Friday, March 9, 2007

Is it still us, or is it you and me?

Over at Corrente, ddjango posted up a few important paragraphs about race and the American left. This is a deeply important discussion to have -- one that we shouldn't stop having even though there's a terrible lot on our plates these days. To my thinking, the effectiveness of the left can only be judged by the world our efforts either create or fail to create. In Mt. Blackmore: The Future of America?, ddjango raises an exuberant call for a grand memorial to black Americans who fought (and fight) for equality in a land that claims to value it. In the middle of the piece is this paragraph:
I recently in these pages decried what I have seen as a chasm between the white male-dominated Left and other politically leftist groups. ... Perhaps advocating integration and unity is not such a good idea, because the strength and power of the non-white-male left might be forced to compromise beliefs and programs/policies that are essential to a radical revolution. Barak Obama, I venture, is an exceptionally noticeable result of such integration. Colin Powell and Condi “They Named a Damn Oil Tanker After Me” Rice are the most egregious and nauseating outcomes.

This is the Big Issue, as far as I'm concerned, that the left in the United States has been unable to resolve since its inception. Whether you find that birth in the abolitionist movement or the labor movement or the suffrage struggle or the farm workers struggles or the civil rights era or women's liberation or the fight for gay rights, the question has always been, "How much can a member of the ruling elite, that is, white males, be counted upon to further the struggle of those outside that demographic?" Can we credibly work together? Or is there something innately limiting about a "movement" dominated by a group of people who have a choice about it?

Is there strength in separatism of some amount? The answer would seem to be an unequivocal "yes." No recent struggle for equality in American society would have begun or succeeded without the exclusive impetus of the group oppressed. Blacks, women, gays, latinos, workers. Of the major social upheavals of the last 150 years, I believe you can only make a case for abolition being dominated from the beginning by members of the majority. And my history may be fuzzy on that. (Note: I'm not saying freedmen or escaped slaves were not a part of the genesis; I'm only saying that it was a white movement in structure and majority from the beginning.)

But the question I raised (or tried to, in my roundabout, overly wordy way) in the "comments" section is, "Can we work together?" ddjango's position seems to be that no progressive effort will ever be progressive enough, so long as it is dominated by white males. Now, I'm not totally convinced that the progressive movement in America is essentially white-male. But that might be because I am one. This likely looks a lot different to anyone who isn't me. So that's why I responded and that's why I'm posting.

Surely, no matter what you think about the respective role of white-male and non-(white male) leftists, in the end we're stronger together than we are apart. Unless you believe that no matter what we do together, it will unavoidably fail to meet the requirements of a truly Liberal Society. I posed a lot of questions to ddjango in my comments (I don't know if they'll make it to post--I've been blocked by Corrente before), and I encourage you to go look at the Corrente post and think it through. But to me, the most crucial one is this:
What does a more perfect future look like to you, so that a white male leftist would be incapable of advocating for it at all?
So what of it, people? What are your thoughts on this, most important meta-question of the Progressive Left?


chicago dyke said...

we don't "block" people, we employ a spam filter. that means sometimes the human being who has to go and approve all the not-spam comments is slower to do so than we'd like. sorry if you've accidentially been counted as spam or got caught in one of our slightly too regular blog hiccups, which occasionally reset all comments to zero. for this post. the sad fact is that the blogging progressive left is way to white. not by anyone's conscious choice, but a mess of circumstances and timing and just plain ignorance. go to blogger gatherings and you do notice that they could be more diverse. but it's changing for the better, so i don't worry about it too much. unlike other progressive movements, anyone can blog, and eventually, america's diversity will come shining thru.

more broadly, i am an integrationist. always have been, always will be. there are times when i want to hang (or get active) with "my kind," be that nonwhites or gays or women or childfree people. but my goal as an activist is for inclusion for all. i feel sorry for white folks who don't have nonwhite friends or peers- they miss so much that is interesting and cool. but i don't deny that in this country, the choice, the final and meaningful choice, will have to be made by whites. whites will have to decide to open up, go out into new communities, and otherwise intermingle. nonwhites are forced to do this as minorities, so it seems to me the onus is on whites to decide that they want to be our neighbors, friends and colleagues. the reality of the power difference just makes it that much more plain to me.

integration, inclusion, and equality will happen when whites in this country want it to.

Jim said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I'm not surprised to hear that the blogging community is mostly white.I think there's a variety of reasons (many of them you cite) why that's so. But the content of the blogging left is less important to me than the makeup of the left at large, specifically the progressive left.

I think ultimately integretion is the sine qua non of a liberal civil society. But what's interesting and important to me, are the issues I think ddjango raised (conciously or not). That is, if a true plural society is the end goal, how do we get there.

ddjango seems to be saying that there's a certain radicalism that both can't be adequately represented by white guys and is absolutely necessary for progress. I'm actually tempted to agree. IMO, what we really need here is some truly radical force and, in the end, things are just too comfortable for the white guy for him to be radical in the necessary numbers.

There's an element of truth in that for many minorities (racial or otherwise) in America. It is the central genius of the American bootstrap/land o' opportunity myth. You could argue that the end result of the the civil rights movement(s) has been merely to spread the payoff. The more comfortable we are made to feel, the more unlikely it becomes that the Dream will move forward.

You can see this in ddjango's lament over the middle-class black, and how s/he has seemingly abandoned the poor. How those folks have come to dominate the NAACP and how as a result, the NAACP has fewer and fewer community-based initiatives. In fact, I believe there's just been a shakeup over there about just that issue. Obama, in this light, represents a kind of bland "can't we all just get along" kind of racial blindness rather than a true vessel of hope for further equality.

All these issues are extremely complex and deep-reaching on a personal level for lots of people. But as long as at least one political party is willing to use race to drive a wedge and make its bones, then there's going to be a deep divide. As to the left, we now face something akin to the 60's. There's a deep lack of humanity in our foreign policy, especially with respect to energy politics. And there's a profound hollowness to our domestic initiatives (where any still remain) that concern poverty, health and education.

Are we on the left better served by a fracture, if that fracture injects the public debate with a sharp crisis: a "which side are you on" moment. For myself, I would relish that crisis. We need it.

But we also must be careful not to alienate one from another. Is that hoping for too much? I wonder. And I wonder if we have to devolve a little before we can evolve. Interestingly, it might be the coming energy crisis that does it.