rakesh bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sun Apr 14 01:51:26 MDT 1996

If anyone is interested...

Here are some of the main points from Willliam Julius Wilson's Thursday lecture:

1.  he provided a statistical overview of the setbacks to the American
working class in the last 20 years.

2.  suggested that affirmative action only tends to help already priviliged
or those who come from stable families

3. he exaggerated the economic progress and suburbanization of the Black
middle class; surprisingly did not mention Massey and Denton's findings

4. he suggests that perhaps discrimination has subsided.  Why? Because one
poll has shown that people are now more open to integrated schools.  (Of
course this comes at a time that schools are ever more segregated!)

5. suggests however that instead of affirmative action, we need affirmative
opportunity.  The basic principle here is that standardized tests are not
necessarily the best predictor of success, so it is justifiable to base
decisions on leadership qualities and hardship and thus keep the backdoor
open for some kind of affirmative programs. Of course affirmative
opportunity in education won't do much for oppressed adults whose lack of
human capital seems to simply doom this adult generation...

6. my sense is that his basic argument remains that if the Democratic Party
elites can liberate themselves from identification with race-based
programs, then they will have sufficient electoral support to push for
full-employment macroeconomic policy. As if these elites are just waiting
for the people to swing leftward again; as if it is the people who
ultimately determine the direction of electoral politics!

 Wilson's basic academic function in my opinion remains one of counseling
moderation in the struggle against racism. As Adolph Reed would put it, he
has simply put a black imprimatur on such regression. Wilson has no
competence or influence to argue for progressive macroeconomic policy; he
is really sanctioning only the liberal retreat from anti-racism.

Moreover,  Wilson has

a. no theory of economic power and capitalist structural constraints on
progressive macroeconomic policy (see for example Holloway and Piciotto's
Global Capital, the National State and the Politics of Money).

b. no theory of how power constrains and instrumentalizes the Democratic
Party (in particular the work of Thomas Ferguson)

c. no idea of how full employment policy can easily take the form of
indirect  wage-cutting (Mattick showed this many times)

d. no theory of permanent technological unemployment in late capitalist
development (there is a classic paper by Hans Neisser on this)

e. no analysis of the persistence of racism both at the economic and social
level and thus the need for  political struggle against racism.

In his response to Wilson,Prof. Troy Duster of UC Berkeley's Sociology
Dept. made the following points (Duster has recently written *Backdoor to

1. Racism was historically built into apparently race-neutral entitlement

2. that whites never liked affirmative action, so can't blame backlash on
economic downturn

3. that Pete Wilson is spending a lot on prisons, not much on education

4. that the racist public will vote for prison bonds, not education bonds.

5. that affirmative action and state coercion remains necessary to overcome
on-going discrimination

6. that discrimination is much stronger in the service sector than the
manufacturing sector; of course job growth is in the former sector.

Ethic Studies prof Jorge Klor de Alva also responded (he has coauthored an
upcoming book with Cornel West).

de Alva's main point is that we must rid ourselves of all race-conscious
policies to avoid the  Bosnianization of the US.

 I do think there is something to this argument and have expressed
agreement with some of Yehudi Webster's argument (Racialization of
America).  Moreover,  I think it is a mistake to allow de Alva and Wilson
to argue as if they are prioritizing class over race.  Their idea of a
class-based politics is tepid, utopian and ill-conceived.

They should be criticized in my opinion more for how they ideologically
constrain class struggle than for how weakly  they argue against
affirmative action.   When class politics means nothing more than futile
technocratic attempts at full employment macroeconomic policy, it is
certain that people will gravitate to reactionary race-based nationalism.

In short, Wilson does not understand that the race-consciousness he is
militating against is the product of the pale social liberalism he is


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