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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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.

The Purpose of Higher Education


Mehmet_BioPic By Mehmet Kucukozer

The Behavioral Sciences Department (BHS) at Dutchess Community College (DCC), of which I am faculty, runs a seminar series each semester called A Conversation Across the Disciplines. The idea is to invite faculty of the various departments to speak and share perspectives from their respective areas of study on various topics of academic and social significance. We, the organizers, thought it would be timely to have an event on “the purpose of higher education,” as the State University of New York is pushing system-wide curricular reforms to which, as a member college, we are subject. We saw it as an opportunity to address some of the long-term implications of restructuring that emerge from the current drive to edit credits, courses, and course requirements.

As one of the invited faculty at the event providing a sociological perspective, I made the case that key ideas within the sociological tradition have served as vital philosophical and conceptual foundations for education, and that those ideas, perhaps more than ever, need to play a role in structuring the future of education. I draw on the seminal work of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim who defined the critical function of education as developing engaged and active citizens for the formation of democratic societies. I follow up with references to the works of Howard Zinn and Paulo Freire in illustrating how Durkheim’s conception of education can be put into practice in the classroom. My hope is to spur further discussion and reflection.

To be sure, the influence of the sociological tradition in education during the twentieth century is well acknowledged.  It is indeed present in our college’s banner and motto: “Towards a Democracy of Excellence.” This echoes Durkheim’s view that education instills “the respect… for the ideas and sentiments which are at the base of democratic morality”[1]. At its core for Durkheim, education has a moral quality in developing the kinds of people who through obtained beliefs and knowledge can act in ways that benefit the public good[1]. As humans are inherently social beings, morality is measured by peoples’ participation in society. The important questions that emerge for us educators are these: To what extent is a democratic morality currently the foundation for classroom instruction? How is then such a system of education to be structured in the classroom?

Certainly, the twentieth century, being the most destructive period in human history, has brought to the fore significant concerns about the (moral) purpose of knowledge and thus education. Indeed, the great social historian Howard Zinn notes, “In 1937 sociologist Robert S. Lynd wrote a little gem of a book entitled Knowledge for What? In which he attacked the divorce of scholarship from the problems of his day… In the interim the world has experienced Auschwitz and Hiroshima and Birmingham, yet the accusation in that book against the world of scholarship remains exactly as true in every line”[2]. As these words were written close to fifty years ago, one can argue that this divorce is still in effect. Sociologists who explicitly look to apply their research to solving social problems are seen as doing something distinctive, and their work is labeled “public sociology.” In general, such scholars are known as “public intellectuals.”

How does education suffer if democratic morality is no longer the underlying principal? Democratic morality provides a basis for an intellectual orientation that can only fully develop if two key interrelated components are the focus of classroom instruction. These two components are developing a student’s (1) ability for critical analysis, and (2) his/her sense of agency to effect positive social change as citizen. The best illustration of this comes from an observation in which Zinn describes a classroom scene in one of the “Freedom Schools” set up by civil rights activists during the summer of 1964 in Mississippi:

One day, it was an editorial in the morning’s Clarion-Ledger, charging that civil rights workers were teaching people to break the law. “What do you think of the editorial? Is it true? If you could write a letter to the editor about it, what would you say?…Here’s paper and pencil, go ahead. We’ll pick out one or two and really send them to the editor.” This was not education for grades, not writing for teacher’s approval, but for an immediate use; it was a learning surrounded with urgency. And the students responded with seriousness, picking apart the issues: Are we for the law? When is civil disobedience justified? Then the teacher explored with them the differences between statutory law, constitutional law, “natural” law[3].

The style of instruction here is promoting critical thought and agency by sparking what Paulo Freire refers to as a dialogue between theory and practice[4]. Theory is understood as a framework for knowing and explaining the world. In this case, the students are learning and questioning the theory of law: What is its purpose? How is it structured? How does it relate to the concept of rights?

Theory serves as the basis for practice. Without knowing, one cannot act. Practice is action, or the (re)structuring of the social order in action. Education that focuses on the dialoguing of theory and practice forms what Freire calls the “ontological vocation” for students[4]. Through knowledge obtained in the process of learning, the student becomes a “subject” with the capacity to shape his/her world and thus create history. Thus students are imbued with a sense of agency, which constitutes the essence of democratic citizenship. In Zinn’s classroom observation, students are given the tools to act through their learning of law.

Within the sociological tradition, as put forth by Durkheim and echoed by others, the purpose of education is to foster an intellectual orientation for effective participation in society.  “Effective” comes from those who have developed the capacity to exercise a democratic morality, an ability to engage in an ongoing dialogue between theory and practice—more specifically, an ability to critically assess theory in terms of its moral application to social practice. This tradition of education is perhaps becoming more important as we sail into an increasingly uncertain global future.

[1] Cladis, Mark S. “Education, Virtue and Democracy in the Work of Emile Durkheim.” Journal of Moral Education. 1995, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p. 37, 16p.

[2] Zinn, Howard. “Nonviolent Direct Action.” Howard Zinn on History. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011[1966].

[3] Zinn, Howard. “Freedom Schools.” Howard Zinn on History. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011[1964].

[4] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Trans.: Myra Bergman Ramos.) New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012 [1970].

Mehmet is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Dutchess Community College, SUNY, currently teaching Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, and Sociology of Religion. His areas of interest include historical comparative analysis of resistance movements, social change, and political economy.

How to Be a Left Wing Apologist for Antisemitism

Spencer_BioPicBy Spencer Sunshine

A few days ago some Socialist friends alerted me that the new Green Party vice presidential pick Ajamu Baraka had an ugly history of doing media work with a Holocaust denier named Kevin Barrett. Lefty media had already pointed out that Baraka was a vulgar anti-imperialist who has supported Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad and a conspiracy theorist who has labeled various tragedies as “false flags.”

This was not terribly surprising as, by the mid-00s, the U.S. Green Party had been swamped by 9/11 Truthers and various conspiracy theorists, including those who espoused thinly veiled antisemitic criticisms of Israel. In recent years, numerous Green Parties around the world had already had their own scandals regarding Holocaust denial and antisemitism, including in Canada and Britain.

As an antifascist and a critic of the Left/Right crossover movements, I have spent years calling out Leftists who traffic in antisemitism. This had once been a fairly marginal phenomenon. However, now with Baraka’s candidacy, we see those with clear antisemitic links moving into the highest levels of the national Left, and it has been met with silence.

I was going to write a Facebook post about this and leave it at that, but it started to be reposted widely. Then a Green Party national co-coordinator endorsed suppressing the post from Green Party online forums, and came onto my own Facebook page to claim that I was engaged in an attempt to “run interference for apartheid in Israel.” (None of the conversation or criticism had anything whatsoever to do with Israel, Palestine, or Zionism.)

This was the first of many attempts to delegitimize criticisms of Baraka, and thereby kosher the presence of antisemitism in progressive circles (if the Greens can claim to be that anymore). Many Facebook arguments followed, with defenders of Baraka utilizing a variety of arguments to attempt to either shield him from criticism, or simply to justify what he did. Having been through these arguments for years, I decided to write them down as a guide for future debates.

Baraka and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein have refused to answer me via webpage inquiries, contacts, or Twitter. Finally, when Gawker contacted Baraka, he admitted he had been on Barrett’s radio show and had authorized his essay to be in the Holocaust denier’s anthology – but claimed he was unaware of Barrett’s views. In the original interview, Baraka did not, however, acknowledge that the Holocaust happened. (Only later did he send Gawker a follow-up note, affirming that he acknowledged that the Holocaust happened.) See:

It shouldn’t take days of a media campaign to get progressive leaders to acknowledge that it’s wrong to work with Holocaust deniers and to admit that the Holocaust happened.

But it does.

Welcome to #Dystopia2016.

For more information about the links between Baraka and Garrett, and the Green Party’s original defense of this and attacks on me, see:

For your reading pleasure, here is a list of the arguments that Leftists have used against me in an attempt to defend Baraka from criticism:

  1. Denial. Simply deny that there are any legitimate facts involved, which is kind of projection when Holocaust denial is being discussed.
  1. Attack the platform. Claim the platform where the evidence is presented is unreliable, especially if this isn’t true.
  1. Livingstone formulation. When the claims of antisemitism have nothing to do with Israel/Palestine, insert this into the conversation and claim you are being attacked because of your views on it. (For more on this technique, see
  1. Cry “Zionism.” Claim that the source of the information is “Zionist” and therefore should be ignored. Only criticisms coming from anti- and non-Zionists will be acknowledged. Since 99% of Westerners, most Jews, and the vast majority of people who monitor antisemitism believe that Israel has a right to exist in some form (two states, etc.), you can invoke this and delegitimize most critics in one fell swoop – without ever engaging in the substance of their criticisms. This creates an information silo.
  1. Claim “smear.” Ignore the facts on hand and claim that the call-out is motivated by some other agenda.
  1. Unfair “guilt by association.” Claim that any link – including appearing directly on a platform with someone and working with them directly, with pictures, video, publishing info., etc. – is simply “guilt by association.”
  1. Redirect. Claim that the “real” work you should be doing about antisemitism is debunking claims from the Jewish community about antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity movement.
  1. Bait and switch. Claim that the callout says something it doesn’t, and then say the critic is a liar.
  1. Unattainable standards of proof. This has been my favorite and has been used repeatedly. This is also a common tactic used against women who complain about sexual harassment and people of color who complain about racism. The apologist agrees that there IS antisemitism on the Left, but they set the bar so high for evidence, that in no particular instance can it ever be proven. This allows them to have it both ways: seem like they are sympathetic, but in reality koshering antisemitism in every instance.
  1. Hide behind a Jewish person. Since antisemitism is a narrative, anyone can repeat it, and many Jews will tolerate their colleagues espousing it. So if a Jewish person is around you, claim you can’t possibly be antisemitic.
  1. Justification through false equivalency. Compare being on a Holocaust deniers’ radio show to being on FOX News. Seriously, multiple people have done this. I was actually flabbergasted by this one.

Spencer Sunshine ( is an antifascist researcher who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon to develop community-based responses to Patriot movement and militia organizing. Follow him on twitter @transform6789.

How Liberals in the 1960s Laid the Groundwork for Killing Welfare in the 1990s

DB_BioPic By Darren Barany

The 1960s are often associated with the left counterculture and activism and movements for social justice of the period, e.g. the anti-war movement, the black freedom and civil rights struggles, the feminist movement, gay liberation, the various struggles for economic justice, etc. However, the American political culture shifted significantly to the right through the decade, particularly around issues related to anti-poverty policy, work, family, and the role of government in controlling poverty and inequality. The capturing of the Republican Party by the hard-line conservatism around the Barry Goldwater campaign via the formation of his sizable grassroots conservative base helped build a conservative political foundation on which future political and intellectual figures would acquire status and come to positions of power and influence (e.g. the election of Reagan in 1980). This base encompassed a white America which was resentful of gains made by the civil rights and black freedom struggles (and other movements) and which was distressed by the methods of direct action politics employed by them. Sweeping federal actions like the war on poverty and enforcing the integration of schools were seen as giving in to the pressure of riotous and unruly urban black activists.

Perhaps more significant than the rightward shift of the GOP at this time was the parallel shift among liberal intellectuals to the right, especially with regard to the US welfare state. This comprised the migration of an intellectually diverse array of leftish writers, researchers, and academics to the political right – New York-based intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer, as well as political figures like Daniel Patrick Moynihan. While conservative intellectuals were mostly discussing policy in the economistic and abstract terms of the libertarian critique of big government which saw the welfare state as a slippery slope to full blown communism, these intellectual defectors from the left went on to produce a policy analysis which utilized coded references to cultural dysfunction and the “pathology” of the black family.

Respectable liberalism in the US would become a politics of compromise and appeasement, a liberalism which was “reasonable” as opposed to that of the “doughface progressive,” to use Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s distinction. The doughface was characterized as a naïve “wailer” who led him or herself to become the “accomplice of communism.” This movement of the left toward the “vital center” opened the way for the embracing of many conservative principles by American liberals. The effects of this transformation have extended far ahead through history and its legacy had become plainly evident with the signing of the Welfare Reform Bill of 1996 by the Clinton Administration. Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole allegedly complained that Bill Clinton was stealing his issues during the 1996 campaign which included measures like toughening criminal justice policy, cutting taxes, and rolling back welfare. Revealingly, these measures have proven recently to be somewhat bothersome for Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential primary run, as she supported these measures back then and now they inconveniently contradict her recently adopted progressive political persona.

The vital center approach to politics anticipated the neoconservatism of Kristol, Bell, et al. who had steadily retreated from their social and intellectual progressivism. Their position on anti-poverty policy articulated a necessity for limited government provisions but shied away from any type of social wage or income guarantee or anything seen as disruptive to traditional institutional or class arrangements. As the 1960s progressed, more and more attention, energy, and print was devoted to their skepticism of more progressive welfare policy and strategies which sought to enhance the collective political agency of the welfare poor. For example, strategies like the Community Action Programs (CAPs) implemented in the War on Poverty would be criticized as socially disruptive and as exacerbating perceived social and political crises.

The shifting political milieu corresponded to social and economic transformations which were unfolding during the decade, which preceded the economic downturn of the 1970s, and which fostered an atmosphere of white racial, patriarchal, and class angst. Changes related to the economy, residential displacement, and the transforming American family structure by the late 1960s were successfully framed in terms of individual behavior and work ethic, ethnic and racial identity, declining sexual morality and loss of tradition, and family disorganization. These changes produced greater demand for social services. However, black men and women were much more likely to face discrimination, live in poverty, and experience unemployment. This had a devastating effect on black families, and as fewer impoverished black households were inequitably excluded from receiving benefits, eligibility and participation in poor relief programs expanded. Moynihan, who (according to conservative policy expert, Karl Zinsmeister) was the “original sentinel of welfare-linked social decay,” observed these shifts and noted that AFDC went from being seen as widow’s program to “what in certain important respects became a Negro program.” These perceptions were highly detrimental to AFDCs legitimacy and legacy and contributed to the further stigmatization of AFDC mothers.

As the proto-neoconservatives made the gradual political and intellectual transformation from left to right or, as Glazer described it, going from being a “mild radical” to a “mild conservative,” their level of public exposure and influence was expanding. They exploited the shifting demographic composition of the welfare rolls mentioned above. Their analysis highlighted persistent reliance on AFDC due to chronic poverty, and the apparent increase in the proportion of children being born to unmarried parents was presented through language which constructed the welfare poor, especially black female headed families, as culturally/ behaviorally deficient. Terms like “dependency” and “illegitimacy” became common refrains in mainstream policy discourse. Their emphasis on behavioral dimensions of poverty and hostile response to the more progressive demands of the civil rights movement would resonate with the fear experienced by many whites who fit the now notorious “silent majority” archetype and further solidified the individual in the social imaginary as the main bearer of responsibility for his or her social position.

A soft progressivism was maintained. Bell in particular scorned McCarthy as an enemy of cultural freedom. Members of the group opposed the Vietnam War and Bell, Glazer, and Moynihan rhetorically defended the basic philosophical foundations of the New Deal, but were variably conflicted about the social consequences of welfare. For example, Bell accepted (and reinforced in his work) the myth of the meritocracy arguing that those in positions of power in the society have “earned their authority.” Glazer felt that the proposals of anti-poverty activists were too far reaching and could ultimately prove to be unachievable, damaging, and impractical. These refrains are currently quite familiar as the progressive presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders has experienced similar criticism from Hillary Clinton and her supporters, who are presented as more pragmatic, sensible, and cautious. Of the group, Kristol traveled farthest to the right on these issues, denouncing outright welfare’s social consequences as “perverse.” In particular, he bemoaned that it promoted the independence of single mothers to the extent that it made the “head of the household” into a “superfluous man,” robbing him of “his economic function.” Advocacy for methods of politics or particular causes which were too far beyond the status quo or too inconsistent with white, middle class values was often regarded as self indulgent, short-sighted, naïve, or ideological. Criticisms of welfare state programs, of the anti-poverty and welfare rights movements, and of the so called “negro problem,” while containing an air of “being honest about race,” was often itself suffused with racism, white racial guilt, and anxiety.

This wavering liberalism was an establishment liberalism fearful that the challenges confronted by the society could effectively and radically restructure the institutions of traditional power from which they had benefited. This conservative liberalism was a distinctly white, American liberalism and desperately tried to shed its critical orientation in favor of an unwavering and rosy perception of institutions, power, and authority.

Their discourse revealed an overt fear and traumatized consciousness – a sort of theory of society informed by post-traumatic stress. Kristol once famously quipped that a neoconservative is a liberal who had been “mugged by reality.” In an infamous essay titled “My Negro Problem and Ours,” Podhoretz, after recounting several instances where he had been assaulted by and made afraid of black youths in Brooklyn during his childhood, warned of the “writers and intellectuals and artists who romanticize Negroes and pander to them, assuming a guilt that is not properly theirs.”

Bell and Kristol had founded The Public Interest policy journal in 1965, the year the famous Moynihan Report was released, and it decisively challenged the tenets of progressive liberalism and the perceived egalitarian impulse of the social sciences. Kristol once identified as a common thread linking neoconservatives “their dislike of the ‘counter-culture.’” An article in the Spring 1966 issue by Earl Raab, a high school friend of Kristol, challenged the achievements of the War on Poverty, which in addition to expanding economic opportunity, had been a “kind of sociological surprise ball.” The essay suggested that the War on Poverty was a clandestine part of the “Negro revolution, of the direct action demonstrations and anarchic ghetto restlessness.” The result was an anti-poverty program which unfairly targeted an urban, black population, even though they were only a portion of the country’s poor, and the article further warned that “the American Negro is not… going to be satisfied with mere equality of opportunity.”

Moynihan was a periodic contributor through the 1960s. He and other contributors to the journal had readily appropriated Oscar Lewis’ concept of the culture of poverty. The concept was constructed to illustrate that poverty did not merely correspond to economic hardship but also constituted “a way of life” for those living in adverse material conditions. Lewis hadn’t intended the term to be used as a means for placing the blame for poverty on the poor themselves. He wrote, “In the case of a relief system that barely keeps people alive, both the basic poverty and the sense of hopelessness are perpetuated rather than eliminated.” It is precisely the opposite inference, that benefits were too generous and therefore encouraged a permissive and deviant culture of poverty, which would constitute the misuse of the concept by the neoconservatives and become such an important feature of contemporary policy discourse.

The Negro Family, the Moynihan report’s actual title, provided a moral dimension to the critique of the welfare state. It culled from Lewis’ culture of poverty framework elements which underscored behavioral patterns among America’s poor that were considered out of synch with white, middle class values. This contributed to revitalizing old, stigmatizing distinctions, like worthy and unworthy, for the poor. While he didn’t use the term, culture of poverty verbatim, he described these behavior patterns for black Americans as a “tangle of pathology.”

In contrast to Lewis, Moynihan merely touched on larger economic and social forces like the legacy and effects of black slavery, discrimination, and poor economic conditions, and he emphasized that the “center of the tangle of pathology” was the “weakness of the family structure.” He argued that, “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole.” A few years after the release of The Moynihan Report, he would describe the “crisis in welfare” as one where the “escalating violence” and “mounting dependency” in American cities was leading to a situation where “a massive withdrawal of support for programs to eliminate poverty” was taking place.

Contextualizing black poverty in behavioral terms helped to sustain the social stigma associated with poor black communities. By connecting the so called culture of poverty with welfare, Moynihan helped reinforce the stigma connected with receiving AFDC and other benefits. Perhaps seeing, like Lewis did, a “great potential for revolutionary protest” in the culture of poverty of poor African American neighborhoods, the neoconservative reaction ranged from cautious and skeptical to anxious and fearful, especially regarding the organizing efforts of the welfare rights movement by mostly poor, non-white women. At the heart of the “welfare crisis” was the loss of traditional authority, be it through the emergence of the “female-headed” family which signaled the decline of patriarchal authority over women and children or of CAPs indicating the decline of the authority of traditional agency representatives and bureaucrats over poor urban residents.

CAPs were a particularly hard pill to swallow for this group. Kristol, in an effort to express just how “frothy” the political climate was in the mid-1960s, wrote that “The centerpiece of the War on Poverty was the sociological fantasy that if one gave political power to the poor, by sponsoring ‘community action,’ they would then lift themselves out of poverty at the expense of the rich and powerful.” Moynihan saw CAPs as a significant failure of the War on Poverty. Through such measures, Moynihan (and the others) asserted that the New Left was using welfare as a political weapon. This was a sort of trademark in the analysis of the burgeoning neoconservatives. The dictum was: On the one hand, people need help, but on the other, those receiving relief are behaviorally deficient or are represented by activists who lack expertise and understanding and are too militant. At times, Moynihan interrogated racism and patriarchy in a namesake fashion, but he tended to use those same ideologies to make his points more popularly compelling. Finance Committee Chair, Russell Long, who was viciously condescending and bigoted in his comments regarding opposition to the 1967 reforms by advocates, was defended by Moynihan. Regarding the welfare rights movement and welfare mothers more generally, Long argued that if benefits weren’t structured just so, a poor welfare mother would sit around “drinking wine all day” without wanting to do more than “swat a mosquito off her leg.” He also asserted that instead of political engagement, they should “do something constructive” like “clean up the mess in front of their own houses.” Shamefully he referred to black welfare mothers and activists as “Black Brood Mares, Inc.” Moynihan blamed the mean spirited and racist tone directed toward them on the mothers themselves and the radical anti-poverty activists politically mobilizing them. He declared that “in truth their tactics have invited such racial slurs.”

This blame-the-victim premise underpins the entire framework and continues to shape the parameters around acceptable political discourse today, that people should just play the game politically and adopt the preferable cultural characteristics without asserting any kind of collective political agency or using disruptive political strategies. For the (formerly liberal) neoconservatives, and this is also an attribute of contemporary, mainstream liberalism, if socially subordinated groups do go the route of self-conscious collective political action, the bases and motives must be unjustifiable and ideological. Consider the recent patronizing and demeaning treatment received by Black Lives Matter demonstrators who disrupted Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaign events. During the now infamous incident in Seattle last year, Sanders stepped aside so Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford could speak, but his (mostly white) supporters responded with hostility with some shouting “All lives matter” and “Bernie matters.” More recently, when Black Lives Matter protester, Ashley Williams interrupted a Clinton fundraising event in Charleston, her actions were dismissed as “rude” and “inappropriate” by those in attendance and Clinton, without supporting the young woman or positioning herself in solidarity in any way, was clearly shaken and couldn’t wait to get “back to the issues.” Clinton was being asked to apologize for her role in supporting her husband’s 1994 crime bill which exacerbated mass incarceration, especially for minority populations, and for referring to kids in gangs with the racial code-word, “super-predators” in 1996. She also advocated and supported her husband’s welfare reform bill in that same year. The bill has had devastating consequences for poor families, but in the existing political culture it is still largely celebrated as a resounding bipartisan success. Despite Sanders raising this issue in debates with Clinton and on the campaign trail, the “ability to get things done” and “pragmatism” associated with the “New Democrats” still resonates with large swaths of Democratic voters across demographic lines. The entire US political spectrum, along with “the vital center” has shifted rightward over the decades. Therefore, the fetish of tepid politics illustrated in the policy analysis of the liberals who drifted rightward in the 1950s and 1960s and which offered that reasonable discourse be moderate and centrist, paved the ideological and political road which culminated in the end of welfare as an entitlement in 1996. The good news is that the edifice of the established liberalism of the white ruling class is showing signs of fracture with the ascendance of the Sanders campaign and its refreshingly grassroots democratic organizing and message. However, we will see if primary voters, the DNC, and the Democratic Party will permit such a challenge to establishment liberal politics to prevail.

Darren Barany teaches sociology at LaGuardia Community College and lives in Elmhurst, Queens. He has an MPA from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent research and writing looks at the ideology and politics of policy reform. He also frequently hurts himself while riding a skateboard.