Right now, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the United States. This is not news to many progressives but was certainly surprising to Fox News. I mean he is a socialist! How on earth could America ever like someone who is for redistributing wealth and using government to kill freedom. This, of course, is hyperbole, but Fox News is no stranger to this. The real thing we all must now internalize is that race and class are inseparable issues. You cannot just address one without addressing the other. If you do, you cannot solve either issue completely.
Class issues have been an essential issue of political discourse in the United States since the beginning. Race relations have been slowly and inadequately addressed but never fully resolved. The most successful economic program in American history, the New Deal, was accomplished only because it specifically didn’t help minority communities. Southern Democrats or “Dixiecrats” would never go along with this plan otherwise. Intentional marginalization of communities of color was the cost of pushing the progressive New Deal legislation along. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t address racial animus or xenophobia and it purposefully didn’t.
Often class doesn’t divide by race but by socioeconomic status. During the 70’s, the Watergate babies, the children who protested the Vietnam War and participated in the Civil Rights era maneuvered the left into the mire that is identity politics. They abandoned the economic left in order to pursue racial equality and battle bigotry. These are admirable goals that I wholeheartedly agree with, but abandoning real class based struggle handed the conservatives a deadly weapon. Using identity politics without addressing economic policies is divisive because it doesn’t address economic circumstances and how poverty might affect someone’s life. When people are impoverished and cannot get anywhere in life, they are more receptive to hate speech and hateful rhetoric. As mass media and technology advanced, the elite seized their advantage and created propaganda. Rich people are generally economically conservative for obvious reasons. It serves their interests after all, but it doesn’t make them bad people. By refusing to address the way the right has framed economic issues, the left has allowed the country to move much further to the right.
When people are taken care of and feel like their government represents them, they are less receptive to hate speech. We cannot address either class issues or racial issues without addressing both issues. Class and race are so intertwined that when you only address one, in both words and actions, it has an effect on the other. A poor White man who finds a good job and is able to take care of his family is less likely to be receptive to racist rhetoric because he feels that generally, his life is on a good track. We all have ups and downs in our life. But if the general standard of living is poor, people are much more likely to be receptive to hateful language. We must also recognize that hate is not a respectable opinion. If you feel that Black people are inherently inferior to White people, that is not a respectable opinion and should NOT be taken seriously. The fact that under the first African-American president, hate groups and anti-government extremists were able to recruit followers and become more active is disturbing.
The election of a Black president inflamed the passions of those who embraced White identity politics that see racial gains as a zero-sum game. When a person from a marginalized group gets elected, that does not automatically solve the disparity that impacts that group. Misogyny would not have disappeared just because Hillary was president either. By creating economic opportunity and supporting our communities we can facilitate a much more equitable environment for social progress as well.
We need to have a united progressive left that cares about social programs and issues. We need to form a coalition of nonprofits and unions in order to fight back against the anti-government conservatives. We must take the fight into our own hands. We the people have the power and the powerful know it. Remember that we can change our country for the better.