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More About Mizzou and the “Class Not Race” Narrative


Scott already made this point in general terms, but I’ll pick a specific example of how racism has literally poisonous effects even after you control for SES. This paper is getting a little old now but it’s the best citation I could find:

Also evident in the life expectancy data is an independent effect of race even when SES is controlled. At every level of income, for both men and women, African Americans have lower levels of life expectancy than their similarly situated white counterparts. This pattern has been observed across multiple health outcomes and for some indicators of health status, such as infant mortality, the racial gap becomes larger as SES increases.

Some hypothesize that an important contributor to racial disparities in health is the psychological stress of discrimination — precisely feeling “I’m already not wanted here. I’m already treated like I’m not human.” You’re you’re not immune from the effects of racism because you’re rich, and you’re not disqualified from leading an anti-racist movement because you’re rich.

I have a bit of a beef with the reification of an inferential convention in the social sciences: it’s certainly important to “control for” SES when examining the effects of race, because it helps you make a stronger argument if you find effects of race after controlling for SES.  But finding that the effects of race are small after you control for SES does not mean that SES was the “real” cause of differences in health, or whatever you’re studying.  You, the researcher, have made an interpretive decision to assign primacy to SES, but in fact where race and SES are highly correlated, you can’t distinguish what is driving the effect.  If the residual effects of SES after controlling for race are stronger, that works toward an argument that SES is the more important factor, but it’s still impossible to ultimately disambiguate whether SES or race “deserves” the shared variance, that one or the other of them is doing the causal work. I never see anyone demanding that researchers control for race when studying the effect of SES.  This is an argument from statistics for asking: why on earth should we see poverty and racism as factors that compete against each other in the injustice sweepstakes, instead of as forces that work synergistically?

I came home last night from a big awards event run by the organization I volunteer for, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Among the award recipients were Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometti.  One inspiring thread running through the night was hearing people who said that through the years JFREJ had visibly had their back. And when there are Black Lives Matter marches in New York City, my union, 1199SEIU, calls us to march with our brothers and sisters.  That is solidarity.  If you want to elevate class consciousness in the United States, show up for other people.  Show them that all the justice movements can be there for each other.  If one movement finds an effective leader, that’s something to be celebrated, no matter whether that person happens to have money. If he grew up rich and yet somehow learned to use his energies for protest, congratulate that. Criticize the indefensible (threatening student journalists) but acknowledge the remarkable (students forced the resignation of a university president!). When other justice movements accomplish something, that’s not at anyone’s expense except reactionaries. If you feel feel that your lens on the struggle for justice isn’t getting enough attention, you won’t help the situation by undermining the people who could be your best allies. If you reach out to broaden the conversation and are not supported in turn, ok, criticize the fact of the rejection (although acknowledging the value of their work even while doing so would be a good idea). But there’s just no reason to see successful activism on race as anything other than an inspiration and model in the struggle for economic justice.

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