[Marxism] No Exit in Black: Trapped by the Economy and Politics

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Fri Nov 5 01:34:33 MST 2004

<blockquote>No Exit in Black: Trapped by the Economy and Politics
Marcellus Andrews
Guest Commentator

The just concluded presidential election was all about Iraq, with the 
state of the economy lagging in importance while questions about 
poverty, economic inequality and racial justice languished in the 
shadows.  As always, the concerns of black people were invisible to 
the parties and to white America.  Black American voters were again 
caught in a vise between the vengeful white nationalist conservatism 
of the Republicans and an increasingly indifferent business 
liberalism of the Democrats.

But one gets the sense that black America is at a breaking point in 
matters of politics.  The old alliance between blacks and the 
Democrats is about to end while the war between blacks and 
conservatives is going to get much worse.  Most of all, the unique 
solidarity between the black middle class and the black poor will 
soon end as the pressure of economic survival turns former allies 
into enemies.  Poor black people are about to become the victims of a 
great political betrayal that is as predictable as it is awful. 
This betrayal is due to the unyielding logic of modern economic life, 
which has slowly but inexorably destroyed the basis for black unity. 
A brief assessment of our current economic predicament shows why the 
old forms of black unity cannot endure. . . .

The harsh reality of American economic life is that the blue collar 
road to the middle class has collapsed in the face of a world economy 
dominated by trade and technology.  A large fraction of the American 
work force have been stranded in the declining sectors of the 
American economy, even as their luckier counterparts in the growing 
sector are experiencing a sustained economic boom.  The majority of 
black American workers have been stranded on the wrong side of the 
economic divide between skilled and unskilled labor, a far larger 
fraction than among the white majority.  Even skilled workers face 
job and employment threats from trade and technology, so they are in 
no mood to help people in even greater need then themselves.

Black Americans need government help more than whites in order to 
achieve a middle class standard of living which, in America, means 
their claims fall on deaf or hostile ears.  The Republicans argue 
against Big Government help for anybody, thereby ensuring that poor 
people stay poor forever.  Every time that a conservative claims that 
"people can spend their money better than government can," he or she 
is also saying that poor people are on their own because right wing 
government is not about to offer them a bridge from the broken blue 
collar economy to the growing part of the global economy.  Even 
educational reform is a fraud, since most dollars for schools come 
from local districts which depend on local and state tax monies that 
reflect yawning disparities across class and color lines.  Small 
government conservatism, as a practical matter, means that poor 
people will be locked out of educational opportunity for as long as 
the right is in power.

The Democrats are not much better.  The Democrats' business 
liberalism promotes the well-being of the middle class majority by 
increasing the competitiveness of the business sector in a 
hyper-competitive world.  For example, Democratic support for cutting 
the cost of health care for families and businesses is perfectly 
sensible and should be applauded, especially when compared to the 
Republicans' limited initiatives that leave too many people without 
insurance.  The same is true of Democratic proposals to reduce the 
burden of college tuition and housing on family budgets, which use 
various tax incentives and subsidies to help people pay for the goods 
that they need.

Do the Democrats have a program to create genuine equal opportunity 
for education, health care and life chances in America?  No.  Middle 
America is far more interested in shoring up schools, medical care 
and life chances for themselves and their children than they are in 
creating real fairness for all.  In this divided society where a 
sizeable group of poor and working class people simply cannot make it 
on their own, an insecure middle class is not about to spend money on 
other people, particularly if they are black.

The Democrats have no reason to champion real equal opportunity 
because it is expensive and would take at least a generation to 
achieve.  The problem with the Democrats is that they do not have a 
common program of economic reconstruction that can unite the poor and 
the middle class.  The fact that there are millions of people who 
cannot make it on their own, no matter how hard they try, will not 
convince Middle America to help out their struggling countrymen 
unless they see something in it for themselves.  This sense of 
looking out for number one is not just selfishness or even racism, 
but is also rooted in the politics of economic survival.

So why do black people stay with the Democrats, even if the party has 
no real program for creating genuine equal opportunity that can 
command enough support from Middle America to counter opposition from 
free market conservatives and their racist allies?  A different 
politics of survival: the black middle class needs the Democrats to 
protect them from white nationalist animus, while the working class 
and poor black majority are just holding on for dear life.  Black 
America is in an existential bind between a party that will tolerate 
their presence so long as they support business liberals and the 
fierce white nationalist wing of the Republican Party bent on pushing 
blacks back into society's basement.  White nationalists in America 
are convinced that black people are an inferior sub-race that could 
never rise above a lowly station without help from misguided 
liberals.  But the black middle class believes that the only way it 
can resist the onslaught of white nationalism is to make common cause 
with the Democrats by offering to deliver the votes of the black poor 
to the ballot box.

Of course, black people are in a terrible bargaining position 
vis-à-vis the parties.  The Democrats can plausibly insist that black 
people fold some of their interests under the party's general program 
- and shut up about whatever else they need - in exchange for limited 
protection from racist bullies.  Republican entreaties for black 
support are cruel jokes since the right has no intention of dealing 
with the economic sources of black distress, nor do they intend to 
exchange their white nationalist coalition partners for a smaller, 
poorer and darker group that does not command the respect of a large 
portion of the white population.  President Bush's appeals to blacks 
to vote Republican amount to a vicious mockery of a people caught 
between an indifferent liberal protector and an eager conservative 
assailant. . . .

What would become of poor black people who were abandoned by their 
former middle class partners?  They would slip further into the 
shadows of American life, suffering ever greater poverty, sickness 
and early death like their white, brown and yellow counterparts.  If 
they struck out at middle class blacks in the usual way that poor 
people strike at society - through crime - they would find themselves 
assailed by a rainbow coalition of middle class folks insisting on 
"law and order." Indeed, one can imagine a situation where the New 
Washington solution would lead to ever more punitive approaches to 
crime and punishment once the black middle class stopped tying the 
fate of the black poor to the nation's history of slavery and 
apartheid.  Sympathy would shrivel still more for the poor and social 
outcasts, with no segment of the middle class coming to the defense 
of those in society's basement.  The United States would become an 
even meaner place than it is now.

An ascendant, angry, confident and successful black population in a 
cold war with conservative America; the abandonment of the black poor 
by the black middle class; a permanent war of words and images, and 
maybe worse, between successful blacks and whites who waited too long 
to jettison their racist partners or who treated blacks like 
permanent junior partners. This is the bitter legacy that two decades 
of conservative victory and liberal dithering has in store for 
America.  The racist right and the feckless left are not remotely 
ready to reap the harvest of what they have sown.

Marcellus Andrews is an economist and senior research fellow at the 
New America Foundation.   Dr. Andrews writes on economic policy and 
economic justice for academic and popular audiences, including The 
Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black 
Condition in America (1999, NYU Press) and Taking Back Capitalism: A 
Capitalist Road to Economic Justice (forthcoming, NYU Press).   Dr. 
Andrews received a PhD in economics from Yale University and has 
taught economics at Wellesley College as well as the City University 
of New York.</blockquote>

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