[Marxism] Is white male privilege an "illusion"? (Was: Re: Troubledtime)

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Mon Nov 27 20:59:15 MST 2006

Carrol writes, "The 'under-privileging' of one group (and that is even a
clumsy way to get at racism) tells one nothing at all about the privileging
of other groups."

Carrol, you're trying to block the sun with a finger, as we say in Spanish.
Don't call it privilege, if you don't want to, but the reality is there
nonetheless. What you seem to be trying to say is that simply because Blacks
and Latinos are on the bottom doesn't mean that whites are on top. But
that's the social reality of the United States, there IS a hierarchy of

You don't see it and don't feel it partly for very GOOD reasons. You don't
view yourself as very different and certainly not superior from other human
beings simply because your genetic inheritance makes you more prone to
sunburn and skin cancer and leaves you pretty much unprotected against

But there are other reasons also, especially that "whiteness" is so much the
cultural norm in every possible way that it is invisible, just as a plane
painted just the right shade of blue will be invisible in the sky.

Also, given the history of this country and its working class movement, it
is necessary to negate and deny nationality and the national question in
order to preserve the pride of place for class as "the" category, or the
most important one.

What I see in what you've written is an attempt to save the category "class"
as the Copernican sun around which everything else revolves. White workers
aren't privileged, they're exploited, the problem Blacks have is just that
they're exploited more. 

It won't wash because among other things, when they had the chance, the
class movement dominated by white workers secured its own position by
selling out the Blacks and Latinos. Some might say, "don't blame the
rank-and-file for the crimes of the bureaucracy" but if class is THE
fundamental category, then in the last analysis the CLASS that the
bureaucracy rested one has to take responsibility. And I believe there WAS a
time when politically, class was or could have become the fundamental
category, in the 1930's and 1940's. 

But here is what happened:

After WWII, the white-dominated unions had a choice, they could fight for
universal government health insurance or they could try to get private
health insurance for their members. They chose the latter. 

They had a choice, they could fight for a decent level of social security
payments for all or they could fight for extra pension payments from the
employers for themselves. They chose the latter. 

They had a choice, they could fight for the rights of all workers to
unionize or they could exclude farm labor, which was mostly Blacks and
Latinos, in exchange for white folks in factories facing relatively less
obstacles. They chose the latter. 

They had a choice, they could fight Taft Hartley or they could roll over on
"right to work" in the South and southwest. They chose the latter. 

They had a choice. They could fight to unionize the South or be content to
consolidate their fiefdoms in the north, Midwest and California.... 

And the list goes on. And on.

Pretty much each and every time and in each and every way the
white-dominated labor movement of the early/mid XXth Century had a chance to
fight on a class basis, it eventually chose instead to make its stand on a
narrower sectoral basis, and thereby screwed the Blacks. 

The current state of the U.S. Labor movement, which is on the verge of
vanishing in the non-government sector of the economy, and if it hasn't
completely disappeared that is also to a good degree because it is so
inoffensive, ineffective and unimaginative, is history's way of telling
privileged workers that when they build such a powerful social movement as
what the U.S. labor movement was, they should be a little more careful of
how they use that power.

The argument that white workers aren't privileged amounts to this: white
workers are chumps. They think they're hot shit because they're getting $14
an hour when Black workers are getting $10, and Latinos $8, whereas if they
had united with the Blacks and Latinos 60 years ago they would all be
getting $20, have 100% government-funded health care and 100% government
funded decent Social Security pensions rather than the miserly ones that
exist today plus the private pension schemes which are being turned into so
much confetti by the shredding machine of the bankruptcy courts.

But this isn't about what it COULD have been like, if the white workers,
when they had the opportunity, has used the collective social power of the
class movement that they dominated, to make their Black, Latino, Asian and
Native Americans full and equal partners in a strictly *class* alliance.
It's not even about whether, or to what degree, they would have succeeded.
The truth is NOT that they tried and failed, but that they didn't even try.

No matter how much you try to deny it, what that failure to try shows is
that *white people* are a social reality. "Whiteness" is ubiquitous and all
pervasive, it seems so natural that you can write that the oppression and
super-exploitation of Blacks or Latinos tells us nothing about the status of
white folks who happen to be workers. 

This line of argument is *typical* of white revolutionaries who want to
focus on combating prejudice and discrimination against Blacks, etc., but
want to take a pass on, or de-emphasize, the issue of self-determination,
i.e., political power. Support for self-determination of oppressed peoples
requires confronting "whiteness" and white privilege (even if you call it
something else) because it challenges the right to exist of the white
supremacist state.


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