Monday, December 23, 2019

You Talk About Identity Politics When That's All You've Got to Sell...,


wsws |  What are the stakes that people imagine to be bound up with demonstrating that capitalism in this country emerged from slavery and racism, which are treated as two different labels for the same pathology? Ultimately, it’s a race reductionist argument. What the Afro-pessimist types or black nationalist types get out of it is an insistence that we can’t ever talk about anything except race. And that's partly because talking about race is the things they have to sell.

If you follow through the logic of disparities discourse, and watch the studies and follow the citations, what you get is a sort of bold announcement of findings, but finding that anybody who has been reading a newspaper over the last 50 or 70 years would assume from the outset: blacks have it worse, and women have it worse, and so on.

It’s in part an expression of a generic pathology of sociology, the most banal expression of academic life. You follow the safe path. You replicate the findings. But it’s not just supposed to be a matter of finding a disparity in and of itself, like differences in the number of days of sunshine in a year. It’s supposed to be a promise that in finding or confirming the disparity in this or that domain that it will bring some kind of mediation of the problem. But the work never calls for that.

Q. You make important points about the way social problems are approached. As an example, we have a scourge of police violence in this country. Over 1,000 Americans are killed each year by police. And the common knowledge, so to speak, is that this is a racial problem. The reality is that the largest number of those killed are white, but blacks are disproportionately killed. But if the position is that this is simply a racial problem, there is no real solution on offer. We have a militarized police force operating under conditions of extreme social inequality, with lots of guns on the streets, with soldiers coming back from serving in neocolonial wars abroad becoming police officers. And all of this is excised in the racialist argument, which if taken at face value, boils down to allegations about racial attitudes among police.

A. Cedric Johnson [3] has made good points on this and I’ve spoken with him at considerable length about the criminal justice system. To overdraw the point, a black Yale graduate who works on Wall Street is no doubt several times more likely to be jacked up by the police on the platform of Metro North than his white counterpart, out of mistaken identity. And that mistaken identity is what we might call racism. But it’s a shorthand. He’s still less likely to be jacked up by the police than the broke white guy in northeast Philadelphia or west Baltimore.

The point of this stress on policing is containing those working-class and poor populations and protecting property holders downtown, and in making shows of force in doing so. I mean the emergence of, or the intensification of, militarized policing in the 1990s and 2000s was directly connected with an increased focus on urban redevelopment directed toward turning central cities into havens for play and leisure. To do this you have to accomplish a couple of things, as Saskia Sassen pointed out almost 30 years ago, in the reconfiguration of the urban political economy in ways that create a basis for upscale consumption, and an industrial reserve army who will work for little enough to make that culture of upscale consumption profitable. Then you have to have the police to protect all of this. It’s really like a tourist economy.

So that’s kind of natural enough and you don’t need to have a devil theory like the crack epidemic to explain it—all of this pointless back-and-forth about how the cultural and political authorities are responding to the opioid crisis compared to how they responded to the crack epidemic. I mean, it’s all beside the point.