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“The rich are not like you and me.” “The poor will always be with us.” Get real and accept it we are told. Give alms and aid to the poor, tax the rich. Establish private foundations, be a responsible trust baby and give. You’ve heard it all, and maybe even believe it in your heart. But, it’s toxic thinking. I have a suggestion for clarifying our consciousness: learn to hate the rich. Hate, yes. You can dress up the language and call it rage. But, hate is a concept underrated. Everyone does it, but no one wants to admit it, usually hating the wrong person. Hate is the opposite of love. Do you love the rich? Like the rich? If not, than maybe you can learn to hate the rich. I don’t mean shame the rich in order to get money out of their guilt, as has been a long practice on the left and among non-profits. I mean NOT taking money from the rich, isolate the rich, make them build tall walls around their estates and corporate headquarters as the people force the rich to do in Latin America. How dare they have plate glass windows! We are held back and diminished by the claim that hating is bad for us, bad for everyone. You can hate the act but not hate the person. You can hate wealth or capitalism but not the rich. It’s a ridiculous logic that keeps us hating and blaming ourselves for not being rich and powerful. Anyway, it’s not consistent; it’s all right to hate slavery and slaveowners, fascism and Hitler, etc. Why not hate the rich, the individual rich, not an abstract concept?
Ah, but who are the rich? We have to be careful about that, living in a country that does not admit to class relations, and class is subject to little analysis even on the left. It’s not a matter of income per se. And it’s essential in hating to target the enemy and not some front for the enemy. High income can certainly make a person full of herself, and most US citizens who live on high fixed or hourly incomes due to circumstances of a good trade union or a professional degree have no idea that they aren’t rich. In polls they say they are in the top fifth of the income ladder, and they aren’t. A majority of US citizens don’t want to tax the rich more, because they think they will be rich one day. They won’t. The rich own not just a mortgaged house and a car, maybe a boat or a cabin in the woods or a beach house to boot; rather they own you. Even the cash and luxury soaked entertainment and sports stars are not the rich; they certainly deserve contempt and disgust, but not hatred. Don’t go for scapegoats–Jews, Oprah, Martha Stewart. Hatred should be reserved for those who own us, that is, those who own the banks, the oil companies, the war industry, the land (for corporate agriculture), the private universities and prep schools, and who own the foundations that dole out worthy projects for the poor, for public institutions-their opera, their ballet, their symphony, that you are allowed to attend after opening night. My oldest brother, who like me grew up dirt poor in rural Oklahoma, landless farmers and farm workers, rebuts my arguments by saying that no poor man ever gave him a job. That says it all. The rich own you and me.
In all the arguments about the crimes of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions, rarely is their greatest crime ever discussed–the leveling of class, rich and poor are the same in god’s sight. What a handy ideology for the rich! The same with US democracy with its “equal opportunity” and “level playing fields,” absurd claims under capitalism, but ones held dear but liberals. Hating the rich means also hating the state, the United States of America that is the ruling corporate body of the rich.
Why are we so silent about this, grumping over the increase in the income gap, trying to figure out how to narrow it? What do we expect, that the rich will empower the people to overthrow them as they almost did in response to the labor movement in the 1930s or the Civil Rights Movement with the War on Poverty? Not again will they make that mistake. I’m not saying we shouldn’t point to it as evidence of the crimes of the rich, but we should not delude ourselves that the rich will give up their ownership of us. So, we need to stop longing for the return of the New Deal or savior Roosevelt. Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich.
ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ is a longtime activist, university professor, and writer. In addition to numerous scholarly books and articles she has published two historical memoirs, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie (Verso, 1997), and Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 19601975 (City Lights, 2002). “Red Christmas” is excerpted from her forthcoming book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, South End Press, October 2005. She can be reached at: email@example.com