Racism in the United States is white people’s problem. Unfortunately, it’s everybody but white people who suffer most of its consequences. It was white folks who created and benefit from the structure of white supremacy and have a vested interest in keeping it going. Until enough of them either decide to destroy the racist structure that perpetrates so much injustice or until the supporters and maintainers of that system are made to feel the wrath of those white people no longer interested in maintaining it, racism will exist. Given that the US economic system would not be what it is today without the institution of slavery, it seems reasonable to state that the elimination of white supremacy is not possible within the capitalist system. Accepting this argument means that anything short of ending the current economic setup in the United States is but a step along the way to a world where racism does not exist.
Racism is composed of more than the Klan, the Nazis and other white supremacists holding rallies and hosting websites. It is also more than electing a clearly racist individual to Congress or the White House or appointing one as head of the Justice Department. Racism is also ignoring the elections of such individuals or rationalizing them as the being the way democracy works. Racism is more than supporting segregated schools or sending your child to a private school designed to keep non-white children out. It is also the act of accepting such arrangements. Racism is not only maintaining a system where most young high school students of color essentially rule out going to college, it’s also not having a problem with that system and justifying it by saying those students can join the military first. Racism is not only defending statues (and other memorials) of slavers and men who fought to preserve slavery, it is accepting those statues as part of a mutual history that deserves to be honored. The very fact that the potential removal of those statues is causing white supremacists to come out in droves and beat people who are in favor of that removal proves that these are memorials to white supremacy, not merely war heroes.
Back in 1969, the Black Panther Party sponsored a couple conferences designed to build a united front against fascism. This was during a period when the COINTELPRO operation was turning the heat up to full throttle on the Panthers. Panthers were being killed, wounded and locked up across the country. The operation was nationally coordinated and utilized national and local police forces to carry out its repressive and murderous work. One of the responses by the Panthers was to generate a call in African-American communities demanding community control of the police. This control involved communities electing their own police from the neighborhoods who would then maintain order according to the neighborhood’s wishes. Various white attendees—mostly from the Weatherman/SDS faction—to the conferences opposed this, believing this would allow racist whites to control the police. In large part, this concept stemmed from the Weatherman analysis that most white people in the United States were a lost cause and hopelessly reactionary. The Panthers perceived the objection to their call as an attempt by white revolutionaries to weasel out of the difficult task of organizing white workers along revolutionary lines. Furthermore, argued the Panthers, “How abstract and divorced from the reality of the world around them they must be to think that the Black Panther party would allow them to leave their (white) communities and begin to organize the (Black) colony; to control the fascists in the oppressor country is a very definite step towards white (revolutionary) people’s power,… It seems they prefer to allow the already legitimate reactionary forces to take roost or sanctuary in the white communities.”
What about class, then? Isn’t it more important than racism? I would argue that in the United States the answer to that question is a straight up no. Obviously, class is certainly as important, but because racism defines so much of why the nation is what it is today, there is no honest way to put class above racism when discussing a way forward. Working class whites, blacks and Latinos are all subject to capitalism’s abuses, but only African-Americans have a history where their actual person was considered legal tender. If nothing else, this one fact is what makes the nexus between race and class in the United States different from the hierarchy of oppression in other capitalist nations. Consequently, in a truly radical movement for US social justice class should never supersede race. Likewise, anti-racist struggle should also include issues of class if it is to be something more than just another Band-Aid on the wound of racism.
In other words, white leftists and anti-racists need to organize against racism in the communities it originates from. That is, their communities/white communities. This is why it is so important that today’s protests against white supremacists are organized by predominantly white organizations aligned with groups composed of and representing the daily and historical targets of the white supremacists: Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other people of color. This does not mean white folks should lead the fight, but that they need to accept responsibility for the phenomenon of white supremacy and organize to end it. This is essential for many reasons; foremost among them being that unless racism can be diminished (if not eradicated) where it emanates from, it will spread. There must be serious and militant opposition to white racists by anti-racists in the communities where racism festers and grows. For every so-called free speech rally held by white supremacists, there must be a counter-protest. For every defense of a memorial to white supremacy, a memorial should be removed. For every racist given a position of power, a challenge to their power should be engaged.