[Marxism] Roediger and Zweig: an exchange on race and class

gregory meyerson gmeyerson at triad.rr.com
Wed Dec 13 10:38:18 MST 2006

yes:  you can't defend a class analysis of racism by denying racism, 
which is what zweig seems to do.

but it is preposterous to argue that marxist analysis requires uniform 
poverty rates among socially constructed groups.

the following point of roediger's is key, and it is precisely allen's:

This latter affirmation
> points to Roediger's distal point, that, as long as white workers don't
> address racial inequality, race will indeed "trump" class.

On Dec 13, 2006, at 12:07 PM, Mike Friedman wrote:

> This month's Monthly review features a short exchange between Marxist
> historian David Roediger and economist Michael Zweig on the topic of 
> race
> and class that has been heatedly debated on this list. While the 
> specific
> issue is an apparent minor discrepancy over some statistics, the real
> substance of the controversy goes to the heart of the issue raised by
> Joaquin and others.
> Roegiger's rejoinder is aimed at a point Zweig made in his article "Six
> Points on Class," published in the special July-August 2006 issue of 
> MR.
> Roediger takes issue with Zweig's statement that "in the United States
> two-thirds of all poor people are white." He observes that if this 
> figure
> were true, white poverty rates would be about the same as Black and 
> Latino
> rates, which they are patently not. Using Zweig's criteria, he shows 
> that
> whites account for 46% of the total poor (under Zweig's assumption of 
> the
> official poverty line). He notes that "Zweig's statistic could hold 
> only
> if the highly racialized poverty of Latinas/os were treated as simply
> "white"," a point to which I will return. He then cites 2004 census
> figures that show that the poverty rate among whites is 8.6%, while 
> among
> African Americans and Hispanics, respectively, 24% and 23% and that, on
> average, Blacks and Latinas/os were 2.7 times more likely to live in
> poverty as whites. Roediger produces various other statistics 
> concerning
> household income and incarceration rates to reaffirm his proximal 
> point,
> that poverty is racialized.
> Roediger agrees with Zweig's view that "U.S. capitalism produces great
> misery across the whole population," but underlines that only by
> addressing "stark disparities across racial lines," will working class
> unity be achieved. He approvingly notes Zwig's assertion that "much of 
> the
> mystification about the United States as a middle-class society" is 
> due to
> the portrayal of the poor and working poor as Black and Latina/o, which
> leaves whites as "different, united and middle class."
> He observes that such "mystification thrives not because there has been
> too much emphasis on struggles for racial justice but rather because 
> those
> struggles have not made enough gains." He follows the preceding  with 
> the
> parenthetical point -- which I would have highlighted -- that those
> struggles "by and large have not been seen as central to producing
> conditions for united-working class action." This latter affirmation
> points to Roediger's distal point, that, as long as white workers don't
> address racial inequality, race will indeed "trump" class.
> In fact, Zweig's rejoinder points to the continued existence of a 
> racial
> blind-spot, a sense of denial, on the part of swaths of the left. He
> acknowledges that he included Hispanics in the statistics for white
> poverty, since "most Hispanics in the United States report themselves 
> to
> be white." He then observes approvingly  that "[t]he problem here is 
> that
> for census purposes "Hispanic" is not a "race"."
> "It seems perverse to insist that Hispanics who identify themselves as
> white be excluded from that identity by analysts of race because many
> Hispanics are poor," Zweig states. Zwig, who correctly notes that
> Latinas/os labeled as "white" are disproportionately poor, can't 
> seriously
> be implying that Hispanics (light-skinned or not) are not subject to
> racism, can he? But, if he isn't then he must recognize that not
> "analysts," but a racist social order are objectively denying Hispanics
> the status of "white," and that his statistical manipulation is but a
> shell-game. He, in effect, reverses cause and effect. One question he
> might ask himself is that, given real acknowledged patterns of 
> oppression
> faced by Latinas/os, why do some "self-identify" as white? Could it 
> have
> something to do with the aforementioned negative portrayals of Latinos 
> and
> Blacks? Could it have something to do with real inequality, which is 
> then
> ATTRIBUTED to some defficiencies on the part of the oppressed? Could it
> have something to do with one's aspirations in this racist society for
> one's children?
> He then reaffirms his confusion -- no his *obfuscation*: "Given the 
> mixed
> racial experience of Hispanics in their home countries, and in their
> self-identification here, Roediger's desire to acknowledge the "highly
> racialized poverty of Latinas/os" seems to me a wrong approach to the
> clarity that might emerge from a more nuanced understanding of *white
> people* [emphasis added -- MF] in this country." How kind of Mr. Zweig 
> to
> consider Hispanics as white, How white of him.
> Michael Friedman
> Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior
> City University of New York
> Molecular Systematics Laboratory
> Department of Invertebrate Zoology
> American Museum of Natural History
> 79th Street and Central Park West
> New York, NY 10024
> Office: 212-313-8721
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