legitimizing the elite is the primary problem that needs addressing. MSM propaganda is the wedge that prevents the message of economic injustice from taking hold. It is a message that is easily co-opted and obfucated by the media. An unsuspecting audience is easily misled.

      2. HotFlash

        Well, too late to hear MLK but Adolph Reed had Obama’s number way early on. Per Wikipedia: In an article in the The Village Voice dated January 16, 1996, he said of Obama:

        In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.[6]

        It took me until the Telco immunization vote to twig.

    2. VTN

      “one of them is a party that’s committed to Wall Street and to neoliberalism and is deeply and earnestly committed to a notion of diversity and multiculturalism, and a party that’s committed to Wall Street and neoliberalism, and is deeply opposed to multiculturalism and diversity.

      Nailed it.

      Actually, black American household wealth collapsed far worse than white household wealth under Obama.

      As for “identity politics” in its current incarnation–it’s about as “anti-racist” as “chivalry” was anti-sexist…i.e. not at all. The very idea of overturning white supremacy is anathema to it at a fundamental level.

  2. cripes

    For an especially noxious example of billionaire co-optation of authentic revulsion at class/racial oppression, see the Koch’s latest commercial touting their dedication to the victims of mass incarceration.

    It’s Time to End the Divide” – Taking a Stand, by Koch Industries

    Who will, obviously, be freed from oppression after the total dismantling of state regulations.

  3. Russell

    Being an old guy now, but younger than some old guys, well anyway, I have said than gender and race are gifts to the mass media corporations, so Labor never gets mentioned.
    I am not before this now familiar with Adolf Reed, but get his drift.
    It is corporations there after I wrote mass media, but the mass media is pretty well an arm of the state now.
    Around us there are great numbers who do not have institutional memory, and depend on Authorities to tell them how to think.
    Far as Obama, I was more afraid he would end up like Carter, than how he has turned out.
    The Clintons, well, I have seen film of them in Haiti. That is who they are.

    1. Steve C

      Obama’s worse than Carter in that he’s better at self-promotion. He’s also leveraged identity politics into a tribal thing where middle-aged and older blacks and white liberals worship the ground he walks on, oblivious to his record of throwing the unemployed and under-employed under the bus.

      1. pretzelattack

        he also hasn’t called out our allies/surrogates for human rights abuses like carter did, or done as much to try to get us on alternative fuels like carter did.
        obama wasn’t nearly as good as carter, and he did far more harm. talk about a lesser of 2 evils election.

        1. Escher

          Not only is he not calling them out, he’s soft-pedaling them (see Malaysia) so he can get his neoliberal trade deal through.

  4. allan

    Constructing an electoral coalition based on an incomplete list of defining characteristics is a recipe for failure.
    If Jay Gould were alive today, he would say that he could hire half of the identity groups in the Democratic Party
    to kill the other half.

    1. Norb

      Coming up with ideas for taking control of the means of production is the only lasting answer- and that notion scares everyone to death. Nationalizing core industries and making them serve the needs of the people is a concept that is foreign- it is not even considered.

      The concept that certain activities and resources should be exempt from profit making needs to driven home. The only hope is for like minded people to band together and start building these alternatives.

      1. John

        +1000. Most sensible comment on here I’ve read on here in a long time. A bit Marxist for these parts, too.

    2. Ulysses

      “If Jay Gould were alive today, he would say that he could hire half of the identity groups in the Democratic Party
      to kill the other half.”


  5. Big River Bandido

    …what’s going on … is a disconnection of the notion of social justice from economic inequality and economic security.

    We’ve seen this phenomenon for 30 years now — the voters who smugly describe themselves as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”.

    As Harry Truman said in another context, it’s just a bunch of goddamn bullshit.

    1. Roger Smith

      I’d like to see this on someone’s campaign lawn sign:

      It’s all bullshit folks, and IT’S BAD FOR YA — George Carlin

  6. Otis B Driftwood

    I’d be curious to know how many readers on this forum are the product of a public education. Me, I grew up in the So. Chicago suburbs in the 70’s where there were two choices: 1. public school, and 2. catholic school. Most of us went to public school. Only a very few went to catholic school. There were no such things as “private” schools in my neck of the woods.

    Now I live and work in an environment where this is the exception rather than the rule. At work, I know people who send their kids to private school and complain about paying taxes to support public schools. Otherwise decent people say this to me.

    My wife is an educator – in fact, she starts as a new principal the next school year – and she bemoans the effect of charter schools on public schools as it increases the speed of the centrifugal force isolating children by class and economic status.

    1. Feeling the bern in WI

      The voucher storm coming to Wisconsin… is income tested, but only the first year. It’s going to weigh heavily in the next ten years. 1% increase for the next ten years, then NO % restriction. This is going to DESTROY local school districts

      Once you are in, no more means testing. Do you see the hidden goal there? Voucher schools have been a failure in Wisconsin, yet forward we go. There are big forces behind this…Gates, Jobs, Walton, all probably dem donors. They all need to go and actually work in a school. Then they would know the problem is POVERTY. What do we laud? Sending fresh ivy grads in for a few years.

      I too an a public school product. We have a great school system in much of the country. Teachers should be treated like we treat military veterans. They do more for our society. And for the past 40 years we’ve been busy critiquing them and denigrating the profession. And most of them are women. Does that tell you anything? Schools are the heart of the community – it’s the community that we have broken and then blamed it on the schools.

      And yes, it is about isolating by economic status. That is what much of our society is about, cause if you can’t afford to pay you aren’t going to play.

    2. Arizona Slim

      Public school kid here. Yes, I did go to a private kindergarten, but that was due to the fact that our local public school system didn’t offer classes at the K level.

      What stands out, even after all these years, is the mix of kids I dealt with. Rich kids, poor kids, and every class in between. Ditto for ethnicities. My schools were like a rainbow coalition.

      It wasn’t easy to deal with so many different kinds of people. In fact, it was downright difficult. But those interactions forced me to develop social skills that kids in monocultures (like private or charter schools) have been deprived of.

    3. jrs

      Yes I went to public school. I always considered it a horrible education and still do, though as always: it can get even worse. In my dreams I burn it all down.

      I was taught nothing of any use for anything pretty much with only 2 teachers that were exceptions and actually really tried to teach. There weren’t many charter schools back then, but what was then the middle class was already fleeing to private schools (and better school districts I guess). Call it white flight or whatever you like, things like that predate charter schools by decades and decades. Which is what makes the history started yesterday perspective so stupid, as if there was no white flight decades ago but everyone was really going to public schools and the same ones.

      I didn’t develop social skills (what from the bullying cliquish environment of many a junior high and high school?) and I didn’t learn much (if I know anything it’s due to my own natural curiosity, my family, and any education after K-12).

    4. HotFlash

      Um, mongrel, I guess. I did K-3 in public schools, then 4 through high school in Catholic schools. We figured we were getting a better education, since we did not have recess, just more classtime, and we stayed until 3:30, while they went home at 3:00. We had homework in gradeschool, they did not, and in high school they did not have homework on Wednesdays, since that was Hour of Power night. Heck, we even got homework on First Fridays!

      My gradeschool teachers were didn’t seem very smart to me, neither public or Catholic, but some of them were nice. My Catholic high school teachers were amazing — some amazingly good (takes a while to find out that Sr. Mary Whatnot is actually Dr. Sr. Mary Whatnot), and some amazingly awful. This seems to accord with what my public-school educated friends found in their schools. Our principal had a liquor cabinet in his office, one of my my public-school contemporaries was hauled into his principal’s office, with his dad, for a before-class meeting re some infraction (insubordination, probably) and at the end of the principal’s lecture my friend calmly responded, “I do not have to take seriously anyone with liquor on his breath at 8:30 in the morning.”

      I have concluded that most of us get educated in spite of whatever system is in place. Although, they did teach me how to read, and that has allowed me to learn anything ever after. For that I am grateful.

  7. flora

    Great post. Thanks.
    With the neolib Dems, identity politics included identity politics grievances – to the extent that with Obama and the Clintons the grievances are emphasized more than solutions.
    Guess that keeps the neolibs from addressing the real economy and the lousy condition on Main Street thanks to neolib economic policies.

  8. Uahsenaa

    I like Reed, which makes what I have to say none too appealing. He is absolutely spot on to point out the hypocrisy in academia. I distinctly recall the column I read where a radical feminist told graduate students complaining about money (specifically the inability to lay out hundreds of dollars just to attend a conference where they may or may not get a job) to suck it up and deal, completely ignoring, as always, the fact that the job market when she got her first position was infinitely better than the current one. Reed definitely speaks truth in this regard.

    However, taking class concerns as the primary lens through which to view justice and equality has its own drawbacks and blind spots:

    1) Immigration – immigration is a real wedge when it comes to struggles within the labor movement. It is seen by many as a means for TPTB to depress wages (and I realize this does happen) and to make people fearful for their jobs (again, does happen, re: H1B visa and other guest worker programs). Except taking a hard stance on immigration would likely result in the alienation of many Latinos, since for them it’s not just an economic issue, but a matter of maintaining ties with their families. You can’t build a lasting working class movement in the US without Latinos, and so there is an imperative in seeing immigration as BOTH a matter of economics and racial justice as well as recognizing the contradictions that both/and brings to light.

    2) Militarism/imperialism – for me this is the real blind spot in the Democratic primary campaign. It was a serious issue for neither Sanders, who never mentions it, nor Clinton, who simply repeats the imperialist dogma of the MIC. Americans tend not to see how big of a deal this is for everyone else in the world, since we generally don’t suffer from having our governments casually destabilized for spurious reasons, but it is also a driver of so many of the “problems” people are afraid of. I put that in scare quotes, because it includes pseudo-problems like terrorism but also real problems like the dumping of military hardware on local police forces and the general militarization of policing. That latter point, then, leads directly into a fundamental racial concern, the fact that black men in particular are subject to state violence to a degree no one else is. Class consciousness alone does little to explain this overlap between militarism and racism, except in certain limited cases, e.g. the funding of local government through fines and tickets.

    If what Reed wants is a politics of fighting ALL battles at all times, then I’m on board. But if rightly emphasizing class concerns is a “not that one but this one” kind of argument, count me out.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think when you reject “class” as the “primary lens” you are spot on and that’s where hard thinking needs to be done. I think that the over-focus on class is in large part a reaction to its suppression by, well, class enemies.

      The problem is that you have to approach people where they are, and not where you would like them to be. And although the role of (in my formulation) human rental (IMNSHO the next candidate for abolition) is absolutely critical in every single human relationship on the planet today, that doesn’t mean people see it that way, or even see it at all. This again IMNSHO is what an intersectional perspective should enable, but does not (in part because liberal institutions are siloed by single identities, leading to vulgar intersectionality.

      It has been my thought that triples or even quads are needed (like Meyers Briggs notation). The “White working class male” triple is sensible. So is “White bourgoeis male,” for that matter. Therefore why do we never hear “Black working class male”? There is the puzzle for the left (and not the conservatives or liberals) to figure out.

      1. Uahsenaa

        The problem is that you have to approach people where they are, and not where you would like them to be.

        Yass, as the kids are wont to say.

        The union I belong to is made up of a bunch of multi-racial, multi-ethnic pinkos, so much of this would be preaching to the choir. However, I’d like to believe the guys in my dad’s and brother’s UAW local, even the ones who go on and on about “Mexico this” and “Mexicans that” could be convinced that the real evil was NAFTA, which most of them already do believe, that it was just as bad for the “Mexicans,” whoever they are (in this formulation, it somehow magically does not include the large Latino population in my hometown), and that refusing to give into such easy anti-immigrant sentiment deprives TPTB, the real bad guys, of another way to pull the wool over their eyes.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          I don’t have the language for this. It’s like understanding that blood circulates through the body because the heart pumps it but not having the germ theory. Or something.

          1. Uahsenaa

            It’s about the details, mostly, which broad theoretical language is often ill-equipped to deal with, unless you want to construct one of Lacan’s weird schemata.

            In this particular instance, the members of a UAW local for a Chrysler plant in northern Illinois, there are two facts on the ground that fuel certain irrational beliefs. 1) There were two plants in the world making the Neon during its production, the plant in question and one in Mexico. Quite often, plant employees found themselves in direct competition with production outputs in the Mexico plant. So, when they’re getting shit on by their bosses, the knee jerk reaction is to ascribe it to this artificial antagonistic relationship, when the larger reality is pretty clear, that the Mexican and American workers are being played against each other. Fact 2) has nothing to do with the plant, but the larger circumstances of migrant farm laborers and the Green Giant plant where many of their children later worked. So, within my hometown, there was this weird two tiered working class situation, largely divided by race, that is until Latinos started working at the assembly plant in larger numbers and Green Giant downsized over the years. Add to that the displacement of white owned businesses downtown with Latino owned businesses, restaurants and grocers in particular (to my high school self, something of a welcome change–the food was much better). Even after this shift took place, the animus remained, especially among older people, so the “blame Mexico” response is still an easy one to latch onto, one that doesn’t have to acknowledge the harsh reality of a manufacturing base gutted by forces beyond their control. Oddly, the racial goto is almost more satisfying, despite the cognitive dissonance, because it’s more local and therefore feels like it ought to be within one’s power to change.

            To give you a sense of how pervasive this animus was, in my Spanish classes, you would be punished loudly and often cruelly for using Latin American grammatical constructions or vocabulary, despite the fact that in your immediate circumstances, that was the most useful Spanish you could learn.

            And that’s just in a town of about 25,000 people. So multiply by every municipality in the US and you start to see how daunting it is to try and see what motivates people’s anger and frustration. It has gotten better over time, but it’s still possible to stoke that racist fear and loathing, because its dark unconscious never goes away.

      2. Left in Wisconsin

        I would argue in favor of class as the primary lens of politics for this reason: it is a straightforward political problem for the state to address (some) core issues of class – a $15/hour minimum wage, a job guarantee, a GBI or such would have immediate positive impacts across the society that would also 1) help clarify what additional policies/politics might be beneficial to addressing less class-specific issues and 2) more importantly, it would alleviate some amount of the race, immigration, school, etc. conflict that tends to manifest as racism or other non-class ism in the here and now, providing additional space for solutions arising out of the citizenry/society. Not primary in the sense of more important than all the others but primary in the sense of addressing that focus first and successfully creates additional space for doing more and better in various other ways and means.

        Thinking this through, though, I can’t say what a $15 minimum wage or a job guarantee would do, or would have done, for Black/Korean relations in LA. But it’s hard to see that it would have made things worse.

        1. JTFaraday

          No, it doesn’t work.

          a). “Addressing people where they are” means Sanders reached the so-called “Bernie bros” and whether or not anyone else found THEIR OWN way into his camp, was almost entirely up to them. Big FAIL. Mass elections work at a bumper sticker level, and “class first” lost the election.

          b). Gunning down black men with near impunity is not an issue for the state to address? Making sure reproductive health care remains legally accessible is not an issue for the state to address?

          I’m about this close to calling all this rationalization racist (etc) itself. It’s like a phobia, like homophobia.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I said “approach people,” not “address people.” That is, I’m not suggesting treating people either as a crowd or an envelope. Second, personally, I don’t agree with class “first.” People are have a lot of aspects at the same time.

            As for police gunning down black people, flip that over and in Ferguson you’ll see law enforcement for profit. Class counts there, too.

            (I think a lot of the conversational problems here come from identity politics types erasing class entirely. Class analysts then over-compensate for the erasure.

    2. Jeff W

      “taking class concerns as the primary lens through which to view justice and equality has its own drawbacks and blind spots”

      Well, if you focus on the fact that all the crabs in the tank are ultimately going to get steamed, you do miss the fact that some are at the top of the heap and others aren’t.

      I think Reed is arguing for a better analysis of what is going on—and that doesn’t lead to a “not that one but this one” or “all” choice of battles but a better understanding of what the one battle (“identity politics”) means in the context of the other battle (“class”). If the two parties are both committed to Wall Street and to neoliberalism and have people fight over multiculturalism and diversity, the analysis isn’t about—and isn’t intended to be about—the merits of multiculturalism or diversity, it’s about how the issue of multiculturalism or diversity, for and against, is deployed by both parties.

      1. JTFaraday

        I think one thing liberals/ the left need to do is STOP belittling the issues of black people and women as “identity politics” just like the right does. It just makes you seem exactly like them.

        1. allan

          Blacks, women and all historically mistreated groups have lots of `issues’.
          Many of them are economic or legal.
          The left isn’t belittling those issues – it’s focusing on them.
          If that doesn’t fit into the Center for American Progress – Third Way paradigm, so be it.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          I think one thing concerned writers need to think about is how to include class in a politics that subsumes identity politics, which erases class. Otherwise you end up with what Glen Ford calls, and rightly, the Black Misleadership Class. A further really constructive contribution would be to suggest language that achieves this goal, which I regard as 180° opposed to belittling.

        3. ekstase

          I think some women and minorities feel belittled by political appeals to them based on one single aspect of their identity. The notion that we are going to be proud of someone or empathize with them because they share some DNA, or chromosomes, can be kind of infuriating. Class as a lens, has been a taboo subject in mainstream American thought for a long time, and maybe only recently with the notion of “the 1%” taking off, has this lens been re-introduced into our politics. Maybe this is giving people a new way to escape limiting, dumbing-down, identities. That a huge number of people found their most common ground with Sanders speaks to this.

          1. JTFaraday

            This should be so old by now. If people don’t want to piss off prospective Sanders-type voters who are women and black people, don’t belittle their concerns by rationalizing them away and don’t belittle them by using the same dismissive terms as the Republicans to describe them.

            What is so hard about that? It’s like a phobia. A mental illness all its own.

            I don’t like to say this, because I do think “class analysis” has been under erasure, but you get there from here.

            As for “policing for profit” in Fergusen having a “class” aspect. How is this not something for the state potentially to address, and therefore relevant in a national election?

            All this libertarianism all of a sudden. I don’t know. Too much rationalization for me.

  9. Felix_47

    He is right on. Where I work (the USG) everyone makes the same money and has the same potential for promotion. The intermarriage rate between blacks and whites is very high. Through my children I am exposed to a fairly expensive private and liberal university as well. As I look at the campus and their peers one sees a very high interracial pairing rate but I know a few of these black young men and it seems very few, if any, that I have gotten to know are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I think among the young the bars of racism, while they still exist, are fairly low when economic level is equal. When blacks have a higher economic level as in, for example, Germany or the Phillipines or Viet Nam years ago the intermarriage or, at least, pairing rate is quite high since the drive to get to the big PX with a guaranteed annual income is far stronger than racial prejudice. And that is despite the extreme historical racial prejudice of Asians. I don’t know if some economist has ever monetized prejudice in the marriage market but it is reasonable to assume there is a number. We see many trophy wives with old fat white men, for example, and everyone has a price. So if we were to focus on economic equality it seems that racism would take care of itself over time. And that is what irritates me about the Dems and HRC. By using identity politics they are interfering with this natural and peaceful intermingling and creating conflict where there really isn’t much. The result of their efforts is to increase racism as opposed to minimizing it. If they really want less racism they need to focus on economic equality which I guess most NC readers understand. Unfortunately Bernie was unable to formulate this and express this to the voters early in his campaign before he was trounced in the South.

    1. redleg

      Apply the same reasoning to violent crime. Does violent crime diminish with economic stability/prosperity?

    2. norb

      Same with population growth. Higher poverty rates correlate with higher population growth.

  10. Jim

    “But the deeper problem is that the….ideal of a just society is one in which one percent of the population can control ninety percent of the stuff would be just, if 12% of the one percent were black, 14% Latino and half of them were women and whatever percent gay.”

    ” a disconnection of the notion of social justice from economic inequality and economic security.”

    This vision of “social justice” began to take hold as far back as the early 1970s with the fading of the Vietnam War and the dissolution of the New Left into the more fashionable forms of fake oppostion to the system: feminism became simply upward mobility for upper middle class women, black power largely became a path of upward mobility for the now increasingly discredited Black leadership class and large segments of the New Left itself began the march of upward mobility through the institutions (particularly academia).

    Is it any surprise that the Democratic Party today has evolved into an instrument controlled by the upper-middle class, primarily for the upper-middle class.

  11. cripes


    That’s the thing: since the Virginia plantation owners promulgated miscegenation laws and so forth among African chattel and Scots-Irish indentured labor who lived, worked and sometimes started families together back in the late 1600’s, race has been very deliberately used to undermine class solidarity .

    The property class used race first to exclude blacks from participation in the labor movement, and then used it to threaten the security of white workers when black americans could no longer be (completely) excluded from union-wage work.

    Reed is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in race and American politics. He.knows the history.

    1. Uahsenaa

      I know the history as well as he does, but what I’m talking about is the here and now. Frothing at the mouth over immigration will cause serious issues for any labor movement now, not in the 19th century, which, frankly, we cannot change. And anti-immigration is something that has pull among working class folk, black and white, right now. I grew up with this sort of soft racism, so you cannot tell me that a strong nativist current isn’t there. And pro-immigration is something that sits securely within the neoliberal wheelhouse, even if they ultimately wish to exploit it to nefarious, self-serving ends.

      All I’m saying is, if you don’t fight on all fronts with equal vigor, TPTB will use the one you skimp on as a wedge. I can guarantee neoliberal dems and republicans will be using immigration/anti-immigration as a wedge; it’s already there in Trump’s politics and has been implicit in Republican base movements of the past 30 or so years.

      1. Cripes

        Your comments on anti immigration sentiment only confirm the fact that it is used as a wedge to divide class allies. We get that.
        Your suggestion that Reed is somehow denying the history or the present iterations or racism, nativist or immigrant baiting is without factual support or logic.
        If you want to make an argument that the “left”-whoever that is- places too much emphasis on class to exclusion of race/gender, fine, have at it.
        Events since about 1970 or so argue otherwise.

        Invite him to debate the topic and see how it works out for you.

        But using Reed as your straw man doesn’t cut it.

        1. Uahsenaa

          I typed out a massive response and then just as I submitted it, my router crashed. I’ll try to reiterate my thoughts in a more pithy manner.

          1) I wouldn’t mind debating Reed at all. I have full faith in my rhetorical and intellectual prowess.

          2) I was quite clear that class needs to be just as prominent a part of social justice matrix. But I also think it’s important that it’s a matrix and that no one point of entry can explain or override everything else. I focused on militarism precisely because that was what no one wanted to talk about in the dem primary, and American militarism in particular has a number of ramifications that spread out through that matrix.

          3) Reed is not a straw man by any measure here. He has repeatedly called out in a rather sweeping manner a class of black intellectuals that he regards more or less as courtiers in an academic system where class is either overlooked or minimized when questions of social justice are addressed, even where inappropriate. Yes, Melissa Harris-Perry and Michael Eric Dyson are hacks, but West, Gates, hooks, all of whom Reed has lumped into that category, are not. bell hooks is a particularly odd inclusion, because class is writ large not only in her academic work but also in her career. When she was at the height of her career, she chose to leave an elite university (Yale) specifically so that she could teach somewhere where the students were not only more racially diverse but came from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, when Dixon and Ford over at BAR like to tag someone as a “spokesnegro,” whether it makes sense to or not, it’s Reed they turn to for intellectual cover, because he does much the same thing at times in less dismissive terms.

          3) The LA riots of ’92 are a good example of what I’m talking about, namely the danger of atomizing each piece of social justice. It’s not just a matter of making sure you cover all the equality and justice bases, but also understanding how they interact and correspond with one another. I want to focus specifically on relations between the black and Korean communities, since, all too often, we think of race in black/white terms. So, one of the major underlying currents prior to the riots was the mistreatment and general distrust of the LAPD in the black community. As the riots broke out, the violence and property damage was largely centered in majority black neighborhoods, where many businesses were still operated by Korean immigrant families. Because the LAPD refused to come into those neighborhoods as the violence escalated, Korean shop owners found themselves in the position of having to defend their businesses themselves, often violently. In the aftermath of the riots, racial tensions between Koreans and blacks ran high, and as a result they blamed each other for their respective misfortunes: Koreans for the destruction of their livelihoods, and blacks for what they felt to be financial predation (we’re mostly talking convenience stores and other high markup businesses here). In reality, they were both victims of a majority white city administration that had done nothing to intervene in those neighborhoods to improve economic conditions and, through a near total absence of policing, allowed the violence there to escalate way beyond control. When multiracial/ethnic groups formed in the aftermath to try and draw attention to the economic plight of the area, they often met stiff resistance in the form of lingering racial animus between Koreans and blacks. Simply pointing to their shared economic situation did little to unravel the very raw, very recent history of how these two groups were never really getting along, despite living in close proximity.

          I really don’t want to be an ass about this, because these sorts of multilayered concerns for justice play out in the very community in which I live. It’s a huge not to untangle, and I think we need to all recognize it as such.

          Perhaps a much more interesting and easier to advertise debate would be between hooks and Reed. They could air much of this in a way that I think would be productive for all.

          1. Jim

            Another dimension of our “multilayered concerns about justice” not often discussed is the deployment of a type of cultural capital as a more subtle means of domination.

            For example, the professional/managerial/academic groups which largely run the Democratic Party seem to comprise a particular social sector that uses knowledge and expertise in an attempt to increasingly dominate the rest of the population.

            Today this knowledge-based cultural grouping is interlinked with traditional elements of Big Capital and Finance in a continuing exercise of hegemony.

            Identity politics has often functioned as a key ideological instrument for opportunistic moves into the upper-middle class and higher by many members of this knowledge-based sector of the population–under the rhetorical guise of helping all victims of multilayered oppression. Think both Bill and Hillary and Obama.

            1. Uahsenaa

              I would never disagree that a certain technocratic class has latched onto narrowly circumscribe social justice issues that are no real threat to capital. But a Korean shop owner is not a technocrat; the black guy who lives next door to me and works at P&G is not a technocrat, but their views on race have much in common with the shills you rightly identify as such. It’s important not to throw out the baby with the bath water, precisely because, to my mind, there is a need to disentangle some very useful perspectives on race that have been co-opted over the years so that they can no longer be used as cover for neoliberal shenanigans.

          2. JTFaraday

            I think the bottom line here is that white men don’t want class analysis on black peoples’ terms (especially, but they don’t want to hear it from the women either), and that’s why they will resist bringing class and race (or gender) together all the way into Donald Trump’s camp.

            Women and black people of ALL classes know this. White men have been abandoning the D-Party for four + decades. Some will tolerate the Bernie bro phenomenon along the way– probably in SILENCE,** because there’s no point in arguing– and the rest cut right to the chase.

            How bad do things have to get before there is any chance this pattern changes is the question. I don’t think we’re there yet, although my Bernie bro nephew only attacks ignorant bigot Trump, never Hillary or any HRC supporter.

            So, there’s that.

            ** No need to point out that this is one of the primary thing that women of ALL classes cannot effing stand about men.

            1. JTFaraday

              Indeed, Garance Franke-Ruta would make men’s apparent inability to STFU and listen to women a national issue in a national election.

  12. Teejay

    Thanks for this post. To my regret I past over watching Reed’s appearance on Bill Moyers back in 014 but came across it thanks to your link to Wikipedia. I am forever stunned at the consequences to our society of learning after the fact: the motive for voting for GWB was he’s somebody we’d like to have a beer with or Judy Miller’s source was nic-named Curveball. Adolph Reed pointed out that Barack Obama was little more than an oreo cookie, an uncle Tom, a tool of neoliberalism two decades ago! The older I get the more I realize that being a fully informed citizen is a full time job. I’m left peddling as fast as I can, our democratic society depends on it.

    1. Lord Koos

      “…being a fully informed citizen is a full time job…”

      This is a huge part of the problem I think. Most people are too busy trying to make ends meet to become more informed. And then there is the issue of where does one turn to get real, truthful information? There is crackpot stuff all over the internet and it’s not always easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.

      1. Teejay

        This is the very point Sheldon Wolin made in his mulitpart interview with Chris Hedges on TRNN.
        For democracy to thrive it needs an informed population that participates and it’s increasingly more difficult to do given the economic stresses we face.

      2. Vatch

        You’re quite correct that it’s difficult to be well informed (maybe it’s impossible, but one can at least attempt to approach the point of being well informed). However, I think there is a significant number of people who have zero interest in being well informed. They let themselves be diverted by excessive attention to sports, reality TV, religious enthusiam, or pop music, with the result that the possibility of an informed electorate crumbles to dust. They want their Soma.

  13. Take the Fork

    I’ve always liked Reed, even when I disagree with him. Unfortunately, to shift towards economic issues (which used to be the glue that held the Democratic party together) would force many tenured academics of all hues, preferences and plumbing, off to re-education camps, so that they may be taught to recognize and check their various privileges while weaning them off their Cultural Marxism (which co-exists so peacefully with the neoliberal regime they claim they want to overturn) and back to something like the Old Time Religion…

    I’ve often wondered if getting shot wasn’t the best career move available to King at the time. Certainly he has been very valuable as Saint Martin. By 1968 his greatest triumphs were well behind him. The failure of his economic initiatives make me wonder how long he would have continued in that vein, anyway. Legal segregation in the South was a far easier target for simple protest and soaring rhetoric than the complicated and often shadowy nexus of money, law and politics that he confronted up North. Moreover, had he lived into the age of National Enquirer and Talk Radio, it’s doubtful his reputation would have survived with him. Maybe he would have ended up with his own mega-church…

    I also wonder if King would have supported something like Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). Right now I can imagine few things more counter-productive than an executive order that will be painted (at best) as an attempt move a problem around, rather than solve it and, at worst, a replay of bussing.

  14. John

    Great video…I love his quote about the 1%.

    I’m so sick of identity politics. It’s not 1965. The black community is not a monolithic entity, and black elites have all of the same rights and privileges as white elites. They have an entirely different set of interests than poor blacks and have more in common with rich whites than the former, and identity politics serves them quite well. By making race instead of class the issue, they can enlist the support of the black majority, who is accustomed to seeing things this way (the tradition of the civil rights movement), without having to actually listen to them. And by keeping everyone’s attention on Black Lives Matter and Hillary’s connection with Obama, Bernie’s message on issues like healthcare and education gets ignored.

    There are a lot of neoliberals in academia that also love the focus on discrimination. It jives well with their worldview and their focus on multiculturalism and means that inequality gets pushed out of the discourse. I went to a liberal arts college and the only notion of injustice was discrimination (and sexism)…social justice was not even a part of the discussion. Their critique is that class-based explanations are lacking in their understanding of race (Marx was a 19th century European…what do they expect?), but the much greater problem is race-based explanations’ failure to take class into accoutn. A rich black person may be more likely to be pulled over or followed at department stores but that’s about it in the 21st century. This is nothing compared to the problems faced by poor blacks…or even poor whites.

  15. Paul Hirschmann

    Before WWII, and for a short while afterwards, there were radical wings in every ethnic group in the US–Italian, Jewish, Polish, Irish, German…as well as a business wing that was being incorporated by the older Protestant elite into both parties. With help of anti-communist hysteria and witch-hunts, conservative ethnic leadership in all these communities stood guard against working-class insurgencies. That wonderful process can now be applied to Black Americans. The Booker/Obama crowd versus the older, locally based, more militant Black leadership. Being Black now means pretty much what it means to be any other kind of American–business oriented, money oriented, Ivy League oriented, deference to traditional elites, and so on.

    Identity politics, if one looks at the content of these “identities,” tends to be conservative in the sense that ethnic elites mimic the styles and politics of the established elites. This process used to be called “embourgeoisement.”

    Sanders is an echo of the older tradition, as is Adolph Reed, Bill Moyers, and other voices on the margins of identity politics. The example of Tom Hayden demonstrates the power of the squeeze of identity politics, of the power of ethnic/racial elites to come to terms with “Capital” in ways that eviscerate radical politics.

    Perhaps the declining social mobility of kids in all ethnic and racial groups will provide a reason to re-learn the politics of class. Identity politics will just be too costly to afford much longer. Perhaps this is the meaning of the youth vote for Bernie.

  16. Cripes

    I second John and Paul above.

    The contention that excessive emphasis within the American left on class, which is to say economic justice, over identity politics is the problem is baffling. That debate was held by communist party organizers on harlem street corners 70 years ago. Not today.

    Elite manipulation of political discourse has used the diversity foil to devastating effect, leading masses of people to defend their oppressors on an identity basis and vote against their actual interests, seems dispositive. It ain’t only in Kansas.

    I also fail to see who is advocating the “one issue” and “not the other” issue, unless you’re referring to some miniscule splinter of the SWP.

    Name names, or it’s a straw man.

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