Disputes over the political priorities of race and class, or race versus class, have been at the core of U.S. left politics for centuries. The standard left position has always been that they are tightly related, and you can’t address one without the other. Anybody who suggests there is some left in the U.S. that ignores race is just full of shit. Support from the left has always been a vital component of anti-racist politics in the U.S.
If life was fair, Bernie’s civil rights resumé would have stood him in good stead in this election. Instead, his reluctance to let some Black Lives Matter protesters take over one of his rallies launched the inane #BernieSoBlack backdrop to this election’s neoliberal assault on social-democratic politics. Ms Clinton, for her part, offered non sequiturs on the salience of class-oriented policy.
I’ve previously noted that universal benefits financed by progressive taxation are inequality-reducing. This follows all the more for minorities and women victimized by gaps in pay and important social and economic opportunities. The rub is that while inequality is reduced in a vertical sense (rich and not-rich are drawn closer together), it is not eliminated in a horizontal sense. In other words, if you could wave a magic wand and lift up those in, say, the bottom 40 percentiles of income, or wealth, there would still be egregious gaps by race and gender.
Before we dismiss policies such as the “Fight for $15” or full employment, it ought to be understood that such policies do reduce racial gaps. Given the millions of potential beneficiaries involved, it doesn’t hurt to ask what alternative policies justify discounting bread-and-butter class policies. I would suggest that for minorities in particular, full employment beats the hell out of any pissant affirmative action program, as well as any politically fanciful reparations proposal.
It is fair to note that Ms Clinton supports a higher minimum wage and employment-promoting policies. Here the differences at least on the surface are more of degree than of kind (though I would argue her innate thirst for ‘fiscal discipline,’ well-suppressed in the campaign, would hold back employment). At the same time, however, the neoliberal rhetoric of the campaign and its supporters was decidedly hostile to the reality that social-democratic measures indeed ameliorate the effects of institutional racism.
I should acknowledge that in matters of race and criminal justice policy, Ms Clinton’s army of policy wonks has produced much that is worthy of consideration. I would just caution that worthwhile policies in this vein are not substitutes for expansive employment promotion that is the most powerful source of upward pressure on wages and the most promising source of improved well-being for minorities and women. We had a taste of this power in the latter 90s, thanks to the stock market bubble, not to Bill Clinton’s budget deals. In the same vein, brilliant social-democratic policies will not extirpate racism. Other race- and gender-specific measures need to be considered.
It remains the case that elevating race-focused policies, including meritorious ones, over employment and wage stimulation under the pretense of racial justice is neoliberal demagogy, pure and simple.