Recently we learned Einstein put some racist musings in his diary. I’m not here to defend him (the Nazis thought he was racist, too). Butthat, in 1920, the man who redefined the world could still think race defined us, is no more odd than history’s 2ndrichest man preaching equality, today.
There are, after all, historic reasons for his opinion, and reasons -we think- ours is more just. Then, imperialism devalued others to pardon it abusing them. Now it acquits itself by liking them. But rejecting a racist cosmology hasn’t cured us of racism. Instead, it’s allowed us to distance -but not repair- the still-racialized abuses of imperial-capitalism.
Consider, a half-century after Civil Rights, nearly a quarter of all African-Americans live below the poverty line, and the entire community lays claim to only 2.5% of the wealth, compared to a 9% poverty-rate and 90% of the wealth for whites. With current patterns the median wealth for African-Americans will decrease to $0 by 2053.
Now consider, there are upwards to a million homeless Americans. 40% are African-Americans, though blacks total only 13% of our population. Bill Gates, 2ndrichest man, has been battling homelessness since 2000 (theirs’, his home is secure). Millions of dollars spent on awareness, pilot programs, and research -with no apparent success- since the numbers (particularly in Seattle) are growing. But we could eradicate homelessness for $20 billion, according to HUD.
Gates could pay cash and still rank 3rd. Together he, Warren Buffet, and 1stplace, Bezoz (who could give a fuck about homelessness) would still own more than the bottom 50% of Americans, and bottom 90% of African-Americans, combined.
Mind, it doesn’t take a roof over our heads to see that a man is entitled to whatever he can rig the system to earn him. So I don’t mean to put it all on his shoulders. But somehow the richer we get, the harder it gets to stop people slipping through the cracks. Even a guy with $90 billion can’t think how to fix a $20 billion dollar problem. And the worst isn’t him, but that we don’t think to ask, or demand, or take. So likely the cracks are part of the system. But, in contrast, Einstein was a pacifist, who after weighing the options introduced the atomic bomb. So if he should symbolize anything, it’s our capacity to act against our preconceptions.
So what gives?
Marx wrote of Darwin, ‘he looked at a tangle of vines and saw English society’. So did the public, and, for a time, we understood or misunderstood ourselves in terms of biological struggle. Later, assembly lines, atomic energy, computers, and ecosystems, would in-turn replace vines informing our policies. Of recent, the algorithm, an increasingly complex program to achieve increasingly reductive outcomes aptly frames the neoliberal mind.
But ironically, the neoliberal program; deregulation and austerity cut and pasted everywhere, then repeated with slightly-new data, when it fails, produces un-like results. Homeless rates, for instance, among African-Americans reflected their population (>13%) prior to the era, despite that poverty was all but guaranteed. Austerity and deregulation disrupted the familial, class, community, and governmental ties the poor, and particularly their children, used to survive. The strain of homelessness, mass-incarceration, and shoot-first policies have caught our eye, and in ways serve as an indictment of neoliberalism, but cloudy regarding what it’s unearthed, versus what it’s produced, itself.
Now, while misappropriations of Darwin aren’t extinct, most on the Left tend toward said structural factors, and the Right to cultural practices (like sleeping outside), to explain racism and inequality. There is a sense of reckoning versus reaction in how the two are portrayed to struggle. (Einstein is a convenient subject, as it underscores structural factors if even the best and brightest aren’t immune.) But we hear mostly from repentant bourgeois, who press for more-inclusive liberalism, rather than less-overall, capitalism (as might the poor). (Think how Justice Kennedy is now a ‘Left’-hero for supporting marriage equality and abortion rights, even if they help us less than Janus and Citizen’s United ultimately hurt.) Seeing the problem as structural doesn’t attack the program.
Even the few, potent Leftists emphasize how much power and oppression are sublimated, and we come to ‘embody’ their program- ‘politics dissolve under the pressure to remodel the self as an object with a price tag’, in Wendy Brown’s words (Undoing the Demos, 2015). But to think so atomizes power, when power is gathered at the very top, to an unprecedented degree, and it downplays how much power is still raw and violent if you count among the poor. It is, itself a neoliberal response to neoliberalism.
Experience tells a different story.
I once had the displeasure of working for a polluting multi-national, ostensibly in Portland, OR, but just outside to take advantage of softer waste restrictions. As per state law, a disclosure hung in the lobby, but with the reminder that ‘conservation starts at home’. However, less then 10% of waste and water consumption is residential. (Though we’re fined at a much higher rate.) ‘Checking our privilege’ is of course needed, but likely to make a similar-sized dent, as it portrays race and poverty as results of poorly-served, instead of deliberately-exploited, classes, and as defects rather than the very-substance of capitalism.
In Evicted, Mathew Diamond notes how the white trailer-park community he studies all consider themselves temporarily poor, and hence (temporary or not) are less-inclined to organize. He finds that is not true for African-Americans, who find ample evidence that poverty is long-term, and organize their lives accordingly. However, that is not to suggest they are compliant. On the contrary, as Civil Rights attests, the Black community is highly-organized -despite systemic, but also direct, disruption (extra-legal police violence, for example).
To reverse angles, one need not be a self-affirmed racist to have complied with ‘red-lining’ or ‘white-flight’, only protecting your home value as banks and tax codes made fit. In fact, a recent survey on immigration found Americans (along with Canadians) the mosttolerant among 27 polled countries, of non-native speakers, the unemployed, felons, radicals, or ethnic groups, so long as they’re citizens. I’m not altogether sold, but we might not be the irreparable bigots we seem. According to the findings, ‘the US has a very legalistic vision of what it is to be an American’.[i] (Of course, Nikki Haley stood it on its head when she told the UN it was ‘ridiculous to look at poverty in the world’s richest nation’. Apparently just as citizenship welcomes our most-poor, it denies them outside protection.)
Thus it’s pertinent to ask, in both cases, should we be looking at conceptions of race and poverty, or of law enforcement and state-power to understand mass-incarceration or the police’ rising body count?
Consider the FBI memo that invented ‘Black Identity Extremism’ (BIE) the same time it granted them right to oppress it. ‘Racism’, in which case, is literally a state-authored fiction, as the group only exists on FBI records. Moreover, as with the ‘blue lives matter’ bill which makes resisting arrest a hate crime, their (straw) premise is that racism ‘goes both ways’. I’d prefer that were true, since, as stray individuals, we’d have limited ability to act on it. But it’s not. Racism has a definition: prejudice plus power.
Unlike BIE, ‘SIR’ (state-invented racism) and ‘CRP’ (capitalist-powered racism) have been the constant since answering the mixed ranks of poor in Bacon’s Rebellion with the 1705, Virginia Slave Codes, our first official color-line. Since then, occasionally its been lifted due to public reckoning. But it’s never been imposed without the help of some authority, be it state, judicial, or investment capital. ‘Law and order’ is sympathetic to profit. The Slave-trade launched our banking system, and the plantation supplied the organizational model for the corporate firm.ii Post-slavery, fomenting racism was and remains an indispensable strike-breaker.
This doesn’t apply only to blacks. Today, corporations open our borders to cheap, bracerolabor that it can throw away when its worn, or dares lift its head, while coaxing us to blame the workers. Or stuff them in jail, along with 1 in 10 African-Americans. After all, wrenching kids from their parents precedes our deranged president.
It’s ironic though, that the free-market is putting labor in cages, like the slave-market did.