The Invention of the White Working Class

Lambert here: Once again, the subhead: “The phrase is a dog whistle, not a demographic.” Exactly. I hate to bury this important piece on the Friday before New Year’s weekend but needs must…

By Les Leopold, director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement. Originally published at Alternet.

History warns us to be very, very careful when using the phrase “white working class.” The reason has nothing to do with political correctness. Rather, it concerns the changing historical definitions of who is “white.”

Eduardo Porter in the New York Times uses this construction to ask, “Did the white working class vote its economic interests?” He claims that current data shows white people losing out to blacks and Hispanics in getting their fair share of the new jobs created since 2007:

“Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.”

Porter further argues this is happening because blacks and Hispanics live mostly in the thriving urban areas while most white people live in declining rural areas.

Only 472 counties voted for Hillary Clinton on Election Day. But they account for 64 percent of the nation’s economic activity. The 2,584 counties where Trump won, by contrast, generated only 36 percent of America’s prosperity.

Porter therefore believes that the white working class flocked to Trump as a way to protest their economic decline.

But this conclusion is flawed:

  • Neither the studies nor Porter provide a definition of “white working class.” Is it all white people? Does it include management? Professionals? We’re not told.

  • Nor do they provide any evidence that the actual work experiences of white and black working people are starkly different no matter how the class is defined.

  • Rural America, also, is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5% of rural and small town America.

  • Further, the research grounding my book Runaway Inequality shows that working people as a whole (defined as the 85 percent of us who are production and non-supervisory employees) have seen their real wages fall since the late 1970s—all shades, all colors.

  • Finally, most of the new jobs created are low-wage, part-time service sector jobs—jobs that often pay poverty wages. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, “More than 40% of the jobs added in just the past year have come in generally lower-paying fields such as food service, retail and temporary help.” So getting the lion’s share of these jobs is not a pathway to prosperity.

Dog-Whistle Whites

What these studies and reports do accomplish however is to sound the latest dog whistle about race in America. They create an image in our minds of a coherent white working class, hunkered down in the declining manufacturing sector—white rural workers who have needs and interests different from black and brown urban workers. In doing so, this image feeds into a long history of white working class creationism that divides working people by race.

An early instance of this process took place in the aftermath of Bacon’s rebellion (1675), during which Nathanial Bacon united black slaves, and white indentured servants into a rebellious army against Virginia planter elites. (It was less than a noble enterprise in that Bacon wanted more government attacks against Native Americans.) After the rebellion was put down, plantation owners gave special privileges to poor whites in order to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. It worked.

A dramatic redefinition of “white” took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mass immigration and colonialization expanded. So called race scientists studied cranial size and shapes, skin color, and hair texture to create a biology of race. By 1911, the U.S. Immigration Commission published its Dictionary of Races or Peoples, that listed 29 separate races. The Southern Italian race, for example, is described as “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative…having little adaptability to highly organized society.”

Race science defined “white” as a narrow category that excluded virtually everyone who didn’t come from northern Europe. By the First World War, U.S. immigration policy was informed by early IQ tests given to immigrants on Ellis Island that supposedly showed that “87% of Russians, 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, and 79% of Italians were feeble-minded.”

Management “Race Science”

These race scientists created a vast hierarchy of races seen in the chart below designed for a Pittsburgh steel company in 1926. It is based on the idea that each “race” by its intrinsic nature possesses certain skills and attributes that makes it suitable to certain work tasks.


This “science” provided the rationale for dividing the workforce by ethnic group which had the added virtue of weakening worker solidarity and keeping unions at bay. This became particularly acute after 4 million workers went on strike at the end of WWI. The largest strike involved 350,000 steel workers that finally collapsed after 14 weeks of pitched battles. It is highly likely that the skills chart was designed to prevent such a resurgence.

(One can only speculate why the Jewish “race” was placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. One reason may be because two of the largest unions in the country—the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union—were Jewish-led and represented hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrant workers. So if you hired Jewish workers in the steel industry, the odds were high they might be predisposed to unionism or be union plants.)

The Whitening of America

A confluence of events rapidly changed the definition of white in the 1930s and ’40s. The rise of American industrial unionism successfully organized “unskilled” immigrant workers, blacks and Hispanics into broad-based unions. So much for the race chart.

The mobilization for WWII further melded together all the “lower” ethnic groups except for black, brown and yellow. And after the atrocities at the Nazi death camps were revealed, the earlier race science industry was thoroughly discredited.

What Causes the Definition of Race to Change?

The definition of “white” and of “race” in general depends on the needs of the most powerful elements of society. To justify slavery and Jim Crow, race science gave Southern elites a justification for denying human rights to millions with darker skin colors.

The “science” of the early 1900s created finely grained racial hierarchies that conveniently justified immigration restrictions and colonialism. Colonial powers argued that since their “race” was at the top of the ladder, they had the right and the duty to rule lesser peoples and their countries.

To successfully mobilize America against the “master race” and the “yellow peril” during WWII, American leaders permitted “white” to be broadened to include most of what previously had been considered lesser races. (However, racist southern Democrats and their lock-down control of Congress, made sure that black and brown people were denied New Deal benefits and therefore would continue to suffer as separate races. The Japanese internment camps further heightened the idea of a separate race of “Orientals.”)

So What Color is Obama?

White mother, black father means you are black? White? Half-black? Half white? That kind of question leads us to think about race as a biological as well as a sociological category. Skin color is real biology isn’t it? And what about sickle-cell anemia?

But folk science is not real science. One in 13 African-American babies is born with a sickle-cell trait. Sickle cell trait can also affect Hispanics, South Asians, Caucasians from southern Europe, and people from Middle Eastern countries.

Similarly, every effort to construct a black or white race through genetics has failed. No one yet has found a gene that signals a separate race.

Here’s a fact of life that may startle you: 85 percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person. Biologically speaking the old cliché is true: There is only one race—the human race.

What is race?

Over a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois put forth perhaps the clearest, most exact definition of race: “A Negro is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia.”

Du Bois understood, as should we, that race is a social construction, a human invention used to create a hierarchy of power. It is not genetics. It is not biology. And in the case of the “white working-class,” it’s not even accurate sociology.

When we invent the white working-class, we whitewash an increasingly diverse manufacturing workforce. Take the workforce at Carrier, which is in the news because of Trump’s effort to prevent its jobs from moving to Mexico. Isn’t it a perfect example of a beleaguered and declining white working-class in Indiana, looking to Trump for help?

No. The Carrier workforce is 50 percent African American. Half of the assembly line workers are women. Burmese immigrants make up 10 percent of the employees.

Drop the dubious white working-class construction and we’ll see that Porter is asking the wrong question. It’s not whether the imagined white working-class voted for its own economic interests by voting for Trump.

Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?

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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. Disturbed Voter

    Race is a political-economic designation, not a biological one. You can raise an African-American boy as a Wasp.

    There is a difference between minority fairness and minority advocacy. There is a difference between immigrant fairness and immigrant advocacy. Unfortunately, in the domain of political-economy, there is no such thing as introspection or moderation.

    The politics changed, when people got the idea that the decline of the White Working Class was deliberate rather than the “hidden hand”. People still accept Adam Smith as a prophet, but not Saul Alinsky’s latest Five Year Plan to exterminate the Kulaks.

      1. MtnLife

        I think in the first paragraph they were referring to race, aside from visible differences, is more a socioeconomic-political product of the persons environment. A white kid from the ghetto who wears hip hop clothing and speaks heavily in Ebonics will be treated in a similar manner to other black people, most likely more so than a black kid from upscale Connecticut in a cardigan speaking the Queens English would.

        The second paragraph seems to call out the difference between making sure someone from race A isn’t passed over for employment for a less qualified member of race B versus making sure 1 out of X workers is of race A no matter what. One item promoting equality, the other an attempt to remediate inequality by promoting inequality.

        Lastly, the point seems to be that the racial employment change as a political choice rankles people differently than if all of the sudden those other races were just that much better educated, qualified, etc.

        1. Anthony Blair Thomas

          Only that White child can grow up to be a “responsible” adult with very little clue to his previous life style other than he may still listen to rap music.

          The creation of White has a class/race superior is that you can dabble in unethical behavior and be forgiven or hide it (who’s going to tell on you?).

          I can’t stop being Black. So I get judged luckily by looks as I don’t have the penalty that poor Black single mothers tend to tag their children with; a ghetto name = Jamarquaivous

          Which means in some cases Jamarquaivous’ CV get round filed before even given an interview where nobody assumes me to be Black by my name or even by how I talk so I generally have no problem getting work.

          Blacks are guilty of making themselves unemployable in some cases whether that would be wrong in the face of identity politics or right to the controlling class to punish those who don’t completely conform to social norms.

          IE you don’t name your kids Jamarquaivous or Sharkisha

          Most people with those names are either unemployed or doomed to the service sector for jobs.

  2. Adam1

    We out number them somewhere between 100 and 1,000 to 1, but so long as they can keep us blaming each other and fighting each other they can maintain control over us. Divide and conquer has been a successful strategy for many millennium.

    1. cocomaan

      Right on. A concrete division, and the most important one, is that some have resources and many more do not.

      That said, there are cultural differences between groups that are quite real as well. Religion is the oldest one, but the other cultural differences go deep too. That’s why Zizek warned against Europe’s bizarre immigration policies, saying “I never liked this humanitarian approach that if you really talk with them you discover we are all the same people,” he explains. “No, we are not—we have fundamental differences, and true solidarity is in spite of all these differences.”

      We do need to understand each other, just not on the basis of race.

    2. Synoia

      The only weapon for the Working Class is solidarity.

      Solidarity come with a price. Loss of individual freedoms, due to the enforcement of solidarity.

      Take you pick:

      Oppression by your peers, with one set of gains and losses.
      Oppression by you overseers, with a different set of losses and gains.

      The moment you decide to reproduce, have children, you sacrifice many of your freedoms.

      Personally, I was free when I have no debt, and no encumbrances, Then I got married and “settled down,” and the nightmare of oppression started.

      After marriage, I needed a job. Before marriage I was needed for a job. There is a vast difference.

      1. tongorad

        Reminds me of the Moz, that does:

        I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
        But heaven knows I’m miserable now

        I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
        And heaven knows I’m miserable now

        In my life
        Why do I give valuable time
        To people who don’t care if I live or die?


    3. LifelongLib

      It isn’t just that. Many non-rich people think we need rich people in order to have prosperity, so getting rid of the rich is killing the golden goose…

      1. ambrit

        Funny how the “Golden Goose” story never mentions the possibility of trying to hatch any of those eggs.

      2. Paul P

        Yes, rich people. They are the movers and shakers. But, when workers strike and the
        machine stops, a flash of reality is revealed in the lightning strike: the workers are the
        movers and shakers and without them, nothing gets done.

        So, solidarity must be shattered by the race myth, but also by laws against strikes. The public sector prohibitions against strikes reveal the importance of government … our otherwise maligned institution.

        Thanks Lambert for posting this.

    4. fds

      This isn’t a Norma Rae issue. Race, of the anti-Caucasian variety, is now the race baiting and weapon of the bosses. We are less controllable and expect to be paid. Our replacement, according to their flawed perception of third world worker docility, is ordained by the one percent.

  3. Cry Shop

    Here’s a fact of life that may startle you: 85 percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person. Biologically speaking the old cliché is true: There is only one race—the human race.

    Badly worded, so in error. As the author has not defined the scope/sample for populations, I’d be guessing at the intent, and then the author falls back into the trap of drawing his second sample from “white” and “black” which he’s trying to say do not exist.

    I believe he’s trying to say that the degree of genetic variability between two samples of “European” or “African” decedent people is much larger in degree than any variability that can be identified as arising only from comparison between random samples drawn from both populations for cross comparison. Even this is awkward. I could do better, I just don’t have the time right now.

    1. PKMKII

      If you click through to the link it says:

      Of the remaining 15% of human variation, between a quarter and a half is between local populations within classically defined human “races,” between the French and the Ukrainians, between the Kikuyu and the Ewe, between the Japanese and the Koreans. The remaining variation, about 6% to 10% of the total human variation is between the classically defined geographical races that we think of in an everyday sense as identified by skin color, hair form, and nose shape.

      So I think, and even the link is vague so take this with a grain of salt, it’s saying that of the genetic variables, only 6-10% have to be in common for two individuals in order to meet the outward, visual appearance of sameness in the typical racial sense. The other 80-90% can be variable, as they don’t affect determining appearance factors, i.e. no one attributes a genetic variable that affects the lungs or the bowels as determining race.

      1. Cry Shop

        Yes, I still don’t have time to look at it with the depth it deserves, but I think you’re closer to what the author was trying to catch than my guess. Probably comparing the mean average of populations vs random samples. The way our textbook treated it 40 years ago was to show allelotype don’t stay put in any population.

    2. susan the other

      hasn’t it been an article of faith now for almost a century that genetic variation within an “ethnic” group is always greater than variation between two “ethnic” groups – ergo it’s somewhat impossible to define the word “ethnic”.

      1. susan the other

        but wait! let’s talk “meritorious”. Fer shure the oligarchs are meritorious. We need to give them tests of merit. To validate their political power. To prove that they are superior people, the finest people in their own vague category. The most skilled at theft, certainly. The least compassionate. Greedy. Stupid. and some of ’em are definitely feeble minded.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      This is about random individuals within the sub groups. If the human population was reduced to 1,000 breeding pairs 75k years ago, every black person alive could be a descendant of 1,000 different Adam and Eves. Every white person is a descendant of three stone age dudes in the Caucuses 30k years after the Toba event. Asians are even newer.

      Because every white person has less ancestors, random sampling means there is greater chance of finding whites more closely related to a random black than two random blacks being related. Specific individuals will defy these trends.

      If I took 5 whites and five blacks and assigned them a random number between 1 and 10 but limited the whites to only even random numbers between 1 and 10, there is a greater chance for a white and black to have the same number than two blacks. The same would apply to Asians, but my understanding is various migrations make the tracking down of the Adams and Eves difficult.

      My dates are likely wrong.

      1. Jamie

        That is a very interesting point which may have some validity. But, on the other hand, you may just be confounding number of ancestors with size of the gene pool. These are not the same thing, though one might expect some correlation.

        There can be large genetic variation among very closely related individuals, and there can be less variation in a wider population of less closely related individuals (unless you define “relatedness” as genetic similarity, in which case your insight is a tautology). Genetic variation is a characteristic of the gene pool in a population, not a characteristic of individual relatedness, and is more likely determined by the dynamics of the environment than the size of the ancestor population. Where there are many niches, there will be great variation. Where there are few niches, there will be less variation.

  4. Pat

    There is another benefit to this newest version of dog whistle. Sure it stops the middle management professional class from noticing they are next, but after years of the ludicrous claims about the Obamaphone etc, it stops Democrats from asking what the party has done for the non-white working class (which would be even less than those asking have seen.)
    I’m really not kidding. One of my biggest questions during the primaries was why Blacks (no class noted) were Clinton’s wall. Anyone paying attention could figure out that the Democratic insiders were Clinton’s real wall, but in the need to make it look like rank and file Democrats were happy with her as the candidate, black democratic voters were with HER.
    My own personal opinion is that Democrats have helped decimate the lives and opportunities of workers (poor, middle, upper middle) over my entire adult lifetime as both parties have spent more time trying to please a small group of rich multinational financiers and corporate owners then attempting to govern for the people. But within that what little scraps have been thrown to the rubes, whites because they were farther along at the start of this long slog to third world status were given the majority. But no those still struggling to even get to not wondering if there would be a roof over their heads were actively targeted, and those largely black families and communities were decimated by policies enacted by every administration, but particularly enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. Not only that, they were demonized so that when the rubes further up the ladder started questioning how things were going those further down the ladder (lazy, drug addicted, welfare queen, uneducated folks with darker skins) were the reason there were no longer nice things. I mean it wasn’t like they could tell you that your friendly hedge fund manager didn’t have enough money in his Cayman Island account, or that friendly Saudi Arabian Prince wasn’t used to paying real wages, so wages and benefits had to disappear for profits to soar. (Along with schools, roads, space exploration, etc).

    1. Art Eclectic

      Oh, the middle management professional class knows full well they are next. They know for a fact that their jobs will be eliminated by technology or by having train their HB1 replacements. It’s happening at blue chip companies around the country already and has been for some time. They get it.

      So the dog whistle for them isn’t Hispanics or blacks, it’s Indian and Asian IT workers flown in by the their corporate masters because The Shareholders need some remodeling on their beachfront properties.

      I’m sure the cabinet of billionaires will get right on that.

      1. Pat

        Not going to disagree with you, but I do stand by my opinion that attempting to disguise the knives at the professional classes’ backs is a part of the whole ‘white working class’ framing strategy. Right now when our governing class is not being arrogant they are being incompetent and sometimes both at the same time. Those faults are not limited to Clinton and her campaign, see the Republican primaries. . Of course that reason for the framing falls apart the moment you put the issues that made the ‘white working class’ gravitate to Trump without the racist bit and simplify it to what are they missing and what do they need. They need jobs that pay the bills and aren’t by day, they need the work to be done in the US, and they need their government to understand that anything else is unacceptable anymore. Not so different is it. The people spreading this current meme just know you/us/them are not going to think about it. We’ll see how that works out for them.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Actually, her wall was well off blacks. Team Clinton pushed dog whistles with Sanders about his religion not to win votes but to keep people from voting for Sanders because as the Clintons are no doubt aware Bill received the lowest turnout of black voters since 1960. Based on precinct level turnout, Hillary had the same voters she had against Obama.

      Sanders mistake was pursuing the Black Misleadership Class while Team Clinton wanted everyone to know Sanders reminded them of their landlord and Hillary loves Jesus as she went to churches. There are other problems in the South including the primary schedule and resources for a national campaign.

      There was a total media black out on Sanders, and the msm was in the tank for the Clinton juggernaut. Then there are registration rules which cause a problem for renters.

  5. dk

    85 percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person.

    Wow, bad math! The variation is additive not exclusive; 15% greater (than 85%), not 15% less. Appalling; who writes this crap? The author didn’t think through the linked article (Lewontin, also a bit iffy imo but at least not actually irrational), they just peeled off numbers to support their nutty thesis, that discernable biological variation confuses people, if not completely and absolutely, then to some immutable degree; only it doesn’t because the numbers say so, only they don’t. In effect buying into the paradigm they propose to trash in order to mount a glaring fail. I blame credentialism.

    Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?

    Sure it is, economic insecurity is a consistently high ranking motivator for voting behavior, when it’s present, which it is, hello? There just happens to be a near vacuum when it comes to active and energetic promotion of proposals that are of economic benefit across the board. Sure, there will be some that will say, in effect: “I won’t support a $15 min wage because it won’t benefit me and mine alone, it will also benefit those of other races, and I would rather suffer on than abet such a travesty” but there really aren’t that many, not enough to defeat such a proposal if placed before the diverse electorate.

    Heck, Bernie called himself socialist and still got a vast response, across all conjured demarcations. Leopold may “mean well,” but is clearly bucking for some kind of intellectual leadership role. And of course, the way to do that is write credentialed garbage; it gets reprinted, it gets talked about by other rote-intellectuals, and thumbs stay firmly embedded in butts (because it’s so nice and warm, therefor the only rational place for thumb, q.e.d.).

    1. Vatch

      Wow, bad math! The variation is additive not exclusive; 15% greater (than 85%), not 15% less. Appalling; who writes this crap?

      Thank you! The paragraph in the article didn’t make sense to me — obviously an African Tutsi has more genetic differences from a North American Inuit than from another fellow Tutsi. The 85% includes numerous differences that aren’t visibly apparent, such as blood types. But just as two Tutsis might have different blood types, a Tutsi and an Inuit can also have different blood types.

  6. TG

    Divide and conquer is an old trick.

    If whites really are going to become more race conscious, it is surely just a reaction to the institutional push to have Americans define themselves by race instead of nationality or class.

    ‘Hispanics’ used to be considered white. Massive efforts were expended to create the term ‘hispanic’ from whole cloth, and American citizens with latin-american ethnic roots were encouraged to define themselves by their race. It is now demanded that ‘hispanics’ care only about their raza, and their interests are to import as many of their raza from foreign countries as possible in order to increase the aggregate power of their raza, no matter the impact on the labor market here. Which suits the rich and their love of cheap labor. To help cement this, ‘hispanics’ get special privileges, even though the vast majority have no history of discrimination in this country, because they or their parents came after 1970. And anyone suggesting such a view is a priori racist.

    Should we wonder if, someday, whites might decide that racial consciousness is OK? I mean, everyone else seems to be doing it, the melting pot of my grandfather’s time is considered so passe… how can the rich divide and conquer the American public, if everyone who works for a living first considers themselves to be an American?

  7. amouise

    Okay, I keep thinking this question so I’m going to ask it.

    What exactly are my economic interests and given my choice of candidates how is it possible for me to vote them now? 10 years ago? 20 years? 30? 40? Now take that national level and break it down to state, county, city / town?

    Because I’m thinking that the whole concept of voting against my interests is just another dog whistle phrase with supposed science behind it. Both sides use the voting against your own interest phrase to divide and it works. Just like both sides are now using the voting fraud meme. Trump says individual voter fraud (multiple votes per individual and undocumented immigrants) vs. Obama / Clinton (the Russians hacked us, gerrymandering, etc.).

    So how does one get through the cognitive dissonance of these worldviews to show the real game being played against everyone without a seat at the table. Because right now all I see is that the seeds of civil war are being sown. Of course, that’s been true for a while now. It’s just much more blatant as if certain factions feel that they no longer have to pretend.

    1. jrs

      Well the last line of the article says it all:

      “Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?”

      Can I have an Amen? I love that line.

      Civil war? No war but the class war.

    2. Anon

      Well, voter fraud and gerrymandering are not the same. One is rare and the other is a pervasive political tactic. As for the Russian hacking, I’ve seen little convincing evidence that it had real impact; and is likely meant as a distraction.

      The world view that matters is the one right before your eyes: pay attention to what the people you vote for Say and Do. (And how that affects your life.)

  8. Jamie

    While I am generally sympathetic to the thrust of this article, there is some fuzzy thinking here. In particular this bit:

    …85 percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person.

    In the first place, it is not clear what “a population” means in this context. Percent variation within and between populations only has meaning when “population” is clearly defined. Since Les is attempting to deconstruct the concept of race, it seems he has replaced ‘race’ with ‘population’ in the formulation of his premise, but the statistic has no merit apart from racially defined statistical groupings. You cannot use race based statistics to deconstruct the concept of race.

    Beyond the problems with the formulation of his premise, the conclusion is blatantly false. The statement that variation within groups exceeds variation between groups has long been one of the strongest rebuttals to racial stereotyping (Yea!). But this does not mean that individuals chosen at random from different racial populations will be more similar than individuals chosen at random from the same racial population. Statistics apply to groups, not individuals. What the statement means is that the distance between the mean and the outliers within a group is greater than the distance between the mean of one group and the mean of the other group. This tells us nothing at all about the actual difference or similarity of randomly chosen individuals (nor about the significance of any observed difference between the two means). Probably two randomly chosen individuals will be relatively close to the mean for their population, and therefore, probably relatively similar to one another (since the means of the two groups are relatively close to one another). Statistics tells us the chances that randomly selected individuals will be outliers; it does not magically make variation disappear.

    I am not banging on about this to be merely pedantic. I think it is important that people know and understand the statistical truths about genetic variation whether the context is race, sex, so-called “mental illness”, “gifted” or what have you. I also think it is important to emphasize that the amount of genetic variation is less important than what the particular variations are. Who cares if there is genetic variation in the amount of melanin produced in skin cells or how much one’s hair curls? What possible significance could that have when discussing the ethics of governance? The same reasoning applies to arguments over government regulation. The issue is never, “is there too much regulation?” (no matter how much conservatives wish to make that the issue) but it is always, “are the regulations we have appropriate and effective?” There is no ideal or optimum amount of either genetic variation or government regulation. It is simply not a matter of quantity.

    1. JeffC

      For those with probability backgrounds who can feel the “wrongness” of the post but are rusty on details, the math behind what it explained incorrectly is likely this easy-to-derive result:


      Random variables b and w are assumed uncorrelated (e.g. independent) and can be from the same or different distributions.

      Aside: Don’t be so hard on credentials if you want your bridges to stand and your planes to fly. The average manager couldn’t begin to competently assess a prospective engineering hire without credentials.

      1. Anon

        …and that manager is probably more concerned about the potential “threat” of that new hire than any competency.

      2. tegnost

        That’s kind of a loaded aside after showing off your statistical chops, of which I am sure you are justifiably proud…people don’t resent the credentials, they resent a person with a certain past that allowed them to achieve the credential telling them who may not have had the same opportunities but equal intelligence that they need to get in line. There are many factors involved… what is the statistical probability that a child from an abusive broken home will have the capacity to prepare themselves for high school biology class tomorrow as compared to the student with meritorious (h/t STO) parents who do the kids homework themselves in order to ensure their kid gets into the ivy league? No one cares if you’re rich, they care if you’re a rich a hole who tells others to get in line because s/he said so, or who claims liberal class consciousness but wouldn’t take a city bus because there’s so many scary black people… Equal opportunity is a generalization and a goal not an actual reality. The angst we’re seeing now among the credentialed class imo springs from this sense of their separation from the deplorable rabble is somehow due to their exceptional mental beauty, when it is where, when, and to whom you were born that is commonly the driving factor Among the many intelligent people I know one has an associates in drafting, grew up on a farm in eastern wa and is a practical genius, also very low key and awesome all around person. Another is the common example of surfers breaking down in the hinterlands of baja meeting a mechanic who just fixes the car through sheer magical ingenuity. Don’t be so hard on the uncredentialed or you might end up stuck somewhere, everyone is intelligent in their own way. There are many examples, it’s not the credentials, it’s what you do with them. Look as a shining example at our gracious host yves who toils for our benefit and only “lordies” it over people who are incorrigible or insincere, and on the rare occasion she see’s it fit to do so, references not her credentials but rather her accomplishments (McKinsey, Sumitomo…the Harvard thing is not the first thing on the list is all I’m saying. We just want some perspective to be applied, that’s not too much to ask. I can out spell any computer geek/engineer I know, should I cajole them to vote for who I tell them to vote for because they’re such obvious morons? I didn’t think so and of course they wouldn’t listen…

        1. JeffC

          That’s quite a high horse. Careful not to fall off.

          I said nothing negative whatever about the noncredentialed. And in fact I came from an abusive broken home. My schizophrenic mom tried to drown me in the bathtub once, in fact. Never once had a parent or anyone else do homework for me either. Like most successful engineers, I simply worked my freakin’ butt off for year after year after year. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the advantage of being able to afford the education, because I surely do. But I’m not going to accept some dipshit idea that working insanely hard from a modestly advantaged start makes me a moral cretin.

          And as to showing off? No, I was trying to help. You see, some twenty years ago I’d just finished four years of teaching a second course in probability, a graduate course, as a university engineering professor. Teachers, you see, like to help people understand, and their attempts are not about showing off. To show off I’d at least have to mention the many hundreds of citations of my research papers and patents. Some stupid little homework-exercise equation from an intro course hardly qualifies.

          I’m retired now actually, and anyone I needed to impress with my statistical chops has been taken care of long ago. I certainly have no need to impress the (excellent) NC commentariat with statistics. But it is a community I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, and I like to give back when I can.

          1. tegnost

            well I did say justifiably proud, and in spite of the fact that it elicits such strong responses from the credentialed, I still say that’s not the main thing, it’s what you do with it. Nothing personal. Plenty of the credentialed told me to shut up and vote for the democrat because globalisation and self driving cars and trucks are happening whether I like it or not. Your aside said don’t be so hard on credentials. Sorry, but I’ll continue to do so because the credentials are pretty hard on everyone else. And don’t call me a dipshit or you prove my point. Thanks for that. Did not call you a moral cretin, you did. Didn’t say your parents did your homework, but know credentialed parents who did and do.
            Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the advantage of being able to afford the education, because I surely do.“…so you had a certain status that you could afford the education, good for you. Oh and never too late to reference your hundreds of citations and patents.
            For me the paraphrase of your comment was for those of you capable of understanding it here’s the math, and don’t be so hard on credentials because you’d be crazy to leave your mud hut without us
            Worlds gonna keep spinning without the credentials. You brought it up, not me. Glad you had a successful career. Good Day, sir.
            oh and as an aside, I found the equation interesting and illuminating, it was the aside that got me going.

            1. JeffC

              Never called you a dipshit, actually. I called a particular idea a dipshit idea. (You seem to agree.) Yes, my stats note was aimed at a small group that I recognized (teaching experience) might welcome a clarity boost. Matters seemed already covered decently by others for the larger audience.

              In any case, my main point re my original “aside” was that the increasing vitriol on NC (not from you in particular, as I don’t know you) towards the credentialed is feeling increasingly too close the Khmer Rouge attitude towards anyone “intellectual.” Remember when they simply murdered anyone wearing glasses?

              I understand and share the revulsion of many towards those 1%ers (I’ve never been at risk of landing in the 1% group) who coast on bullshit credentials “earned” by cheating through college and then get coddled through careers doing zero of any actual import. My issue is with tarring a far larger group, the credentialed as a whole, just to nail the condescending malingerers.

              In my professional world of engineering research, getting hired without credentials is a nonstarter, not because of community snobbishness but out of the practical difficulty of otherwise evaluating candidates. So when we seek to earn the credentials, we are aiming to learn real skills in hopes of eating, not of condescending. Engineers are among the least snobbish people I know. They respect ideas and creating real things and are disgusted by snooty paper pushers.

              Certainly to be credentialed does not make us Clintonites or stuck in identity-based,
              social-justice politics either, as is often vaguely implied on this site. I’m worker-power leftist, not identitarian liberal, and I voted Sanders then Stein. Like many on NC, I see worker power vs corporate power as the central problem (along with campaign finance and deficit hysteria). My engineering colleagues are all over the map politically, and look-down-the-nose Clintonistas are rare among them. They’re good people, on the whole, and don’t deserve to have to go into hiding over having degrees.

              1. tegnost

                Thanks for the thoughtful response. I really did like the probability and hope that my going on will not prevent you from further such value added comments, and I will endeavor in the new year to try to make things less personal. As we both value NC I’m sure we have plenty of common ground and I also see that engineers in general add greatly to the quality of my life. Happy New Year to you and yours and also to all of the other denizens of this fine establishment. Our disagreements can get blown out of proportion at times considering that we’re all here for the same vibrant content.

  9. The Trumpening

    I agree with the author’s comments on economics and race. Where they may be a divide within the working class is on immigration status as people who recently moved to the US from very poor countries will have very different economic interests than the native working classes. They will work much longer hours for far lower wages, and this is why wealthy people are so keen to keep open and barrier free their migration paths into the US.

    If (a big if still) Trump were able to make the working class great again in the US obviously then blacks and legal Latinos workers would benefit just as well as white workers would. And this is a mortal danger to the Democratic Party who have gambled their future on a coalition of urban goodwhites combined with a rainbow coalition, united in their disgust for badwhites.

    While most of the “white working class” is coming from urban goodwhites, even Kevin Williamson of the National Reivew got in on the fun last summer by literally calling for a white working class genocide:

    “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible,” the conservative writer says. “The white American under-class 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. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. If you want to live, get out of Garbutt [a blue-collar town in New York].”

    Where I tend to disagree with the author is on the biology of race. His views tends towards “liberal creationism” on race, which states that race is a social construct with no basis in biology. As genetic research advances this position is increasingly untenable. There is starting to be a split in the left where a new faction now admits genetic testing is scientifically viable but use it to show people are not as “pure” as they imagine.

    One problem with race is that it is a singular concept that covers both biological and social constructions. For example we have two terms for women and men: sex for biology (XX) and XY) and gender for the roles different cultures construct for the two sexes, informed to some extent by biological reality. There are a small number of cases where biological sex is ambiguous and if it were possible to measure, an innumerable number of genders, depending on how finely we wanted to classify them.

    For the human genome, on a small number of genes react to environmental conditions and therefore contribute to natural selection. That is how race denialists are able to (correctly) claim that genetic diversity has nothing to do with race. Only when we concentrate on the genes which are under natural selection pressure does the genetic basis of race become clear.

    Race is a combination of the biological concepts of sub-species and breeds. Sub-species are members of the same species which have eventually geographically split and evolved under different environmental and therefore natural selection conditions and have then developed phenotypic and other differences.

    Breeding is human selection instead of natural selection. Humans engage at least partially in conscience sexual selection so there is at least a slight element in breeding in the current human genome.

    The problem is we collect all these biological differences under the term race as well as the social constructions (who is considered white or black, for example). Ideally there would be two terms as with sex and gender. Perhaps sub-species for the biological portion and keep the term race for the social aspects of human biological diversity?

    1. XFR

      I think much of the self-flagellating stance of the urban-professional “goodwhites” comes from a secret suspicion that if hiring were based purely on qualifications they’d be getting muscled aside by East Asian immigrants. So they posture as martyrs, while effectively getting treated as a disadvantaged group by the system.

      (The response to this is usually that Asians aren’t “disadvantaged” and so have no right to complain. The obvious solution is to treat all the “advantaged” groups as belonging to a single group for quota purposes. The “goodwhites” seem to have little desire to go in that direction for some reason.)

      1. JTFaraday

        I submit that positing the “goodwhites” as a necessarily privileged group is as ham fisted as proposing that all white people are recipients of extraordinary white privilege, with no cause for any sort of complaint, when set against the claims of others.

        Given that, why is it that I’m supposed to sympathize with the badwhites and reject the goodwhites?

        Because I’m not inclined to do that, actually.

  10. DJG

    I am glad that the author goes all the way back to Bacon’s rebellion in Virginia to show how the fantasy of race is the original sin of American life. The problem is how to get out of the nightmare of our collective U.S. history. I am reminded that up in New England at the same time the settlers were trying to figure out how to forcibly convert or slaughter the local Indians, too. So you also have the “reddening” of the Native nations into a race.

    Meanwhile, though, as someone of Sicilian descent, I enjoy being on the Edge of Whiteness: described as “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative…having little adaptability to highly organized society.”

      1. DJG

        Katharine: Thanks. Much respect to the professor for pulling off the experiment. I wondered if the students were predisposed to talking things over being from the Philadelphia area, which is a melting pot.

        It is a joy to find out that one is a mongrel.

        My Sicilian ancestry, without a doubt, holds African and Greek pasts. And the other side of the family, all of those Lithuanians sleeping with Vikings and such… who knows what wondrous impurities we have within?

      2. DJG

        Katharine: Delightful. Praise to the professor for pulling of the experiment and getting her students out of their skins. I wondered if the students were predisposed, though, being from the melting pot of S.E. Pennsylvania.

        It is a joy to find out that one is a mongrel.

        And I was reminded by the article that my own ancestry likely includes Africans of various kinds (Berbers, Carthaginians), Greeks (for sure), Lithuanians, an Arab or three. Some Vikings?

  11. Kukulkan

    However, racist southern Democrats and their lock-down control of Congress, made sure that black and brown people were denied New Deal benefits and therefore would continue to suffer as separate races.

    This doesn’t make sense — or, at least, is a recursive argument.

    If black and brown people were deemed to be a separate race so as to deny them the benefits of the New Deal, then the decision to deem them a separate race cannot be based on racism — that is, discriminating against them because they are a separate race. It’s saying black and brown people were treated as being a separate race because they were a separate race. The conclusion is used as a premise to argue for the conclusion. Circular reasoning.

    Perhaps the author means that southern Democrats needed to keep various cultural/linguistic groups divided in order to preserve their power and control and so opposed any move that would put them all into the same racial grouping. That would follow from the rest of the argument, in which “race” is treated as a construct used to divide people.

    Or, perhaps, the author means that there are underlying biological races and the southern Democrats were racists for basing their decision on who to assign to which racial group on that underlying biological race — which undermines the rest of the argument, since it smuggles in the presumption that while “race” is a construct used to divide people, it’s also a valid biological distinction.

    Either way, using the term “racist” in the sentence just adds confusion.

    I’m inclined to think the author meant the first interpretation and just made a poor word choice, but that’s just my inclination.

    1. scraping_by

      An unfortunate feature of the English language. We use one word with many shadings, and really should make them part of phrases to get the more precise meaning across. Consider ‘free speech’, ‘free lunch’ and ‘free and easy.’ Three separate ideas, one word.

      If we were speaking German, we could slap together long, clumsy compounds to get the meaning across. And give the reader headaches unpacking the whole fifty letters. But they’d get the more exact intention.

      As to the author, it’s observable fact Southern politicians used race conflict to further their political ends. Whether they were acting from conviction or using a popular delusion isn’t relevant. Whether they created race conflict is interesting, but rather academic; politics is an art of the now. Whether they fostered and tended to that conflict is obvious from their words and deeds. And whether they benefited from that conflict is undeniable.

    2. Katharine

      Why couldn’t the author mean simply that the southern Democrats believed there were biological races and acted in accordance with that belief? There was no question of a decision there: the belief had been inculcated from infancy and was not questioned.

      1. scraping_by

        We cannot know the human heart, we can only form reasonable conclusions from words and deeds. Some of them likely believed in separate biological races, some of them likely knew it was a mere social convention, and some of them didn’t care one way or the other. But all of them defended and promoted Jim Crow, none of them challenged the idea of race-linked attributes, and all of them benefited from it.

        1. BecauseTradition

          none of them challenged the idea of race-linked attributes, and all of them benefited from it.

          Rather ironically in the Bible Belt, given the Song of Solomon, that an Ethiopian rescued Jeremiah from the pit and that one of the first Christian converts was black.

          But who needs the Bible when one can simply listen to those who distort it instead? And thereby justify racism and usury for the sake of profit?

          It’s rather telling that we have Northern and Southern Baptists simply because they split over the slavery issue.

      2. Kukulkan

        The author is arguing that race is a construct that was promulgated through differential treatment. That is, some people were deemed to be part of one race (Orange), others of another race (Blue), or a third race (Purple), and so on. The members of each group were then treated differently, until they absorbed the idea that they were Orange and therefore different to others who were Blue or Purple or Green or whatever.

        It’s like being at camp, where everyone is assigned to a different House (or tribe, or troop, or band, or whatever) and then has to do clean-up duty on specific days because it’s their House’s turn.

        Until people are assigned to a House, it’s impossible to treat them differently based on what House they belong to. It’s also impossible to use what House someone is a member of to determine what House they should be a member of. The Sorting Hat has to do its business; prior to that, everyone is just part of a big, unassigned group. Same with race according to this argument; until people are assigned to Blue or Orange or whatever, it’s impossible to base any decision about them on what race they are. You can’t say someone is assigned to the Orange race because they are Orange; the idea is incoherent.

        If southern Democrats sincerely believed that races were biologically determined, then they can’t be responsible for helping construct the idea of race. It obviously had to precede them, by quite a margin if they were inculcated with it from birth. At worst, they were simply applying a pre-existing idea, not helping produce it.

        1. Fiver

          KKK – You are needlessly (deliberately?) complicating a simple, straight forward statement as to the politics of southern Democrats during the period in question.

          The author is correctly describing as ‘racist’ those (southern) Democrats responsible for legislation that quite deliberately and very concretely discriminated against ‘black and brown’ people on the basis of appearance, in the belief that differences in appearance signified much more important, ingrained, indelible differences – typically qualities considered indicative of some irredeemable inferiority. As to ‘sincerely believed’ as an out, well, we all know what Hitler ‘sincerely believed’ or what Netanyahu ‘sincerely believes’ or what a great many Americans still ‘sincerely believe’ with respect to all or most non-whites – but they remain in the wrong in the judgment not only of their contemporaries who fought/contested or fight those views at their various past and present time(s), but also in the judgment of our best minds and the overwhelming weight of historical experience since.

  12. BecauseTradition

    Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?

    Voting for one’s economic interests is easily portrayed as theft by proxy, i.e. by government.

    However, who can legitimately object to eliminating privileges for depository institutions since those favor the rich, the most so-called creditworthy, at the expense of the poor, the least?

  13. Anonymous

    The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 was the invention of a Senator from Pennsylvania and a Congressman from New York. If you don’t believe it was meant to disadvantage African-Americans, read the Congressional Testimony about it prior to its passage.

  14. Cat's paw

    Hey Lambert (and anyone else interested), if you aren’t already familiar with the “invention of tradition” literature you might find it good to think with. It comes out of anthropology primarily, but other disciplines have contributed over the years.

    Thumbnail: it’s a multi-faceted theorization of “native”/indigenous/ethnic social responses to the processes, categorizations, and effects of colonization, modes of capitalist production, Western modernity. In short, starting in the late 70’s/early 80’s anthros were suspicious when confronted with “traditional” social practices which practitioners claimed were ancient (or at least deeply historical) and had been eradicated or forgotten in the face of colonialism, modernity, etc; suspicious b/c there was little to no historical evidence to support such claims. But the veracity of these claims quickly became the less interesting question. The more pertinent question was for what reasons and under what conditions would certain communities develop, hybridize, reanimate, or “invent” such practices. The basic paradox (which some would argue is too strong a term, even misleading) is how modernity–capitalism, universal rights, equality–compels some to invoke the authority of ancient local traditions to ground practices that serve to differentiate and specify practitioners away from moderns and modernity–or dominant Western culture, if you prefer.

    A rather cliche, semi-well-known, and (more or less) politically uncontroversial example is the Scottish kilt–thought to be the typical clothing style of Scottish men prior to English domination (dating back to the ancient Celts even), the kilt was actually “invented” in the 19th century as one means of marking, solidifying, and reinforcing Scottish-ness in contradistinction to the English and the more encompassing “British” identity which was itself perceived as a signification of English-ness and/or English domination.

    Anyway, the kilt is just one small example of IoT which covers a really broad range of social practices, from the relatively trivial to the deadly serious. The literature is also very good for those who might want to think more deeply, and from a somewhat different angle, about identity politics, norms and markers of ethnicity, and to some extent even race.

    1. Massinissa

      Either the book is wrong on kilts or youre remembering from the book wrongly. Kilts date back to the 16th century, not the 19th.

  15. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?


    And for more supporting evidence, I’d argue that the core of Sen Sanders’ support, as well as the reason that Sen Elizabeth Warren is so beloved, is that both are talking specifically about the problems with corporate overreach: enabled, abetted, sanctioned, and legally enforced by government.

    Neither Sanders nor Warren are foremost about ‘race’; their economic analysis is extremely resonant.

    I’m with Dylan Ratigan: once the DNC screwed Bernie Sanders, the only way anyone could object to the status quo was to vote Trump. That does not mean this is a ‘white working class’ election; it means the DNC screwed the country through criminal ineptitude, and the NYT is still trying to figure that out.

    I think that Les Leopold is ‘going short’ on neoliberalism.
    That’s looking like an exceptionally solid bet.
    We certainly live in interesting times.

  16. fco

    Many many years ago, as a young immigrant, whenever I had to check those obnoxious boxes for “race”… I always wrote in “human race”. People laughed, but I continue to do so.

  17. Me Dum dum

    This past election has proven how dangerous it is to believe false information, so in the pursuit of truth I have to ask how true the following statements are:

    “Du Bois understood, as should we, that race is a social construction, a human invention used to create a hierarchy of power. It is not genetics. It is not biology.”

    How does forensic science identify the race of victims, in say, a fire where the remains are severely damaged? Surely genes determine skin, hair, eye color, etc, and DNA tells forensic investigators this information. And surely groups of people share physical traits as well as DNA. Hopefully a geneticist can educate me.

    I understand the desire for equitable society, but I don’t see how that can be achieved when arguing from falsehoods. This all reminds me of perpetuating the “myth of the noble savage that didn’t engage in warfare” in order to fight for first nation’s rights. If we base our argument for a just society on “race is a social construct”, how successful will we be?

  18. Elizabeth Burton

    Overthinking much?

    Look, I understand when sloppy data is used, but think for a moment who will be reading that piece. And try to keep in mind that most of those who do will not have the level of erudition demonstrated here on a daily basis.

    You don’t teach a first-grader to read by handing her Ulysses. Part of the problems we now face are the direct result of a total lack of understanding of history, politics and civics in a too-large segment of the US populace. Those of you who have commented clearly aren’t in that category, but speaking of someone who belatedly discovered her ignorance and is in the process of correcting it, the important part of that article is the history of how those in power used race as a way to divide the poor from each other. The rest is window dressing and will not even be absorbed by many, if not most, readers.

    And that is what needs to be read. It needs to be made clear over and over that our divisions have been artificially created to allow those in power to keep their grip on the reins.

    Fact: Most people who see that won’t get past the first three paragraphs. A batch more will read about halfway through. In other words, the stuff everyone is getting so bent out of shape over likely won’t even be read by the majority of readers. So, as long as the important stuff is there where it’s most likely to be read, the rest is irrelevant.

    1. Me Dum dum

      Denying gene science is the Left’s equivalence of denying climate science.

      If anyone thinks the Right hasn’t noticed, they should have a look. Claiming race is socially constructed just sounds down right cooky to the voters you wish to speak to, and they aren’t completely wrong.

      Progressive arguments need to be rebuilt upon scientific fact, not wishful thinking, or else be dismissed as “fake news”.

      1. Fiver

        Please provide your account of precisely what ‘gene science’ has to say on this matter that is both demonstrably true and relevant, i.e., evidence that qualities other than superficial features inhere in all members of the same ‘race’. We are told in this piece and the one linked that 6% to 10% of total variability occurs between ‘races’. We are told nothing with respect to what that might mean qualitatively.

        I fully agree that IF genetics demonstrated that members of ‘race A’ were consistently more (or less) – fill in the blank – than those of ‘race B’ along some dimension that was in any way important, then yes, those on the ‘left’ could find themselves in a bind, though perhaps only until further science reversed the ‘verdict’. However, we’re not there yet, and so far as I know the current state of play vis a vis the existence of ‘races’ at best still rests almost entirely on superficial appearances, it being entirely unknown whether any quality of any import at all falls consistently within that 10% variability. While I can imagine future science coming up with something like “We have determined that there is a substantially higher concentration/production of hormones closely linked to aggression in whites than in any other race” , and can also imagine umpty other possibilities, as of now it’s a very safe bet that, aside from differences in the specific genetic inheritance of each individual from their parents, differences in culture are immensely more important than those in genes.

  19. JaaaaayCeeeee

    Les Leopold, your article is as good as it is needed.

    My only criticism is that you pass along, uncontested, Eduardo Porter’s (and ECRI’s and the Washington Post’s)FCI use of bad data to make his initial claim, that blacks and latinos took jobs from whites since 2008. If you are representing labor, you shouldn’t let that false propaganda that ignores demographics and also uses wrong numbers, just stand uncontested.

    This is misinformation is as destructive as news media claims that while productivity gains have tanked we should blame automation for lost jobs, or news media claims that there are not enough skilled workers for all the job openings, or that protectionism is free trade and critics are Luddites. Dean Baker explains why the numbers the New York Times, Washington Post and ECRI uses are so wrong:

    Baker’s observations only strengthen your own debunking, of how these claims and numbers are being used and misused.

  20. Brad

    Apologies for the length. Consider it an end-of-year wrapup.

    The definition must also have a historical dimension. “White working class” in one present usage refers to what the article clearly mentioned: The industrial working class consolidated around the New Deal reforms as the combination of the “old immigration” before 1876 with the “new immigration” of generally non-British, non-Irish or non-German origin.

    However there is now a second concurrent historical definition: the Southern working class, one that was primarily polarized around black and white and never received the influx of “new immigrants” post-1876. So no “white” New Deal consolidation was necessary here, while it notoriously left blacks in the lurch, because FDR was not possible without the solid Dixiecrat South.

    The political system monopolized by two state parties of ancient Jacksonian linage (yes the Lincoln Republicans were a “neo-Jacksonian” party) has skillfully played these historical differences in the form of both the “southern strategy” and the “Reagan Democrat”, initiated by the Republicans and imported by the Democrats via Clinton. Hence while the Midwest in particular was “deindustrialized” by the Reagan Democracy, the South has been the favored destination for both “offshoring” from the Midwest and “in-shoring” from abroad, as well as as a favored site for relocation of transport “logistics hubs”. This overlays the fundamental and irreversible trend of loss of manufacturing jobs due to automation.

    The task until now was to beat the Midwest down to Southern conditions. That’s just about done, making a partial “in-shoring” from both other parts of North America as well as from abroad possible, as a Trump political consolidation of a Southern-Midwestern bloc (not necessarily of or with the working class in those regions, “white” or otherwise, keep in mind there is an increasing non-white contingent in the main metro areas, think Atlanta or Chicago and others). This BTW would be the recreation of the old Jacksonian bloc formed in the 1820’s, but now minus New York state. And minus the West coast as a wild card that didn’t exist in the 1820’s or 30’s. But any Midwestern reindustrialization might backfire on the Trump bloc in renewed class struggle that could now spread into the South itself. Especially if Ayn Ryan gets his way with Medicare and SS. So maybe keep dispensing opioids instead. We’ll see.

    The problem with the Porter article is its sleight of hand with working classes. The old and now deindustrialized “white working class” is counterpoised to the multiracial and feminized workers of the “prospering” regions, without mentioning that these latter are often found in poorly paid service sector employment and are hardly prospering as they service the RINO-Clinton social base that resides there. It’s *this* working class that needs to be focused upon by any opposition political movement at present, rather than the deindustrialized “white working class” or its Southern branch, and guess who the class enemy is in this case? The same RINO-Clintonites who are still the main bet for political stability place by the 1%. Which could explain the difficulty with the focus, since much of the Left is entangled with the Clintonite middle classes via the party system. Too busy in collaboration, not confrontation, but the election disaster could mark an opening here.

    But if Trump can succeed, look for that bet to change. That will make the political work in the “prospering regions” easier. But if the “white working class” in the Midwest ever wakes up from its Reagan-Democratic coma due to “premature reindustrialization”, watch out!

  21. JaaaaayCeeeee

    Les Leopold, your article is as good as it is needed.

    My only criticism is that you pass along, uncontested, Eduardo Porter’s (and ECRI’s and the Washington Post’s)FCI use of bad data to make his initial claim, that blacks and latinos took jobs from whites since 2008.

    The claim is based on ignoring demographcs and cherry picking bad numbers. It’s another invention, like the one you speculate about, which ranked Jews as the lowest race while two of the biggest unions were led by Jews.

    This is misinformation is as destructive as news media claims that while productivity gains have tanked we should blame automation for lost jobs, while telling voters that there are not enough skilled workers for all the job openings, or one of my peeves, that protectionism is free trade and critics are Luddites.

    Dean Baker explains why the numbers the New York Times, Washington Post and ECRI uses are so wrong:

  22. Dave

    Pack of hooey. What I know is that most of my white brothers and some of my black and Asian working class brothers voted for Trump because we are sick of political correctness and regressive economic policies that produce nothing but new precious and overpriced trophy-wife hobby businesses around here.

    Want to learn the real state of the economy?, talk to your local UPS or Fedex guy, they know what’s happening first.

    Meanwhile, a restaurant chain, that sold mediocre food, just closed 15 branches overnight and it looks like the Obama Depression is starting to hit. Moaning and groaning about the lack of Christmas shopping. Surprise!

  23. craazyman

    The post makes good points but I still think “rednecks” are a race.

    They’re not white or their necks couldn’t be red. They’re not red, since it’s only their necks. If you don’t have actually a red neck you can still be a redneck. It’s complicated but that doeesn’t mean it’s not real.

    It’s not a gene pool thing either. I’ve met rednecks whose ancestors came from Italy. That might be surprising but it’s actually quite commonplace. For some reason they thought they were whites, but they were rednecks. OK I’m having fun. I like rednecks if its not obvious. I could have been one quite easily. But I’m too weird.

    I think liberulls might be a race in formation too. This is a unique opportunity for social scieentists to do somehting actually useful, if they’re capable of it. It’s like if you’re a physicist and you’re right there just a few hundred miles away when a star is being born, someplace in the Milky Way. That’s kind of poetic actually. It makes you think of Hollywood and the flickering lights of cinema in the mind. It makes you think of illumination in a void of darkness.

    I bet a few rednecks are even scientists and, God Forbid, mathematicians. You can’t be a mathematician unless you’re a little bit mentally alert. Rednecks do math and then they go smoke dope and watch Nascar. That’s weird, that somebody would do that. It makes you wonder, if you can, what makes people human!

  24. equote

    All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They. – (Rudyard Kipling)
    Corollary : They are the problem! – (me)

  25. davidgmills

    I think the more interesting question is rural/suburban vs. urban. The article notes that the Democrats only 15% of the counties but those counties provide 64% of the nation’s economy. Of course those counties also are likely home to most of the richest Americans who own half the country. So throwing out the richest Americans who own half the country, what does the American economy really look like for the 99% and where is that economy located?

    I maintain you can not win the electoral college if you lose 85% of the counties in the country even if you win the popular vote. I am sure that Sanders would have done far better in suburban and rural America than Clinton and for that reason would have beat Trump. But it seems that the Democratic Party just seems to want to be focused on the urban population, rich, professional and working stiff and this is going to continue to be a huge mistake.

  26. Fiver

    Agree with Davidgmills, above, that urban vs rural is an important lens through which to view the election, but I don’t think either that, nor this piece, nor any of the other comments, necessarily negate a real world basis of the claim made with respect to an alienated ‘white working class’.

    The problem is that the author’s refutation of the core facts he cites:

    “Porter further argues this is happening because blacks and Hispanics live mostly in the thriving urban areas while most white people live in declining rural areas.

    Only 472 counties voted for Hillary Clinton on Election Day. But they account for 64 percent of the nation’s economic activity. The 2,584 counties where Trump won, by contrast, generated only 36 percent of America’s prosperity.”

    is itself weak and problematic. Sure ‘white working class’ is hardly a rigorous category in 2016, but neither is ‘blue collar worker’. Nevertheless, we can all understand the phrase is intended to capture a population of modest middle-income and lower income white workers in a multitude of occupations. Similarly, just because no ‘witness testimony’ from white vs black (or other) lower income individuals is presented, that doesn’t necessarily mean such ‘evidence’ would support the author – also that other factors are also at work, eg, subjective relativity of perceptions/expectations (eg. who feels more ‘pain’ from a 5% reduction in income, a white male landscaper in New York, or a black male cab driver in Birmingham?) As I say, only a partial, weak argument.

    The next argument, again amounts to less than meets the eye:

    ‘Rural America, also, is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5% of rural and small town America.’

    That’s an interesting point, but hardly a refutation of his target’s argument when the preponderance of ‘rural America’ is ‘white’. It is important to note that, despite the appearance of some correlation with the prior point re the huge, 14% gap in distribution of GDP/wealth between urban ‘Clinton’ and rural ‘Trump’ counties, the portion of the population that is ‘black’ or ‘Hispanic’ in those urban centres is higher than in rural.

    That all ‘races’ are hurting for members in the 85% of non-management, non-supervisory workers again is interesting, but in no way conclusive – what matters for the argument is the perceptions among white workers/voters, and, if their incomes are falling, to what do they attribute that fall for political purposes.

    The rest of the piece wanders into an entirely different question having to do with the validity of concepts of ‘race’ etc., which managed to take most of the NC commentary down a path that had no real bearing on the claims he attempts to debunk at all, i.e., that ‘a white working class’, or simply ‘low income white workers’ exist, had been significantly damaged economically over the course of decades for reasons including rustification, but especially due to and since the Great Recession (or unresolved Depression) of 2008.

    I would think the surest way to resolve the claim would involve an actual formal study designed not to prove/disprove the existence of a ‘white working class’ in a country where the word ‘class’ has so little power, but to reveal whether or not ‘whites’ at various income levels, in all lines of work, in States won by Trump had fared better or worse over the past 8 years, and whether or not that affected their opinions and votes. The data is surely already available from State, Federal and academic sources to make most of this very clear, class or no class, excepting a valid survey of the population in question with respect to political attitudes and voting Trump nor not.

    One important economic factor largely left out of discussion and I would think ought to be raised is the impact on States where fracking or coal are important. Many of those States had been hit very hard by the fall in oil prices and fairly coincident China slowdown-instigated generally lower commodity prices, were in or near recession, lost a lot of high-paying (and high-multiple) along with middle and lower income jobs, and in addition felt they were looked upon as 2nd class citizens by half the country because they were employed in and defended dirty industry. My point is there was a very substantial economic factor in play in Trump country (including swing States) involving everyone in these States for 2 years now and the Federal Government has in Trump country been perceived to have done nothing to offset those exogenous woes. So way too soon to even suggest the entire idea of an economically stymied or worse white working population ‘out there’ that bought what Trump was selling is all a mere ‘dog whistle’. And perhaps a major lesson for genuine environmentalists in future is that their policies absolutely must take into consideration and plan for ameliorating impacts on work forces in traumatic transition.

    Anyway, there’s no doubt racism exists, and in more widespread form than any we’ve known previously, as the US and West in just over the last 16 years have created and promulgated a set of ideas/images of “Arab” or “Muslims” or “Islamic” that are so obviously intended to demonize it is no surprise to encounter people whose written words, views, attitudes and for some, actions, towards these people are indistinguishable from the content of racist comments/actions directed by whites at blacks, or Native Americans, or Asians or whomever of colour. I’d say ‘racist’ is the basis on which the incredible campaign of venom directed at Islam gained its foothold in the US psyche.

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