In the eye of the civil rights hurricane, I participated in the struggle by learning to organize in poor communities, the first one in Detroit made up of poor whites from Appalachia, Spanish speaking brown people from Puerto Rico, and black people emigrated from the South. I went on to Chicago to learn more about poverty in America just as Johnson's War of Poverty was beginning to be waged. It was at this time I learned about how people, especially housing marketeers and their financial institutional bankers, used race to make huge profits. Profits that were usually encouraged by local governments and guaranteed by federal policy.
Lula Boles was a leader of an organizing team in a large public housing complex in which I was working. She asked me to attend with her team a meeting of a black lawyers group. The room was crowded with lots of good, fiery speeches about racism in Chicago. Then one speaker got up to attack racism and saw me--the only white guy in the place. (I define white as a person of predominantly European descent, black as a person who claims their African descent.) He laid into me as representing all the sins that white people have committed on blacks. I've been attacked before and wasn't even going to acknowledge such foolishness; but I could see that our team was very uncomfortable. So, unusual for me, I spoke up. I told him that he was talking bullshit and that I refused to accept being a sacrificial victim for the sins of the white man. I said that instead of falling for the Man's ploy to pit poor whites against poor blacks, we should be out organizing against those who were wielding the power to put anyone down and leave anyone out. My team exploded with applause and so did the whole audience. I later recognized that part of the appreciation was not just the analysis I laid out. It was because I was willing to be an equal and to treat the speaker as an equal and not pander or patronize.
Liberals focus on culture and social attitudes. Liberals are more interested in cultural identity rights including ethnicity, race, sex, sexual orientation. White liberals are nice to and understanding with black people. Black liberals learn well how to use guilt to game white liberals and black folk. They accept their role as tokens and use that role to control the conversation and become the expert in race relations. Preachers, both white and black, are often the best at using race to keep their priveleged positions. White and black liberals talk a lot about race but don't do much to change the institutional foundations of racism. They consider racism a matter of getting along with people. They are more into process than results. They are more into identity politics than class politics. They may speak radically about inequities in wealth and power, but do not organize with others to actually change the arrangements of wealth and power in the social order. That takes a different kind off thinking, a different kind of analysis, and a different kind of organizing. A radical one.
Radicals of every stripe and color focus on class and fight for equality and power for the poor and working class. They fight to reduce the influence of wealth in politics, for the ability of the poor and working class to have equal rights and power, to unionize and organize across ethnic and national lines, to remove the obstacles to full participation in the political economy. Radicals are color blind. They realize that cultural identity is important in human affairs, including religion, ethnicity, sex, age, and sexual orientation. But they also know that these are often screens and even distractions to get people to focus on cultural identity and human relations rather than economic justice. Radicals are more interested in the practice which is making some people more equal than others, rather than the supremacist language of the ignorant.
Presently I am working to retain diversity in the DC gentrifying neighborhood in which I work. I think a community is better when it is diverse. Some define strong community as stable, predictable, and without tension--like the small rural village in the American fantasy. I define strong community as creative, interesting, and challenging. That's what diversity in race, sex, language, sexual orientation, income and wealth, young and old, lucky and unlucky, atheist and religious, right and left bring to communities. But the way to achieve diversity is not by making everyone a cultural libertarian. It is by seeing and acknowledging what is keeping anyone from getting ahead or gaining respect: the conditions, practices, and especially the structures of society, usually not apparent, that work to profit some and rob others. How is the market now working and money now flowing to include some, but not others.
I believe that it is by organizing community groups with vision that build power to effect change in that market and the flow of money that will stop the new segregation that is now dividing America and destroying our democracy.
No one is more aware of the importance of ideas and language than I am. And I am all for changing the culture within which unjust actions spring and are rationalized. Yes, I know that race matters as do black lives. And I know that there are hateful bullies out there who stereotype and stir fear and violence.
But my own recent experiences in promoting diversity and in the recent political campaigns tell me that there are also lots of guilty liberals out there, black and white, who are well-intentioned (See these two books for and by liberals) but use their guilt to condone and conceal the cause of inequity, including racism, in institutions often being headed by nice white and black liberals. And when I do that, it makes me sick.