America is not post-racial. Events in Charleston and Ferguson prove that. Events in Charleston and Ferguson scream “We need a new revolution.” And while that total overhaul—which must be social and cultural and educational and financial and political—must address race, it cannot be focused exclusively on race. It must include and address all marginalized groups, including impoverished whites. Our revolution must be holistic and it must dismantle all privilege.
This reckoning is uncomfortable for blacks and whites alike, as it forces whites to confront the fact that, yes, they are reaping a disproportionate amount of benefits and, yes, it is due to their skin color. But I’d venture to say that acknowledging the plight of poor whites—particularly the invisibility and “worthlessness” of poor white women—will be equally uncomfortable for black people.
Not because they’re responsible in any way for the status of poor white women but, rather, because it interrogates long-held beliefs about the pecking order in the United States. Because it involves acknowledging others’ pain and broadening one’s ideas about victimhood and agency and unity and race.
Debra Dickerson admits as much in her 2009 article “Class is the new black”:
…”black” must be… replaced with “any underperforming, underutilized segment.”
First, it’s immoral to ignore the suffering of other groups languishing on the nation’s margins… You can’t argue that urban zip code x needs investment without arguing that working-class white zip code y does, too, not when their problems (e.g. educational underachievement) are equally severe.
However much blacks lack health care, the crisis affects all but the very rich. However often blacks face foreclosure, the crisis affects all but the very rich. On a sinking ship, everyone is equal except those who own all the lifeboats.
Let’s talk class, not race. Problem areas, not the pigment of those living within them. Because in the end, what hurts one hurts us all.
Why have we forgotten that class justice was part of the Civil Rights Movement? As John D. Sutter pointed out in his article “Is class the new race?” when protesters marched on Washington, their signs, among other things, proclaimed: “WE MARCH FOR HIGHER MINIMUM WAGES COVERAGE FOR ALL WORKERS NOW!” And “WE MARCH FOR JOBS FOR ALL A DECENT PAY NOW!”
Race issues should not be put on the back burner. They are urgent. As is liberation for everyone who is marginalized.
Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.