Race & Class & November 6

On the one hand, it is difficult to believe that Romney did not win.  After all, when you think about it, we are in the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  He certainly kept repeating the fact that there are 23 million people out of work.  Yet at the end of the day Obama not only won, but did better than initially thought.  He not only decisively defeated Romney in electoral votes but also secured the popular vote.  So, it was not a tie and it did not raise any legitimacy questions.

The election displayed sources of hope and concern.  The election witnessed a revolt by the African American, Latino and Asian electorate against a concerted effort to disenfranchise them by the Republicans.  So-called voter suppression as well as electoral irregularities were being used to discourage voters of color from even showing up.  Instead, in an act of audacity and defiance, the reverse unfolded.  Irrespective of whatever criticisms they might have had of the Obama administration, African American, Latino and Asian voters went overwhelmingly for Obama.  Additionally, the gender gap fell in favor of Obama.  Let’s add to this that organized labor turned out in a big way for Obama.

In an election that should have pitted the haves against the have nots, the dividing line turned out to be more racial or, as someone recently said, more “rainbow.”  I think that it is fair to say that we witnessed a rainbow coalition of sorts uniting in favor of Obama.  Yet this coalition is not the dreamy-eyed alignment that we witnessed in 2008 with the first election of President Obama.  This is an alignment that is angry with efforts to suppress democracy, but is also deeply angry with austerity and economic injustice.  In other words, this should be the base for the political Left and progressives in thinking about advancing a movement that not only pushes the Obama administration, but also comes to represent politics that supersede the corporate liberal agenda of the Obama administration.

But what about on the other side of the aisle?  Within the camp of Romney voters there are a lot of angry white workers who feel that their world is coming apart.  In the union movement there are white workers who simply should not be voting for Romney but embraced his message either out of frustration with the pace of economic recovery or out of a perverse identification with the candidate.  Here is where it gets sad and ugly.  There are too many white workers who want to believe that they have more in common with a Romney than they do with the African American or Latino worker they may sit next to each day.  They see themselves as wearing the same racial ‘uniform’ as Romney.  They are also convinced that they have been betrayed by all those who promised them that, at least for whites, the standard of living would improve.

It is this section of the working class, white workers, where particular attention must be placed.  Whether employed or unemployed, they simply cannot be written off.  We cannot talk in demographic terms alone, waiting for the moment when the USA becomes majority people of color.  This segment of white workers that is particularly angry and increasingly dispossessed can end up being part of the base for more coherent right-wing populist movements of the future if something is not done now.

Thus, there are three tasks facing the political Left and progressives coming out of this election.  The first task is to immediately mobilize against any pro-austerity moves by the administration and the Congress in the face of the so-called fiscal cliff.  Second, we need to build within the ‘rainbow’ base, as we work to construct a long-term progressive electoral movement, one that is focused on capturing power, and ultimately is focused on social transformation.  But there is the third task:  we have to reach the white worker who is feeling increasingly marginalized.  Metaphorically, we need to get them to get rid of their racial ‘uniform’ and join the larger working class.


Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international writer and activist. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of three books, the most recent being “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.  He can be reached at billfletcherjr@gmail.com and his website is www.billfletcherjr.com.



7 Responses

  1. Mary Serreze

    I think it’s a mistake to guess at the motives of low- to middle-income whites who voted for Romney. You present two options: “frustration with the pace of economic recovery (or) a perverse identification with the candidate.”

    The fact is, you have *no idea* why many working-class whites voted for Romney. You’re guessing and impugning motives.

    Consider a third possibility– that poor whites have good reason for disliking rich liberals, and are lodging a protest vote of sorts. Poor whites are indeed at the bottom of the barrel in this country and represent a very low priority for the left. Low-income whites aren’t quite as “cool” to rich liberals as poor minorities. White liberals like to brag about their “very nice African American” friends. They never brag about their “very nice poor white” friends.

    Fact is the Prius crowd finds poor whites to be distasteful. I’m guessing there’s a third option you’re not considering: that for working class whites a Republican vote represents a big fat FU to the patronizing attitude emanating from the moneyed left.

    1. Bill Fletcher Jr.
      Bill Fletcher Jr.

      Ms. Serreze: Interesting speculation. You are right on one level. I do not know for sure. I am going based on various polls as well as direct interactions. But here is where i come down. Why did they not vote for Jill Stein? In other words, i can absolutely see any number of reasons to oppose Obama on various policies. But why vote for a Republican who has basically told you to kiss his —? You see what i mean? Why vote for a ticket that says that they will get rid of unions? Why vote for a ticket that wants to privatize social security and turn Medicare into vouchers?
      Yes, many white voters might have been disenchanted with Obama for really good reasons, but it is the choice to vote to THEIR RIGHT, rather than their Left which must be reflected upon. That is where the race card comes in as it has repeatedly entered into US history since the end of the Civil War.

      1. I have to agree with you 100%, even though I think as a male you overlooked the fact that it was not only the race card that came in as it always has, but also the sex card. In this white male supremacist society, men are viewed as the only “real people” that matter — even in Leftist circles.

        As a white woman from the poverty class, I voted for Obama. I would have much preferred to vote for Jill Stein but I knew she didn’t have a chance becausse of the way our whole political system is set up. When the rapists’ rights bowel movement that the Right really is targeted ME and MY sex for the gratuitous cruelty of reproductive factory farming enslavement (forced pregnancy/childbirth is really tantamount to forced organ donation) as punishment for having sex —that would never be acceptable if aimed at men of any group — I did not have the luxury as one of the most oppressed members of the most oppressed and marginalized group of all (women) of being able to vote on my principles. So voting for President Obama was a no-brainer for me.

        As a woman, I would have sooner self-administered an overdose of lead diet before voting for Romney. So I voted for Obama. And I let all my working class white male neighbors (who are far better off than poor women of ANY race) in the very Red part of Pennsylvania(Erie County) know where this woman stands by planting a huge Obama sign on the front of my house. And anyone who asked why got the truth: I refuse to vote for those who hate me/my sex. I refuse to support ANY organization, movement, or political party that thinks that the only “real people” who matter are MEN while poor women like me can rot for all anyone cares.

        Misogyny and racism go hand-in-hand like peas and carrots. Women were the first group to be “othered” and after men figured out the mechancis of paternity, it was the oppression of women that enabled men to oppress and “other” men of different races. Hence, the birth of feudalism/imperialism/colonialism/capitalism/fascism.

        What I see class justice activists doing that I find particularly problematic as a poverty class woman is they overlook the whole picture behind these “poor abandoned white dudes” who are eager and willing to sacrifice their own daughters’ basic human rights on the altar of the almighty phallocracy just to animate their ‘uniform’ of race and sex that they share with rich, white right-wing men like Mitt Romney.

        The fact is, white working class union men with middle class paychecks and health and dental benefits and retirement plans never wanted women to have anything. They begrudged us the same jobs that they felt entitled to while also begrudging us paltry, inadequate welfare checks on “their tax dollars” in order to survive. I recall in the 1980′s with the Reagan Revolution aiming its Hotchkiss guns at poor women on welfare who, in many cases, were economically and socially excluded for generations by classism on top of sexism, and it was white working class union MEN who voted for Reagan TWICE as they drove around in new Ford trucks (that poor women like me could never afford in our lifetimes) sporting bumper stickers that read “Rush is right!”

        These white working class men — who were/are far better off than poor women of ANY race — blamed “women’s libbers” for women “taking away (white) men’s jobs” while at the same time saying that care-taking and motherhood wasn’t real work and was of no importance or value (not enough value to even be worthy of an inadequate welfare subsistence check) because giving men sexual gratification on demand and bearing babies is what women are for and if a woman ended up being a poor single mother it was her own fault. Even though it was rich white MEN who passed the Hyde Amendment and even though it was MEN who impregnated all those women and then abandoned them, or forced them to flee with nothing but their kids and the clothes on their backs after abusing them.

        Women as a demographic, remain the largest marginalized and oppressed group, have benefited the least these past 6,000 years of patriarchy, and we’re the ones that men blame for economic problems that were caused by other MEN in a male supremacist society that masquerades as a “democracy.”

        Social and economic justice for only the male half of the people at the expense of the female half is no real justice at all.

        Class justice activists hash out the problems of solidarity and white working class males’ politics, which are largely reactionary against the jobless poor and which are also sexist and racist and always have been, claim that “poor white dudes” have been abandoned by the Left and consequently find serving in the military to be their only option. But the huge steaming pile of pachyderm poop in in the middle of the room that everyone pretends not to smell is the fact that these “poor abandoned white men” are the collateral damage of patriarchy, and they are also patriarchy’s lifeblood. It is patriarchy that creates, reproduces and needs class inequality. And it is patriarchy that polices women’s sex lives and reproduction — which brought us miscegenation laws that were never aimed at white men, only white women and black men and Native American men.

        There was NEVER any matriarchy that practiced imperialism, militarism, built rape camps, or thought it important to invent toxic chemicals while inventing toxic financial instruments. There was never any matriarchal society that had a poverty class. This is why male-centric communism and socialism fell flat on its face: male-centric communist/socialist movements were paternalistic and authoritarian.

        Since patriarchy needs militarism in the same way we need oxygen, it is patriarchy itself which created a class of poor abandoned and disposable white men and it is MEN at the apex of this male supremacist class-hierarchical status quo that are benefiting the most from making sure that there is a guaranteed disposable group of men left with no alternatives and opportunities except military service. What is sane about having one group of men ritualistically dressing alike and moving in unison (what’s with all the marching anyway?) and slaughtering another group of men that are also dressed alike, and then sanctifying a piece of cloth to “honor” the martyred serial killers while the “enemy” sanctifies a different piece of cloth to honor their martyred serial killers in the name of “peace” and “freedom?” Think about it.

        And the same corporate and ruling class — 98% of which are MEN — that creates and reproduces a disposable class of men likewise creates, reproduces and needs a guaranteed disposable group of women as the prostitute caste that can be raped and murdered by violent johns and pimps and pornographers with impunity. The male Left sees nothing wrong with the status quo of women as sex commodities for male consumption, abuse, and profit while the male Right sees women as disposable fetus containers who are less deserving of life than the products of an unwanted/medically dangerous conception.

        The way MEN are hired is “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” while the way WOMEN are hired is “it’s how “fuckable” you look on top of who you know and what your father’s class status is.” All of this occurs in a society in which there never were enough living wage jobs with health and dental benefits to go around for everybody who needed and wanted a job. The idea that the marginalized, underprivileged jobless poor “don’t want to work” is a flat-out lie. Every society teaches its members what they need to have or do in order to belong. Poor women did not ask to be excluded and marginalized and deprived of belonging by being denied educations and good jobs and access to birth control and abortion. But try to tell that to the white working class male pro-forced birth/pro-Welfare Reform crowd.

        Our society teaches us that “women’s work” of care-taking isn’t “real work” of any value, even though no society — patriarchal or otherwise — could exist and survive without that “work of no worth” that is mostly done by women.

        Poor women’s educational and job opportunities, limited as they are, are largely determined by our “value” as sexual commodities to MEN and our “worth” in terms of MALE defined use. Poor women who are fat, middle-aged, and who are otherwise not “fuckable” don’t have the money to pay for liposuction, abdominoplasty, boob jobs, expensive hair and skin treatments at day spas, fitness club memberships, etc., to help us out where biology and genetics failed us. We also don’t have a Rolodex of references from the “right” people in the middle and upper classes who can/will provide the necessary reference letters of recommendation for employment or for grad school acceptance. Hell, poor older women can’t even get any money to afford grad school in the first place! There is NO money for poor, marginalized middle-aged women to go to college and grad school.

        And there’s NO social support for us in academic environments, either. I know because I’ve been there, done that and I’m too poor to afford the T-shirt. I had to fight tooth and nail and fang and claw just to get my Bachelors degree as a poor non-traditional aged female student ten years ago, and even if I WOULD be able to get professors’ letters of recommendation for grad school (two of them who would probably be willing to provide that have since retired and died), there is no way I’d be able to go to grad school unless I hit the powerball jackpot.

        As it stands, women with Masters’ degrees and PhD’s often find themselves in jobs that pay less than the blue-collar union jobs at GE which are only open to men and where a male felon without even a high school diploma will get a $30/hr job with health and dental benefits and a pension that a POOR DISADVANTAGED WOMAN with a clean record and SOME education WON’T get.

        The answer to the classism issue is the same as the answer to the racism and patriarchy issue: women must be proportionally represented in all levels of government, academia, and hiring — public and private — and access to an advanced education must be opened up to those from the most socially and economically underprivileged backgrounds of ALL ages (not just the young kids) who show an interest and have the aptitude for academia.

        What we need is a government that is a truly representative one of ALL the people — not just the male people, not just the class-privileged people, and not just the white people.

  2. CP

    I think Mary’s on to something for sure. It’s an attitude I hear often amongst white working class associates. Always makes me cringe because some of them even went to college but their experience was one of putting hands over their ears, holding their nose and getting through it, convinced the monied Left was trying to put one over on them. Whenever I’ve countered the idea that the blame cannot be solely on the monied Left (the “librul”), but on the self-serving policies of the monied Right, they get quiet or just stuff fingers in their ears again. It makes little sense to me, but that’s their experience. I’m not sure how one gets around that.

    It feels similar to how many men feel with the Left’s emphasis on feminism, there’s a gendered disenfranchisement that one rebels against. Even among men who know cognitively the real tangible value and importance of really hearing and partnering with women and POC. When one gender or color is emphasized above your own, you feel put-upon. You can rationalize your way out of it mostly, but you still feel like you’re not wanted or needed, certainly not valued even though you know in your guts you have something to contribute even if you are a white male. I think that could be a lot of what goes on in my colleagues’ heads, subconsciously when they blame the monied librul for their situation. And the racial rhetoric and infrastructure still shoves white supremacy down their throats on top of that.

    OTOH, I also hear what Bill is saying about the racial uniform. Nearly every argument I got into with white Romney supporters in the election’s final days eventually got whittled down to one disturbing reality: they weren’t going to vote for “that black guy.” It was sickening.

    1. I see what you’re saying, CP. But here’s the thing: the onus for dismantling systems of oppression rest solely on those with privilege (white privilege, male privilege, class privilege). If these men feel unwanted and devalued, maybe it’s because of their miserable track record in their treatment of poor women and POC. To clarify what “privilege” means since many white working class men think of themselves as decidedly dis-privileged, privilege does not necessarily mean a more luxurious life. It means power over others through dominance and racial and/or sexual entitlement. And yes, white working class males ARE dominant over poor women and POC politically, socially, and economically. What a white working class male gets to live on in one week is more than what a poor single mother gets from TANF to live on and support kids with for a whole month. And poor jobless women without kids don’t even get that. We’re left to rot.

      As a woman from the poverty class who was a victim of white working class male malevolence, I have difficulty having any sympathy for them. They cut their own throats just to make sure that women and minorities would never get a chance to have any of the rights that they themselves feel entitled to, and ensured since the Reagan Revolution that women and minorities would remain under white male jackboots and at the bottom of every pile. Then they had the moxy to blame those of us with the least power and privilege for their problems that they brought on themselves because getting to be better off than women and minorities was more important to them than fairness for everyone.

      It was working class white males who bombed abortion clinics, who participated in KKK rallies, and who supported scumbags like David Duke and Trent Lott and the Christian Right who believes it’s men’s gawd-given right to beat their wives in order to “discipline” them. It was working class white males who carried out patriarchy’s lynching orders and who violently enforced miscegenation laws that were all about policing white women’s sex lives and reproduction, and these laws were never aimed at white men — only women and men of color. And it is their ideological descendents today who try to claim victimhood while accusing poor women who never had any health and dental care or any economic security at all, not even any basic human rights over OUR OWN BODIES, of engaging in “Oppression Olympics.” Sorry, but that dog don’t hunt.

      If white working class males want to be seen as part of the solution instead of part of the problem, they need to first demonstrate their commitment to doing their part to dismantle institutionalized misogyny and sexism (and racism, too) by supporting lawmakers that seek to bring restorative justice to those who have been traditionally oppressed and who continue to be oppressed.

  3. Susan

    I’m looking at my working-class family – 2 of the men voted for Obama and other Democrats for social and economic reasons -Republican rants on women, taxes, the auto industry etc. had them turned off for a long time. Two voted for Romney – at least one was against ‘that black man’ as well as the upper-middle class liberals, but I think there’s another reason as well. They don’t think they are working-class. They’ve bought into the notion that anyone with a job is middle class. These guys have incomes somewhere in the 30-35 thousand range. They are in their 40s, with families. One lost a house he should never have bought in the first place. All the anti-tax talk seemed to feed into their Romney support although they are far from the income level Obama wants to increase taxes on. I can see how they would buy into this fantasy. No one really talks about people at their income level without the subtle implication that they are losers. The definition of working-class, when it is mentioned at all, on various tv news comments, is not really clear and seems to vary depending on the topic being discussed. These guys are not stupid, but they are emotionally tied to an identity that is not real.

  4. Giavanna Munafo

    I agree with Bill. I’d add that the experience of having one’s manliness (as it is traditionally understood, practiced, enforced, rewarded and, when inadequate, punished) has a little or a lot to do with voters choosing Romney — men and women who feel that their families have been emasculated. Likely this segment is disproportionately white, given the “minority” inclination I would suspect encourages voters of color to favor Obama.

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