Modern Evidence and Speculation: Or, “What if Trump Did It?”

Welcome_BioPic By H. Alexander Welcome

The 2016 U.S. Presidential election signaled a number of important changes in U.S. society, including approaches to evidence and speculative thinking. During the 44th presidency, evidence about presidents wasn’t in high demand. Barack Obama’s name, general background and skin color were pointed to as evidence of his Muslim heritage and lack of U.S. citizenship. Then speculation about his Muslim heritage and lack of U.S. citizenship led to the conclusion that he must be a tyrant. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency have been immune to many of the laws of evidence. Just as it has been immune to grounded and critical speculation.

Collusion and treason are crimes. Our current discussions about the difference between the two have distracted us from a very important point. Once convicted of a crime, you are not allowed to maintain any benefits or results stemming from that crime. This leads us to two questions that demand serious critical speculation. What should happen to the laws, policies, and appointments spearheaded by the Trump administration if Donald Trump is convicted of either treason or collusion while he is alive, or if evidence of treason or collusion emerges after he has died?

These two questions have not been a significant part of the political and media coverage of the Trump Presidency. Their absence highlights two very different ways in which we live the past. In many ways, our experiences of time are social. We choose to remember certain events and people; some things, we choose to forget. Furthermore, we choose to address events that have taken place, while we leave other events unaddressed.

Broken treaties with Native Americans and chattel slavery in the U.S. are two examples of the latter. And, they reflect a trend. U.S. national policy tends to leave unaddressed wrongs committed against people of color, but U.S. policy takes a different approach to wrongs committed against white people. The events of 9/11 impacted people throughout the U.S. However, the increases in anti-Muslim sentiment and nativism that occurred afterwards framed those as an attack against white people. As a result—continually, at home and abroad—the bodies of Muslim people are forced to atone for the happenings of that day.

In the U.S. and around the world, there exists what we can call a Haitian dichotomy.  Wrongs against people of color are sealed in the past, while wrongs against white people are memorialized, lived, and vindicated unto eternity. For this reason, the handling of the accusations against Trump will signal a radical moment for ideology. The three possible outcomes are complete innocence, ignorant stooge, and guilty as hell. The last event has no true parallel in the history of American ideology. The treason of the South during the Civil War was the treason of the masses. More importantly, after the Civil War the nation was directly and indirectly reliant upon the labor of those traitors. Richard Nixon was not the masses, and his crime was not on the level of the least of the charges of which Trump has been accused.

If Trump is guilty of the lesser charges of collusion, he, at best disenfranchised the people who opposed his presidency. At worst, he disenfranchised those who opposed him, and he defrauded those who supported him. Many of Trump’s policies are dehumanizing. There is no question that we must fight them now. But, doing so should not distract us from the multiple levels on which we might have to fight them in the future.

H. Alexander Welcome is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at LaGuardia Community College. His work revolves around the dynamics of alienation, the specifics of the racial wage paid to white people, the social nature of existential experiences of time, and how all three of these aforementioned elements emerge in the stand-up comedy of Richard Pryor and Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

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Please Put Down Your Sledgehammers: On the Parkland Students, Left Reductionism, and Aversion to Strategic Alliance

By William J. Weikart

When I Facebook reposted a .gif rendering of Emma González that said “I Stand With Her”, I was feeling her emotional courage, and inspired at the fact that high school students seemed, at least for the moment, to be leading something…what might be the start of a movement…a budding social movement for more or less common sense steps to regulating guns and gun augmentations (manufacture, access); reigning in the excessive influence of the NRA; increasing access to (not imposition of) mental health care; and for finding ways to make school children – ANY and ALL school children, but really, all people – less endangered by mass shootings and wanton violence.

A recent Facebook post, that has, if not gone viral, certainly generated a lot of heated controversy and discussion, [1] has alleged “white supremacist roots” of the March for Our Lives “movement.” [2]  This is an irresponsible overstatement (which is perhaps itself an understatement). The seemingly deliberate and hyperbolic conceptual slippage/obfuscation – gun control advocates are white supremacists, regardless of their claims and allegiances – and the radical reductionism, of nuanced difference and political identification on the left, and even amongst liberals, therein, points to a number of lessons the left can potentially learn from — or, more modestly, to problems I have seen, first-hand, that dog the US left at least since the late 90s and the so-called anti-globalization protest mobilizations, if not since well before (perhaps going back to Hegel).  I have many problems with the piece:

1. The overstated need for attention to Hogg and González’ backgrounds.  Reducing them to their class backgrounds is quite simply an example of what Marx called ‘vulgar materialism’, and in many ways is partly to blame for the excesses and distortions of many of the well-intended but ultimately horrible (and failed) outcomes of the 20c experiments in applying Marxism (China and USSR, even Pol Pot in Cambodia).  You come from bourgeoisie, you ARE bourgeoisie.  Don’t get any on you.  Of course we know many revolutionaries in history have come from relative privilege.  Here, class functions very much like race does in racist discourse.  The two converge in a kind of paranoid, zero-sum biopolitics: They must die so that we might live.  Know backgrounds, but know that they also do not determine absolutely and mechanistically.

2. The problematic claim that most of the Manifesto items are unanimously calling for more policing in a traditional sense – ie, more police officers. Item 9 – “increase funding for school security” – does call for more armed school officers (which may technically be distinct from police) and this represents the most overt call in the Manifesto for policing.  There is a lot to discuss (out of my purview) as far as how armed personnel (not the teachers!) in schools could/would (mal)function on a day to day basis, and this is not the place.  I’d certainly improve the Manifesto here by calling for increased school funding but have it be applied to things like infrastructural safety (metal detectors, locking doors, bullet proof materials, and education/drills), even though these are expensive.  This may indeed be the most problematic part of the Manifesto, and it is right to call it out…maybe just leave it out, this item.  May I start by suggesting the books/research of Alex Vitale on policing in NYC.

3. While Bloomberg, who certainly presided over a racist (in its implementation) policy in ‘stop and frisk’, put money towards the March, it does not necessarily follow that he is somehow successfully attaching a stop and frisk agenda to that money.  He may or may not be trying to.  In his influential work, The Practice of Everyday Life (1980; English ed. 1984),  Michel de Certeau shows us how consumption is not merely passive, and how consumers of mass culture alter and subvert not only those objects and their proscribed uses, but the intended (ideological) meanings of said objects.  The left can learn a lot from this, by extending it to money itself.  There is no ‘clean’ money, but also, money is not a perfect, closed circuit which perfectly transmits ideology in a 1:1 fashion.  Instead of assuming that general money corrupts absolutely, and/or that particular money transmits perfectly, learn from the rock group Royal Trux, who used their savviness to legally get millions from Virgin in the late 90s, and channeled that into their own semi-autonomous activity, such as building a recording studio (a petit means of production) – money that went back into the musical undercommons, as it were.  Bloomy may want to support the cause but perhaps we can take his money without strings…or cut them.  These situations are to be approached carefully, and taken very much on a case by case basis.  Stepping back, what is important is that the Parkland Manifesto I see on The Guardian’s website says nothing of reinstalling stop and frisk, or similar.  It does not seem to be calling for measures that, at first glance, would prioritize urban, versus suburban or rural enforcement; or target particular racial or economic groups.  This is the “slippage” I speak of; really just a rhetorical sleight of hand.

4. If the Parkland Manifesto contains significant racial blind spots, and it well may, they of course can and should be addressed.  This is a work in progress.  It quite remains to be seen if this is indeed a social “movement”, and Hogg and González are so far simply media faces, not leaders.  Leftists in the US (not liberals!) have for years (at least since the late 90s) been calling for the demilitarization of municipal police forces, and sometimes even the disarming of police, as unarmed black youth are killed with impunity, and police have come to increasingly resemble occupying armies, especially at protest rallies – using tear gas, rubber bullets, riot gear, sound cannons, armored vehicles etc.  The Parkland students and others need to, and will, learn about ideas like demilitarization, and I see no reason these ideas can not be integrated in, to strengthen the (tbd) “movement”.  These are high school students getting their feet wet politically, learning to lead.  They of course have a lot to learn.  While I don’t see items on this Manifesto that are blatantly concealing a bias towards enforcement on or in communities of color, the FB post has the merit of being a legit warning of what to be vigilant for – ie, racist implementation.  Original intentions always can and do shift.  But a complete dismissal of Hogg and González, the Parkland Manifesto, and all attempts at common sense gun regulation, would be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  This is simply too much of a media flashpoint/opening.  As I write, it already seems to be losing steam as the media circus shifts to an imminent Mueller firing, and Stormygate. [EDIT: now, Syria.]

5. I’d encourage those interested to probe deeper into the political agenda (found in the post’s myriad sub-threads) that the author is pursuing and prescribing, as I find it rather far-fetched, to say the least — or better, alarming:  wildly anti-democratic; deeply authoritarian; and decidedly quite essentialist.  In sum, it’s a formula for the further reification of “race”, and a dire, cynical will to something like what I think has to be a state of permanent warfare.  I do not want to dismiss the author’s concerns and general trajectory; but it is also important to know, then, where she is coming from, and the proposed “answers” or solutions[3].  The one arrived at is, I would argue, NOT the only “answer” that an anti-racist platform for common sense gun control must arrive at, as she would have it.  While she treats anti-racism and gun control – indeed – as incompatible (which is the crux of what I find so objectionable), it turns out that she actually IS for a kind of gun control, but you’d be forgiven for not guessing its specificity.  By now you may have figured that the author’s invoking of white supremacism conflates it with denial of – or insufficient copping to, ignorance of – white privilege, and hence refers to a very wide swath of people on all over the political spectrum – mainly, people who do not accept her solution(s):  all of liberals, and frankly most of leftists. (Please see point 1.)  How are these sneaky, crypto-“white supremacists” (people calling for gun control – for it identifies them!) any different from Trump or even overt neo-Nazis?  They are not, at least on issues of race (allegedly).  This move is sheer reductio ad absurdum, par excellence.

Of course, Hogg and González – but really, the student co-authors – are not proposing anything outside the realm of mere liberalism – except perhaps when the Manifesto hints at manufacture/sale regulation (which cuts, albeit so gently, against the most crass forms of free market neoliberalism).  The left needs to learn that strategic alliances with liberals (even Democrats) are sometimes desirable or necessary…especially when everything shifts so damn far to the right – and acknowledge when we sometimes have alliable interests.  These alliances will be modular, temporary, highly specific, highly qualified, pragmatic, and flexible.  The FB post represents an extreme example of a nonetheless prevalent left will-to-reduce, and the dogmatic/purist aversion to strategic alliance – indeed, to strategy.  Influence is not necessarily unidirectional.  If constituted power is only destined – mechanistically, fatalistically – to recuperate all movements, gestures and desires towards emancipation, we may as well throw in the towel.  I’m not.[4]

[1] As of today (4/17/18) this Facebook post is public with 6,369 shares and 2.1 thousand comments:

https://www.facebook.com/seraphina.thompson.77/posts/151958892294537?comment_id=1989841677945579&reply_comment_id=236225966925156&notif_id=1523297487811077&notif_t=feed_comment_reply&ref=notif

[2]The Parkland Students’ Manifesto:  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/mar/23/parkland-students-manifesto-americas-gun-laws

[3] I am basing this claim on the original post, and on my interactions with her re the original post.  I have not read all the proposed links she provided.

[4] A final admission is that I have no idea if this “movement” is “infiltrated by police”, as claimed; I doubt it is by “white supremacists” in any meaningful sense (addressed somewhat here).  Let’s not conflate one protest march with a social movement.  Another left tendency is to become prematurely worried that since a few lefties posted a meme, that all left resources and energy will suddenly be directed/usurped in full to that movement or issue.  It doesn’t negate or preclude the work that is always already in progress.  As the FB post author would seemingly agree, this is NOT a movement (yet?) for the disarming of police.  Only then could I really see police becoming super interested in infiltration, as I think they have bigger fish to fry.  If the author is so against this “movement”, it is unclear how she has the informed perspective that it is indeed ”infiltrated by police”, unless she is also infiltrating it.

Liam Weikart is a recluse living in semi-rural southwest Virginia.

Facebook Death

Eren_BioPic By Colleen Eren

I deleted my account and disappeared from the facebook newsfeed suddenly 2 weeks ago. A message came into my e-mail the next day from a colleague, “hey, just checking to make sure you and your family are okay? I saw that you got off of facebook….” Several others expressed curiosity as to my rationale, as I am a regular participant.

Just as there is an emergent genre of “quit lit,” describing–in almost confessional manner—why PhDs and graduate students are choosing to leave academia, so too the declarations of abandoning facebook and rationales for doing so abound. I’m not attempting here to analyze the themes of facebook “quit lit,” why such announcements seem to need a public performance (although it is very sociologically interesting), or to make an impassioned argument for either continuing to use the platform or not. I’m also not going to wade into the discussion about whether social media platforms like Facebook strengthen democracy (such as its role in the Arab Spring) or weaken it (such as with Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.  My N=1.

I am an associate professor of criminal justice, I recently published my first book, Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: The Public Trial of Capitalism. I am in the midst of trying to get speaking engagements and interviews on podcasts and reviews. So why the abandonment? Don’t I need facebook to promote my work and my “brand”?  Won’t I lose potentially useful contacts or make them less interested in me as a friend or colleague because I am not interacting? Won’t I be all but completely unheard, irrelevant, for all intents and purposes—dead?

I will take not figurative, but literal death as the starting point for this very brief note. My father died suddenly, unexpectedly, in his sleep at the end of 2016. I fell down a vertiginous existential black hole, where other than the seemingly unending pain of the loss, everything else—including, yes, politics—no longer could cause me to feel anything. Having sat in the basement of a funeral home filling out with my mother the almost laughably paltry forms necessary to have a human being cremated—a human being with an entire life’s history of aspirations and struggles—the idea of caring about my book, a career, or other’s opinions of my life, became ridiculous. To interact with others on facebook at that time felt almost physically nauseating. Life became stripped down to its essentials, its entire meaning brought back to the simplicity of love, loss, deep friendship, family. I asked my partner to post a message just mentioning my loss and that I wouldn’t be on for some time. I didn’t look at it again for months.

Very few of my approximately 400 “friends” on facebook actually contacted me about my loss via a visit, phone, instant message, card, e-mail, or even text—in spite of the fact that my partner had explicitly written that I would not be on the platform. Instead, they chose to leave a comment. I wasn’t angry or even disappointed—I didn’t feel much of anything– but as the year passed, it emphasized for me the complete superficiality and (excuse the hyperbole) soullessness of the form, and the narcissistic individualism it cultivates, the false sense of significance. You don’t understand, you don’t understand, you don’t understand, I thought, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here on facebook. As I gradually returned to facebook, I did so at first with the sensation of looking into a fishbowl, an outsider. I had a heightened awareness of the disturbing way in which it falsely presents the image of a concerned community, a network somehow constantly embedded in each others’ lives. I wanted to play Jonathan Edwards, to break through the mystification, to announce “death comes unexpectedly!”

This feeling of dislocation, and of seeing the fatuousness of facebook, the sense of loss of a human community and of life lived independently of its performative social capital, continues for me. Perhaps it was the recent one-year anniversary of my dad’s death and its subsequent bringing me back into depression that subconsciously led me to feel the imperative to get off of facebook. I was reminded how the veil was lifted on the nature of my relationships following that day, how small the circle in fact became when mortality in all its unpleasantness greeted me, how few people who I considered “friends” went past what is understandable discomfort with grief to actually physically, or even emotionally be present with me.

Facebook, from my vantage point, does not solidify or create relationships which endure moments of crisis. It may well be useful for promotion. But even in my experience of promoting my book, one glaring observation I’ve made is that the people who show up are not those I’ve invited on facebook. During my book launch, for instance—of 55 people, the vast majority of those who showed up do not even have a social media account. They found out from me personally, responded to my e-mail announcement, or through word of mouth. Almost all of the invitations I’ve received to give a talk are from individuals who contacted me through e-mail and who are not friends with me on facebook. Facebook allows us that false sense of having participated by merely clicking “interested,” or giving an “RSVP,” regardless of whether we actually “show up” for our friends and family, or for that matter, for issues which we consider important. It also gives us the “out” of not having to explain our absence, contributing to a culture where flaking becomes customary.

Maybe I will miss out on some opportunity by not being on facebook. Maybe someone would have seen one of my self-aggrandizing, self-promotional posts and thought that I would be fantastic for a plum job I hadn’t even considered. But those scholars and activists I most admire, who write important work, who have a considerable audience, and who are deeply embedded in causes, such as my long time friend Silvia Federici, somehow have done so without needing to post about it, and have shown up for me in moments of darkness and joy. If we do important work, if we are engaged, if we are present—and not just in writing “so sorry for your loss” or “so happy for you!” in the comment section, we are not—even in our absence on facebook—dead. We are, in fact, more alive.

Colleen Eren is a sociologist and teaches criminal justice from a critical perspective at LaGuardia Community College, where she is an associate professor.

Responses to Privilege

Photographer By Angelique Harris

The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast two cases which highlight the influence that race, class, disability, and privilege play in the responses to assaults targeting disabled students.

On October 23, 2015, a group of teens allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted a special-needs teen with a coat hanger in front of other students in a locker room in Idaho (http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/05/us/chicago-facebook-live-beating/). These assailants forcibly inserted the coat hanger into his rectum while another repeatedly kicked the coat hanger while inside the victim, causing damage which required medical attention. This was one of many horrible assaults the victim experienced at the hands of the assailants and his football teammates. In addition to being called racial slurs, he was forced to strip naked on a school bus in front of teammates. Nonetheless, law enforcement only focused on the sexual assault. Two of the assailants were tried in juvenile court while the other, the one who kicked the hanger, was tried as an adult. All three assailants were charged with forcible penetration with a foreign object, a charge which carried the potential for life in prison. We do not know the fate of the two tried in juvenile court, but we can likely base their sentences on that of their adult teammate, the assailant tried as an adult. Ultimately, he entered a plea deal for injury to a child and received a reduced sentence. He will serve no prison time and will not have to register as a sex offender, but will serve up to three years of probation. If he successfully completes the terms of his probation, his conviction will likely be dismissed. He will officially be sentenced on February 24th of this year, and legal analysts expect the judge to accept the plea. Again, if he adheres to the terms of his probation, charges will probably be dismissed.

Compare that case in Idaho to the case in Chicago that just unfolded earlier this year. Three teens and one young adult allegedly kidnapped, beat, and tortured a special-needs teen and streamed the assault live on the social media site, Facebook. After the victim was allegedly kidnapped, these assailants recorded the beating, kicking, and slashing of the victim for 30 minutes, all while yelling racial slurs. At one point, the assailants even carved a piece of flesh from the scalp of the victim; again, all of this, streamed live on Facebook. The alleged assailants have been charged with kidnapping, unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and they were also charged with a hate crime. Legal analysts have suggested that these assailants can spend decades if not the rest of their lives in prison if convicted on all counts. As this incident has just recently happened – they were charged January 5th – we don’t know how it will turn out just yet, but it is likely they will serve prison time.

In both cases, the alleged victims were special-needs students who were violently assaulted in front of others in attacks likely motivated by disability and race. Although both cases are similar, their responses, both in the legal court and the court of public opinion, have been quite different. The Idaho case received little national media attention when it took place back in 2015. In fact, the assault in Idaho did not receive much media attention until the light punishment (with no one facing prison time) was made public. A likely reason could be that the victim was a minor and the perpetrators, with one exception, were juveniles at the time of the crime. Whereas, in the Chicago crime the victim and alleged assailants were all 18 and over. Or the difference in response could simply be that 2015 was a long time ago, in “media time,” and with the recent election and rise in White Nationalism, there has been an increase in racially motivated attacks and more attention being paid to these assaults. So now, racially motivated assaults are getting more attention. Or it could be because the victim in the Idaho case is Black while the assailants are White, and victim in the Chicago case is White while the assailants are Black.

It is first important to note, I am not arguing that one crime is worse than the other. The concern, on the other hand, is with the response to the crimes and the types of attention received. Let’s first examine the court of public opinion, otherwise known as social media. In the Chicago case, Glenn Beck and other conservative media commentators were quick to point out that the assailants were Black and blamed Black Lives Matter, using the #BLMKidnapping hashtag (http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/5/14177494/chicago-teen-torture-facebook-live-video-black-lives-matter), an odd association considering the assailants never mentioned BLM. It’s especially odd considering that the #BLM movement is focused on addressing police brutality and emphasizing the value in Black lives, neither of which have anything to do with assaulting Whites. Conversely, although some media were quick to point out the race of the White football players in Idaho and the Black victim, and media reported that he was made to sing KKK songs (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3608814/White-high-school-football-players-raped-disabled-black-teammate-coat-hanger-stripped-naked-bus-forced-sing-Ku-Klux-Klan-song.html) while being tortured in front of his football teammates, there has been no widespread call to associate the Klu Klux Klan with this assault (and, of course, the KKK is an actual terrorist group founded to target and terrorize Blacks). In particular, conservative media remained silent on this case.

In terms of the legal response, I am not a legal analyst. However, it is important to note that despite all of this, the White assailants in Idaho were never charged with a hate crime. Law enforcement emphasized that one of the reasons why the victim was attacked in Chicago was because of his mental disability, not necessarily his race, and that this was the primary reason for the hate crime charge (http://abc7chicago.com/news/hate-crime-charges-filed-against-4-in-facebook-live-torture-case/1687517/). If this is the case, the teen in Idaho was also mentally disabled and, according to reports, targeted in part because of it. Now of course, we are looking at different cities and states with different legal statutes and such, so I am not sure as to why this was the case. It is important to note that the assailants in Chicago have been charged, but have yet to be sentenced. However, unlike the alleged assailants in Idaho, it is unlikely that the three teens and one young adult convicted in the Chicago case will be able to enter a plea deal for lesser charges or have the possibility of having their convictions dismissed. 

Obviously both cases are horrible and absolutely disgusting, but the contrasting social and legal responses highlight the role that race and class play in public and legal discourse. Clearly we have two narratives: 1. good kids who made bad choices, and 2. thugs who beat and tortured a disabled kid because of his race and/or mental state. Consistently, privilege dictates which narrative gets attributed to the White assailants. So as opposed to being a group of thugs who target and tortured a disabled teen because of his race and disability, the assailants’ privilege keeps them from serving prison time. The assailants in Chicago do not have the privilege or the resources to rewrite the narrative to be simply kids who made horrible choices, and, given a chance, to be able to turn their lives around. Now this is not to sympathize with any of these alleged assailants at all, but rather, to emphasize how these cases clearly serve as examples of how race and privilege help construct vastly different responses to two very similar crimes.

Angelique Harris is the founding director of the Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research and teaching interests include race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, medical sociology, religion, urban studies, media studies, and social movements. Dr. Harris’s research examines social problems and issues within marginalized communities, primarily focusing on the experiences of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She has authored and co-authored several books, including The Sociology Student’s Guide to Writing and AIDS, Sexuality, and the Black Church: Making the Wounded Whole.

On Inequality

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

A couple of weeks ago I observed a colleague’s Introduction to Sociology course. He was talking to his students about W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of the “racial wage.” He reminded them that they had already spent a significant amount of time talking about what race wasn’t, but this lesson was about how race worked. My colleague emphasized DuBois’ important point that poor and working-class whites only needed to be positioned slightly higher than African Americans within a brutal system of exploitation in order for them to see their interests as congruent with those of white elites. As DuBois put it, white capitalists “compensated the low wage earning whites with a sort of public and psychological wage.” Poor and working-class whites’ sense that they belonged to a “superior race” meant that they saw their interests as unrelated to the interests of their African American neighbors. The increasing disenfranchisement of African Americans alongside aggressive occupational segregation, the suppression of black wages, African Americans’ minimal access to industrial employment, and black criminalization all contributed to whites’ sense that African Americans were naturally inferior. White poor and working-class men and women in the South as well as the North embraced racial inequality as a foundational piece of their racial identity and saw its amplification as a way to build a better world.

The current debates about whether race or class can help us understand Trump’s victory in the Electoral College misses the inextricability of race and class that DuBois so effectively explained in Black Reconstruction. Not all white workers or poor people side with elites and against people of color who live in similar economic circumstances. But, in order to understand those who do, we need to remember the affective power of the racial wage. Trump supporters believe in inequality. So tax cuts to the rich are a win if you may be rich one day, and if you believe that white wealth is a marker of superiority. Meritocratic fantasies can be soothing because they make the world make sense, even if you, yourself, will not benefit materially from Trump’s organization of wealth and power; even if you will lose out as the state’s redistributive programs are defunded and dismantled. Trump supporters will find deep, deep solace in knowing that racial inequalities are amplifying. Part of the affective draw of his demagoguery is that it’s built on the fundamental belief in inequality. In this system, racial inequality, which Trump and his supporters cast as normal and natural, also needs to be upheld. Understanding that in spite of our national creed, Trump and his supporters believe in inequality, and particularly in racial inequality, is absolutely urgent.

All this needs to be understood at the same time that we should see that whites who voted for Trump were disproportionately better off than those who did not. The median income of the white Trump voter was $72,000. Statistically, poorer whites were more likely to have voted for Clinton. They see their interests as more in line with a redistributory state. The racial wage gap is smaller for them, and is less able to animate their politics.

Still, understanding the racial wage helps us see why a white middle or lower-middle class person who depends on government programs like Medicare, social security, state-funded education, roads, garbage pick-up, mail delivery, bridges, tunnels, mortgage interest tax breaks, the Affordable Care Act and other non-means-tested benefits may vote for a party that promises to defund the non-militarized aspects of the state.

I strongly believe that the political answer here is to mobilize people who have not voted by developing a far stronger commitment to redistribution than the Democratic Party is willing to embrace in its current state. We cannot fight the racial wage by telling whites that it is a myth because sadly, with the current organization of power and resources it is not a myth. They do benefit from their whiteness and those benefits, while not always monetary, are material and real. The only way to fight the racial wage is to first imagine and then produce new realities that undercut its power. That is only possible through radical struggles for economic and racial justice – ones that recognize that these political categories can never be disentangled. The time is now.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.

“Choice” and the Limited Sphere of Presidential Electoral Politics

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

I think Trump and Clinton will be equally bad on foreign policy. Both firmly believe in American Empire (which by the way is not in decline). Their differences are superficial, as are the differences between the parties generally when it comes to international engagement. Promotions of free trade, consensus that the massive exploitation of workers globally serves the “interests” of the U.S., zero commitment to climate justice, or any other forms of justice, accountability only to the ruling class, the full-on embrace of different forms of global racism, misogyny, and I could go on and on.

That being said, I think that while the Dems are awful, there is some tiny tiny way they need to stay accountable to their progressive flank when it comes to domestic politics. Tiny. Don’t get me wrong. So for me, it’s that tiny space that has me wanting Hilary to win over Trump.

I also think presidential voting is not a site for real politics. It’s a site for assessing which aspects of the ruling class may be open to some form of accountability from “the people.” I know that there are millions of examples of the ways that Clinton has failed to be accountable. Of course. But the question for me is not about those failures. It’s about the 3 times she may have been open to even pretending she cared. It’s about the little-bit-less-reactionary judge she may appoint. It’s about an anti-union NLRB rather than a union busting one. It’s about tokenism rather than (like we see in the Brazilian coup) the full on rejection of any compensatory gestures from the state.

Trump is building his political career on his claim that he has no interest in being accountable to POC, working people, etc. etc. at all. And while I don’t believe that Hilary is even remotely adequately accountable (I hate her as much as you do), I do believe Trump when he says that he is accountable to the forces of reaction. If we had a stronger movement of workers and disenfranchised people this would not be our choice. But we don’t. And it is.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.

Liberal Growth Machines and the Production of Urban Racial Segmentation

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

New York City is whitening. Poor and working class people of color who were maligned for staying in urban “ghettos” a generation ago are now being pushed out of their previously denigrated neighborhoods as rents skyrocket, boutique coffee shops open, and access to affordable housing shrinks. FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector leaders cast these shifts as natural outgrowths of urban desire. “People,” they suggest, now prefer cosmopolitan living and more densely populated spaces, amenities that suburbs cannot provide. So, cities are filling back up with the well appointed. Since the American class system is also a racial caste system, wealthy migrants are majority-white. Debates over urban development – both residential and non-residential – are sites of struggle over how resources, production, and commerce should be organized in cities. These are spatial and racial debates over urban power, ownership, and access.

Mayors and council members of large and medium-sized cities are often self-identified liberals who cast themselves as allies of working people, align themselves with the interests of disenfranchised communities, and talk convincingly about their belief that cities should remain both interracial and class diverse. But, these urban liberals are presiding over economies that are harshly exclusive and housing markets that are expanding rather than reducing class and racial segmentation. Ultimately, liberals’ embrace of the market-logic thinking that FIRE leaders, and their allies, promote compromises their ability to offer meaningful alternative programs or visions.

I live in New York City, and have watched urban leaders foster wealth creation and promote increased property values as working people of color get shut out of more and more neighborhoods. At the same time, these elites have stripped away or gutted programs like public housing and rent regulations that have eased working people’s exposure to these inflated “market” prices. For twenty years, Republicans held onto Gracie Mansion, but these practices can be traced back before their tenure. Ed Koch, a liberal, certainly embraced them, and they have continued under de Blasio, a self-styled “progressive.” De Blasio’s affordable housing plan requires developers to build “affordable housing,” but at prices that will exclude many working people, especially people of color who are both less likely to own their dwellings, and more subject to predatory landlords. Supporters of this plan argue that liberals are limited by the realities of the market and suggest that nothing can be done about its racially differential impact. The history of discrimination that has produced these inequalities, they imply, is not their responsibility to address. But, as always, activists call on de Blasio to embrace a different vision, one that recognizes that his rezoning plan is essentially a subsidy to the wealthy. “By greatly increasing the value of the land,” Jonathan Westin argues, “we need to be capturing that value and converting it into a public good.” One that will be distributed with a history of both discrimination and racial exclusion in mind.

In my book, I examine the historical precedents to these dynamics. White liberal leaders’ commitment to urban growth in interwar Detroit both reinforced existing racial inequalities and produced new forms of racial segmentation. When I talk about white liberal leaders’ support for “growth,” I am talking about their interest in sustaining and expanding capitalist forms of accumulation. Specifically, I demonstrate that local, state, and federal officials, in dialogue with industrial leaders and other elites, promoted a vision for how to organize production, labor, and space that fostered increasing economic inequality and stratification. At the top, wealthy white urbanites – owners of the means of production – amassed spectacular fortunes and fought to consolidate their control over city resources and political power. Near the bottom, workers earned wages and some benefits in exchange for their labor and their submission to a punishing discipline both inside and outside of factories. These inequalities took on an increasingly racial cast between the two World Wars as the First Great Migration brought African Americans and other southerners flooding into northern cities. City leaders used racial segregation as a tool for labor management, lending it new life and a new set of meanings in the North, and integrating it into their vision of urban growth. These same urban elites – including politicians, businesspeople, and philanthropists – came to adopt the language of race neutrality and increasingly embraced the idea that a gradual move toward racial equality was morally good. At the same time that a majority distanced themselves from the most egregious expressions of racism, none supported any form of state intervention into practices that upheld racially unequal relations of power, or the increasingly racially segregated spatial order.

Liberal political leaders often aligned themselves with the interests of the “downtrodden.” However, they were careful to divorce their concern for the less fortunate from critiques of private property and capitalism. Instead, they cast elite political power and control over resources as natural and legitimate outgrowths of urbanization and industrialization. These dynamics, they conceded, produced problematic excesses like poverty and unemployment that were especially acute among African Americans, but they did not call into question the morality of profit and inequality themselves. White liberal politicians did not live up to their promise to produce a more racially equitable society because they did not believe in a racially or economically redistributive state. Even as they (often ambivalently) embraced the language of racial equality and expressed empathy for the plight of people of color, they embraced a class vision that equated urban growth with the accumulation of wealth at the top of an unequal, racially stratified pyramid.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.