Law in Contemporary Society
I realize this is going to be a pretty damn controversial post, but I feel compelled to speak on the subject. I sometimes become concerned that classism becomes too easily conflated with racism in our world.

There's many draws to calling a certain policy racist:

1. It draws clear distinctions (who is the bad guy, who is the good guy). That way, people can easily rally behind a cause. 2. It creates a common enemy; a promoter of the bad.

The problem, of course, is that 1) sometimes it's overly reductive and 2) sometimes it's really alienating in an unfair way.

If you don't know me, I'm a white dude. Like most of you, I was born with a certain skin color. During college, I worked essentially as a glorified custodian in the multicultural center on campus. We had awesome events there... the experience was incredible. But at times, I went home pretty bummed out. Sometimes it honestly would suck the life out of me.

We'd have events in the building where people would have fantastic causes against governmental policies or bank regulations. They'd point out all kinds of biases in our criminal justice system that dramatically hurt the poor. I was totally on board, riled up and ready to go!

And then a speaker would declare it's the greed of the white man or that white people are an oppressive people.

I spoke with one of the guys who said that after the rally. I told him, "I was totally with you, really pumped about the issues, and then you alienated me. I don't get that. As far as I know, I'm not in much of a position of power. I'm pretty damn broke in fact. And I'm not trying to oppress anyone. I wanna be a part of this, but it sounds like I can't be because of the color of my skin."

He clarified that it wasn't against all white people. That there's lots of white people joining him. But then why not say what it is? That it's against the powers that be? That these are classist practices, most of the time inspired by racism but also clearly directly related to institutionalized classism?

Of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive. They usually go hand in hand.

But it bothers me when it's oversimplified as White v. All for two reasons.

1. I'm white, and I don't wanna be against all, damnit.

2. I think it takes our eye off the ball when it comes to another huge cause of oppression - classism.

One more example:

A girl I was good friends with in college entered the country illegally with her family and picked strawberries for less than minimum wage in her youth. Now, she was at UC Berkeley getting her degree in sociology.

She took issue with the conditions of the workers on the fields, as any person should. She argued that it was white people that made her family live that way. "The people running the fields were white and the people who buy the product are white".

I then proceeded to ask her whether she now buy fruits from supermarkets, which of course she admitted. "Then isn't the issue more complicated than white vs. all?" I asked.

It's not that her anger was unjustified. In fact, there's all too much reason to be upset over the conditions that immigrants live under in this country. We essentially have a third world labor force sitting amongst us, working 16 hours a day to survive so that we can put strawberries on our ice cream.

But the people who run the system, the powers that be, choose the conditions those people live under and the prices to sell the fruit for. They choose to lower prices at the expense of their workers and hire families that have no choice. They are the ones that promulgate a merciless system of economic slavery. White, black, green and orange people are consumers of it because we live in that system, not because we created it. And all colors are in those positions of power. For historical reasons, race does closely correlate with class, but that doesn't mean race is always the single cause.

I want to emphasize that I'm not at all saying racism doesn't play a role in all of this. I'm also not saying at all that other policies aren't primarily influenced by racism.

Of course they are. Racism is everywhere. But sometimes, in my opinion, the root of the cause is classism. And I feel left out and frankly heart-broken when I'm told what side I'm on, particularly when every bone in my body is so against the side deemed "White".

I want to note that I'm not referring to anything specific nor responding to anyone specifically. It's just a sensitive sentiment I have in my experience talking about race, and our class broaches the subject quite a bit. I don't have any discussion from class in mind. I definitely do believe that the Trayvon Martin case is a clear case of racism. Not referring to that. Just wanted to throw my sentiment into the ether.

-- KippMueller - 07 Apr 2012

I appreciated this post on the whole. I have one devil's advocate question for you: Do you think classism is why the people who run the system are making the fruit cheap, exploiting their workers, etc? Assuming they weren't classist, what would they do differently?

-- DavidHirsch - 07 Apr 2012

I think what allows it to happen is rooted in classism. Most of these workers work terrible hours for virtually no pay... making just enough to buy food. Most of them also can't unionize, either because it's not legal or because they're coerced into not doing so. These kinds of conditions once existed in America's middle class during the industrial revolution, and it caused mass protests and strikes and the creation of nation-wide unions.

But I think we have a mentality in this country that because of the "American Dream", anyone should be able to climb out of poverty and that those in poverty are therefore in some way deserving of it. And because of that, the lower class is treated as the undeserving.

I think that the people who run the farms are doing so with purely capitalist motives. But I suspect (and cannot prove) that if their workers spoke the same language, wore the same clothes and had the same favorite books, conditions would change. Plenty of companies regularly raise wages for workers simply to boost morale and create a positive corporate culture. I don't see that happening on these farms. In fact, the unions that represent farmers (at least in California) regularly fight any reforms that would better the living/working conditions of farm workers. I can't prove it, but I strongly attribute both the sentiment of the people who own the farms AND the reflected policy that keeps undocumented immigrants working in horrible conditions as products of classism (with a healthy dose of racism involved as well).

-- KippMueller - 08 Apr 2012

"But I suspect (and cannot prove) that if their workers spoke the same language, wore the same clothes and had the same favorite books, conditions would change." -- Kipp

Maybe. Although I imagine we'd find a different way to cast the workers as an "other." Perhaps one of the reasons that racism and classism often work hand-in-hand is because the ruling class needs a way to rationalize treating the working class poorly. It's much easier to do that if you view the workers as an inferior race. A different race, though, is probably more of a sufficient cause than a necessary one.

-- SanjayMurti - 08 Apr 2012

That's really what I'm getting at. When you say we'd find another way to cast the working class as "other", that's exactly my point. That whatever the differences we claim exist between the workers and rulers (whether we claim it's race or gender, religion or certainly education level), it really always comes back to ruling class finding ways to distinguish themselves from the working class.

And the different race thing as sufficient but not necessary is totally true. It can be a sufficient cause of discrimination, but it's not always around. There's plenty of poor white people working in shitty conditions for rich white people. So other "otherness" is found to distinguish. But in that case, that's smoke and mirrors.

-- KippMueller - 08 Apr 2012

"I spoke with one of the guys who said that after the rally. I told him, "I was totally with you, really pumped about the issues, and then you alienated me. I don't get that. As far as I know, I'm not in much of a position of power. I'm pretty damn broke in fact. And I'm not trying to oppress anyone. I wanna be a part of this, but it sounds like I can't be because of the color of my skin."

Three points on this:

1) The notion that a criticism of racial power inequalities must not alienate the people at the top of the hierarchy is suspect. I don't think that whoever this person was should have to accommodate you.

2) The fact that you aren't trying to oppress anyone does not absolve you -- you benefit from the power system regardless of whether you actively participate in its reinforcement. That is enough for you to fall within the class of people that deserve criticism. I don't know who the speaker was so I can't speak for him/her personally, but the way the argument usually goes is that the fact that you are being criticized is not a personal attack but a reminder that you are complicit in a racist power structure so long as you are not actively fighting it.

3) You can be a part of "this," by admitting your participation, feeling bad about it, and doing whatever you can to lessen the gap. But the first step is admitting your complicity and not trying to escape criticism by saying that you're not "trying to oppress anyone."

In his article "Black and White," Robert Jensen puts it I think as best as any:

"So when I ask white people -- including myself -- to think about our own complicity in racism, I don't mean to suggest all whites are KKK members or sympathizers. When I talk about the racism that lingers in me, I mean not only the attitudes and behaviors that the culture in which I was raised taught me, but also the tendency to want to ignore the ramifications of race that are all around me. That's why I so often talk not about racism but white privilege -- the advantages that come to white people who live in a white-supremacist culture. To be antiracist is to acknowledge that privilege and take one's place in the political struggle against it."

-- PrashantRai - 08 Apr 2012

My point was that the issues he was discussing at the rally were not racial power inequalities, so he wasn't alienating the people "at the top" at all. He was alienating based on race when the issues he was discussing were class-based. He alienated me, conflating me with the powers that be.

I'm not denying the existence of white privilege at all. This post has nothing to do with that. I feel like I said twenty times in the post that I recognize well that racism exists and I completely agree that white privilege exists and that it's shitty and unfair.

I'm talking about the sources of discriminatory policy, not about whether race or white privilege exist and influence the world. At least in my view, you're conflating the concepts in the way that I'm writing about. I'm saying classism plays a powerful role in discriminatory politics, and you're responding by saying I should recognize that race does. But no one is arguing it doesn't. I'm saying that there's more than one source of discrimination in this country, and that sometimes we only point to racism as the source when it is only part of the problem.

I wasn't asking him for "accommodation". I was letting him know that people of all backgrounds agree with him, and that the issues he was discussing were classist issues that correlate with race.

Who's trying to "escape criticism"? I get that racism exists and that white privilege exists. But assuming that I'm complicit and guilty in this entire scheme for my being born this way, what exactly is your point? That until I rise in arms, I can't argue that classism exists and that it is oftentimes the root of discriminatory policy?

Does arguing this automatically mean I'm dodging bullets? I can't make this point because of the color of my skin?

How do you know what my motivations are for posting this? That I'm trying to absolve myself of anything?

I'm sorry for sounding defensive, but it's a heavy accusation to suggest I wrote this to absolve myself of any guilt in this world and not because I believed it to be true.

-- KippMueller - 08 Apr 2012

I guess that makes sense. But I'm saying these particular spaces were heavily influenced by classism in my opinion, and yet the concept of classism was never even broached as a reason. And it felt wrong to discuss them only as an issue of race.

I would discuss classism absent race or any other consideration if I could. The reason I brought it up in the context of race is that the two are very often complementary, as you said. It's very difficult to find a space that exists to discuss class in which race doesn't come into play, which is why I think classism gets lost in the conversation. So I brought up these examples as times in which I felt classism played a larger role than what was recognized.

I honestly don't feel like I was saying it to accommodate myself, but rather because I didn't think it was a fair characterization of the root issue being discussed. I get that because I'm white, it's going to be pretty hard to convince anyone of that, but I'll just say that's at least what I'm consciously aware of as my motivation.

Obviously, I know it's a super touchy subject and don't mean to off-put. Sorry for that. I don't like to off-put at all. But I also wrote that I felt alienated, knowing that I'm not supposed to say that as a white guy and not really caring because regardless of whether I'm supposed to say it or not, it's just how I felt.

Rumbi, as far as the interrelation point of race and class... couldn't agree more on that. I just would like to see both discussed. When you say it's the interrelation of the two that is the cause, I'm totally on board with that. I want to emphasize I'm absolutely not saying race isn't part of the equation. I'm just saying there's another variable that's too often forgotten.

I would want to hear specifics on both race-based AND class-based discriminatory policies. And if they're discriminatory policies motivated primarily by racism, I'm obviously on-board to see their demise. But I just care a lot also about the subject of class. And I'd like to see it exposed for what it is more often.

-- KippMueller - 08 Apr 2012

Thank you for starting this topic, Kipp.

While Rumbi's point about the particular experience of people who are both poor and people of color is totally valid, I don't think it's incompatible with Kipp's sentiments. The consistent conflation of race and class ignores the plight of a significant portion of the population that is poor and white. According to a 2010 count, 14% of poor people are white and 36% are black. While there is certainly a much larger percentage of poor and black people, there are still about 27 million poor white people. ( I don't think you can fairly compare the experiences of poor white people and poor black people, but I don't see why we should delegitimize the struggles of poor white people solely because they have white privilege on their side. (Scroll down to illustrative examples of white privilege -

"2) sometimes it's really alienating in an unfair way." -Kipp

I think that the responses (and accusations) that your original post provoked support this view. Like you, I'm trying to figure out how to be noncomplicit about injustice, but it's discouraging when you have to defend your good intentions.

-- MichelleLuo - 08 Apr 2012

Totally agreed, thanks Michelle. Just to be clear, I really had no intentions with this post to even allude to the poor white population. I just wanted to try to isolate issues that affect the poor population, absent race, but also point out that race is so inextricably linked with class that it's hard to distinguish the two. In San Francisco, I remember multiple bus raids where police would stop the bus and check everyone's tickets. I doubt they raided offices without warrants in the financial district often for illegal behavior. And while these raids certainly disproportionately affected minorities, they were absolutely blatant in their classism. And I wish we'd point to them and say that yes, it very well could have been influenced by racism, but the classism is written on the wall!

But classism isn't really conceptually important, it seems. We don't really take apart policies for their classism very often. When we discussed literacy tests in Con Law, we talked about whether they had disparate impact based on race and could therefore be found unconstitutional. I talked with Professor Greene after class, asking whether one could argue that they were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause because they unfairly discriminated against people based on class (education level). He said that just wasn't a concept really cared about by our legal system. That's really what I'm reacting to. Anyways, talking everyone's ears off. I'll let it be. Thanks for comments, all!

-- KippMueller - 08 Apr 2012

Hey Kipp,

I originally posted a long response to your response to my post, but then I realized that its length was borderline obscene and evoked the feeling of "tl; dr" a little too much. I think I'll just leave it at: I agree with everything Rumbi has said in this thread.

(1) I don't think that you feeling alienated by discussions of white privilege is unfair.

(2) I don't think that people who talk about racism must talk about classism in order to avoid "taking our eye off the ball."

(3) I don't think that being well-meaning is enough to get anyone off the hook.

Cheers, Prashant

-- PrashantRai - 09 Apr 2012

Sorry Prashant, I know I said I'd just leave it at that but just wanted to say real quickly that I think we're for the most part in agreement. But for your first point above, the guy and I in the story weren't discussing white privilege. We were talking about the source of an unfair policy, one that I believed was very much based on classism. He wasn't saying that white privilege exists, to which I was responding that that's unfair to say. He was saying that white people were the source and sole contributor to a policy issue, to which I was saying that that was an unfair characterization of the actual root of that particular discriminatory policy.

Okay, I'm done and done and done. Maybe we'll talk more about this stuff over a beer sometime.

Cheers, Kipper

-- KippMueller - 09 Apr 2012

Rumbi, my schpeel about poor white people wasn't really going off of what Kipp was saying. I was just making an obvious point about how equating race with class ignores the experiences of at least one group of people.

My reading of Kipp's anecdote wasn't that he went to a talk about policies that hurt the poor and was upset that there was too much race talk. Rather, he justifiably felt alienated by comments about "the greed of the white man" and that "white people are an oppressive people." This wasn't a productive discussion about white privilege. These are comments that assume that all white people, because they are white, are the sole cause of classism and they have no part in helping to remedy classist practices. I'm not saying that we shouldn't question well-meaning people. I'm just saying that promoting the racial divide with divisive rhetoric hinders movements for social justice. Power relations rest upon both race and class hierarchies and alliance across race and class would strengthen challenges against these hierarchies.

-- MichelleLuo - 09 Apr 2012

Whoa, I like that. Thanks for making this thread hot, guys. You guys are damn smart. I'm going to take a tangent from this thread to talk about the concept of "to not act is to act" in a bit. Hoping you guys could join me. smile

-- KippMueller - 09 Apr 2012

I do agree with Kipp and Michelle that the speaker chose a poor way to speak about all “white people,” describing them as all having the personal attributes of “being greedy” or “oppressive.” Issues rarely if ever can be simplified down to “white v. all.” I think it is interesting to note, though, that Kipp is upset because he has been stripped down as a person to one or two characteristics, put into a box, and stereotyped as a villain. Yet people of color face such over-simplified and incorrect stereotypes everyday, and much more of them. Though it is of course not acceptable or productive to stereotype all white people as “oppressive,” think of the numerous negative black stereotypes being promulgated by the media, schools, news, etc. What about the “model minority” Asian stereotype? The “illegal immigrant” stigma Latinos face? And these stereotypes create tangible roadblocks in the lives of people of color. Assumptions regarding intelligence, abilities, culture and so on affect how people are treated. So maybe instead of feeling “alienated” by being stereotyped, maybe Kipp and others can use it to empathize and better understand the position people of color face.

Such “overly reductive” statements like the ones the speaker made are likely to incite feelings of white guilt, and make white people less willing to join in dialogues that even relate to issues of racism (such as classicism). And it is very important to include all people in these discussions. Because of white privilege, white people have the opportunity to ignore issues of race that surround them, since they are not directly confronted by them. I remember being shocked at hearing people discuss our “post-racial” society soon after Obama was elected across my predominately white college campus. By making general, incorrect statements about white people being “greedy” and “oppressive,” instead of describing the numerous historical factors that have made white people the privileged race in our society, such a speaker is likely to make people less willing to talk about race at all.

I do believe, however, that classism is inextricably linked to racism. The way the country has been structured since its creation has caused this. Though it is possible to speak strictly about classism in certain contexts, I believed that in most other contexts this would lead to a very incomplete discussion about the issue. Of course other factors such as gender and education also have strong roles in classism, and should not be forgotten. But it cannot be ignored that in our society whiteness has great advantage, especially in regards to socioeconomics. For example, “studies suggest that working-class whites are typically better off in terms of assets and net worth than even middle-class blacks with higher incomes, due to past familial advantages” (Tim Wise, White Like Me, viii). By acknowledging such facts, we are not ignoring the existence of classism, but better understanding its many components.

-- ShefaliSingh - 09 Apr 2012

Thanks Shefali,

Totally agree with most everything... in particular your last paragraph. But I don't think it's at odds at all with what I'm saying. I'm pretty sure you don't either. But just to be sure I'm not advocating to replace discussions of race with class. I agree that they're inextricably linked and that both should be addressed.

I do empathize with all stereotyping. And I, like anyone else, don't want to be told what I believe or excluded from anything based on the color of my skin... it's an awful, devastating feeling.

But you say to feel empathy towards others stereotyped instead of feeling alienated. Why not both?

No one should be judged, excluded or alienated for the color of their skin, plain and simple. Doesn't matter what color you are. I never chose the color of my skin.

And, anticipating the tangential discussion about white privilege which benefits me regardless of whether I chose my color or not, I get that. We all agree that exists. No need to go down that road.

But I personally unequivocally do not believe that justifies alienation. It just means that institutionalized white privilege is something to be cognizant of and something to be resisted.

And I don't believe it's unjustified for me to feel a sense of alienation just because I'm white. I don't think you do either, Shefali, but I just sense from the thread generally a resistance to it and I want to address it outright.

-- KippMueller - 09 Apr 2012

I also wanted to add something from earlier. Rumbi, you mentioned my first post implied that I "privilege 'white comfort' over the fact that the speaker may well have felt that race was the more salient issue at play".

I don't know really what "white comfort" is as a concept. But I value my own integrity and right not to be discriminated against. And while the speaker may have thought that the policy was primarily race-based that he was discussing, that doesn't justify in my opinion calling all white people "greedy" or oppressive. He didn't put it as eloquently as race "being the salient issue at play". He told me I was greedy and oppressive. Needless to say, he had never met me. He didn't know my passions, my commitments. I was now greedy and oppressive in that room.

I don't think there's anything at all wrong, as I've been saying every post, with saying that policies are racist and favor white people in this country. That's just not what was said.

(Sorry for specifically addressing posts to people. I just want to address particular statements and play them out. I know all of you posting and love and respect you muchly!)

-- KippMueller - 09 Apr 2012

From talking with Kipp and the class discussion earlier today, I still feel like we're on different pages here. I think the following is an accurate summary of what Kipp was trying to get at, but he can obviously hop in and tell me I'm wrong:

(1) There is a distinction between policies that are based on race and based on class.
(2) There is a conflation of the two primarily because of the historical fact of "white supremacy"
(3) Framing and challenging class-based policies as racial clashes of "white vs. all" is counterproductive today because
  (a) it doesn't get to the root of the problem
  (b) it informs white people that they can't be a part of the solution ("alienation")
  (c) it furthers a racial divide

I don't think Kipp was trying to argue that people of color should circumscribe their views so he doesn't feel bad (although, cynically and politically, it may be a valid argument). Kipp is invested in trying to help the poor, but a history of white supremacy means he operates in an arena where the upper class is predominantly white and the lower class is predominantly minority. I don't see why he's not allowed to feel alienated when he's framed as the problem (because of his race) when he's working to help solve it.

-- SanjayMurti - 11 Apr 2012

“..Promoting the racial divide with divisive rhetoric hinders movements for social justice. Power relations rest upon both race and class hierarchies and alliance across race and class would strengthen challenges against these hierarchies.” This statement by Michelle’s in an earlier post captures a concept which is at the essence of what I think Kipp is trying to express. From what I understand, Kipp is not positing that the conversation about race should be tailored to avoid offending the fragile sensibilities of white people. His proposition is much broader. He is saying: let us not "other" needlessly.

The exercise of “othering”, no matter who is engaging in it, can be detrimental to the pursuit of social justice. If we have in mind a vision of the future that is truly post-racial—one in which a person would have to look at their hand to find out what race they are—then we should be skeptical of any attempt to reinforce racial boundaries. If we have in mind a vision of the future which is less classist—in which we are no less kind to the poor than we are to the rich—then we should, at the very least, be wary of alienating anyone who supports our cause.

This does not mean that we should avoid conversations about white privilege, about systemic discrimination, or about the all-too-strong correlation between race and class. We must talk about these things. We must DO about these things. But it is probably possible to engage with these questions without using acerbic language which exacerbates racial tensions and discourages candid discussions such as this one (by this I am referring to the language used by the speaker in Kipp's original anecdote). I am thankful that, here on this thread, we are able to speak about this often taboo issue so frankly and respectfully.

-- TomaLivshiz - 11 Apr 2012

I feel that my original post, specifically my last sentence, may have been poorly written and thus confusing. I edited it to reflect my intended meaning.

-- TomaLivshiz - 11 Apr 2012

I don't think we're all that far apart in perspective. Kipp can handle himself though (and I don't want to ascribe my thoughts to him), so from here on out, these are just my views. 

I agree that race (like any other subject) should be on the table for discussion whenever it is relevant, and that others' personal feeling of discomfort should not limit expression. However, I think Toma's post highlights a valuable distinction in what expression is productive and what isn't. I don't agree that abstaining from engaging in "othering" is a lofty platitude with no practical value. Discussing race to further mutual understanding is important; using it as a bludgeon to promote adversarial conflict is wrong. I think Rumbi and I are sort of in agreement here. She can correct me if not, but she makes a point that Kipp may be confusing his "implicated identity" being pointed out as being "blamed" and made an adversary. I can't speak to his confusion much beyond what Kipp shared in his example, which is to say, not much. Still, I do think there are instances where race is still used as an "us vs. them" tool that doesn't work to dismantle "white supremacy," but to further a feeling of "otherness" for both/all parties. 

One final point as to implicated identities. I'm of the opinion (and this is a worldview that I don't necessarily believe is the only correct one) that race should never implicate negative identities to people. The concept that someone who devotes her life to ending racial/social/class-based strife is somehow a contributor to the problem solely because of the color of her skin is antithetic to my view of improving racial relations. She can no more change her race than I can. The post-racial world that Toma (and, to some extent, Eben) discusses requires one of two things - adding negative racial connotations to those who don't experience them or removing them from those that do. I'd prefer to live in the latter world.

-- SanjayMurti - 11 Apr 2012

Rumbi, I think to some extent we're not talking about the same thing, and when we are we've just found that we disagree.

Sanjay, love the sum-up of my argument. That's exactly it.

Just wanted to thank everyone again for contributing. This was pretty damn awesome. I'm really glad we have people with different perspectives too. Learning perspectives makes life great. Anyone who wants to continue discussing it with me in person, a beer on the Kipper.

Feel free to continue talking about it, but I'm just going to observe from here on out.

-- KippMueller - 11 Apr 2012

"Still, I do think there are instances where race is still used as an 'us vs. them' tool that doesn't work to dismantle 'white supremacy,' but to further a feeling of 'otherness' for both/all parties." - Sanjay

I agree with this statement, and perhaps a part of Kipp's original point. I don't think discussions of race overshadow discussions of class in a particularly nefarious way, but I do think the way we discuss race is important. "Us" vs "them" is counterproductive, because we should be talking about "us" vs "it," where "it" is the current power structure based on white supremacy, and "us" is anyone who is disturbed by that system (regardless of melanin levels).

-- MarcLegrand - 11 Apr 2012

“The exercise of “othering”, no matter who is engaging in it, can be detrimental to the pursuit of social justice. If we have in mind a vision of the future that is truly post-racial—one in which a person would have to look at their hand to find out what race they are—then we should be skeptical of any attempt to reinforce racial boundaries.”

I think Toma’s post is spot on with regards to what is necessary in order to avoid repeating and reinforcing the psychological distinctions of ‘otherness’ that have been instilled in us by history and social interaction. I believe that we can recognize and acknowledge the existence of structural hierarchies that are objectively inherent in our society, while refraining from perpetuating socio-psychological factions and often fictitious and reductionist ‘us vs. them’ mentalities, that serve demean individual worth and contribution and to impede the cooperative and cohesive effort required to dismantle unequal systemic power dynamics.

I think this is where the distinction (for me anyways) between ‘white supremacy’ and ‘racism’, or ‘patriarchy’ and ‘misogyny’, or ‘kindness to the rich and justness to the poor’ and ‘classism’ is important. It is apparent that you can work to demolish rigid power dynamics by affirmatively creating and promoting more opportunities for individuals, passing protective legislation and social policy, and enforcing this legislation through the courts - as can be seen by the reduction in societal ‘patriarchy’ (by which I mean male dominance) through the rise of women promulgated by the feminist movement. However, even when descriptive, institutionalized power dynamics have been subject to upheaval by the legal system, law is a weak form of social control. It must compete with psychological rhetoric latent in the social fabric of human interaction – a much stronger force, which not only serves to bolster and support existing institutionalized legal inequalities but works on its own to maintain separation and inhibit mutual understanding.

While more women have made great strides gaining rights to equal opportunity in education, in the workforce and reproductive freedom, I would argue that misogyny, female objectification and socialized views of male/female power dynamics that disempower women are still alive and well. It is only when we actively work to acknowledge and restructure our conscious and unconscious social-psychic baggage that serves to ‘color’ of view of the motives/skill/contribution/validity/position of ‘the other’, that we truly begin to dismantle both ‘white supremacy’ AND ‘racism’ or ‘patriarchy’ AND ‘mysogyny’. We can enact as many ‘equal protection’ laws or push the court to make as many Brown or Roe decisions as we like, but if we do not consciously work in our day-to-day social interactions to refrain from “‘othering’ needlessly”, and to encourage others to follow suit, the power of social forces will inevitably eclipse and make hollow any ‘legal’ reform we achieve.

-- MeaganBurrows - 11 Apr 2012

The following are statements by four people in this discussion that make an assumption with which I must disagree:

Kipp says,

"I don't know really what "white comfort" is as a concept. But I value my own integrity and right not to be discriminated against. And while the speaker may have thought that the policy was primarily race-based that he was discussing, that doesn't justify in my opinion calling all white people "greedy" or oppressive. He didn't put it as eloquently as race "being the salient issue at play". He told me I was greedy and oppressive. Needless to say, he had never met me. He didn't know my passions, my commitments. I was now greedy and oppressive in that room."

Sanjay says,

"Kipp is invested in trying to help the poor, but a history of white supremacy means he operates in an arena where the upper class is predominantly white and the lower class is predominantly minority. I don't see why he's not allowed to feel alienated when he's framed as the problem (because of his race) when he's working to help solve it."

Toma says,

"From what I understand, Kipp is not positing that the conversation about race should be tailored to avoid offending the fragile sensibilities of white people. His proposition is much broader. He is saying: let us not "other" needlessly."

Meagan says,

"if we do not consciously work in our day-to-day social interactions to refrain from “‘othering’ needlessly”, and to encourage others to follow suit, the power of social forces will inevitably eclipse and make hollow any ‘legal’ reform we achieve."

I think all four of these statements share the common assumption that when someone levies a criticism of "whiteness" as a social force that increases and sustains class stratification, he/she otherizes and "unnecessary" alienates white people in a discriminatory way. The implication seems to be that when people discuss class stratification, they should not otherize white people because some white people are very passionate about the problem of white supremacy so such criticism is unfair to them and makes reform more difficult. Instead, the critic should be careful not to frame things in a way that alienate white people. Here is my objection:

The notion that we can separate whiteness from any discussion of class stratification in America is frankly ridiculous. On this assumption, in any serious discussion of class stratification and its sources, one cannot escape a discussion of whiteness, which means that ALL white people are NECESSARILY going to be negatively implicated. Even those that are very passionate about ending race and class privilege. They are also participants in that they benefit from the structure, and inasmuch as they continue to benefit from it rather than throw it off their shoulders entirely, race and class privilege will continue to exist. This is not discriminatory - the fact that they are negatively implicated by the criticism is not due to their whiteness simpliciter, but because of the empirical reality that whiteness is a powerful social force that reinforces hierarchy. The fact that white people are alienated when they are negatively implicated by a discussion of white privilege is not because they have been discriminated against but because they have reacted to the discussion by choosing to feel otherized.

But this doesn't have to be the case - instead of modifying the criticism, white people should modify their reaction to the criticism. Instead of feeling alienated and invoking some "right against discrimination," white people should admit complicity, work towards ending white privilege, but at the same time understand that insofar as white privilege continues to exist, they will be negatively implicated by criticism of it, no matter what they do. Let me analogize - in criminal law about a month ago we started to discuss the relationship between sex crimes and rape culture. One point made in our casebook was that the law privileges male definitions of "force" and "consent" such that women are sexually terrorized on a regular basis without legal recourse. This reflects a "culture of rape" that creates and reinforces gender hierarchy. As a man, I am a participant in this culture. I benefit from male privilege. So when feminists criticize "male hegemony" a source of oppression, it negatively implicates me. The fact that I believe in what they have to say does not give me a get out jail free card. The fact that I actively resist male privilege does not mean that I get to invoke a "right against discrimination" when women levy criticisms against "maleness." This is not essentialist because all men in fact do participate in rape culture by virtue of their maleness. But even if it is essentialist, essentialism is often a powerful tool of deconstruction. The point is, saying that you feel alienated by a criticism because it is otherizing is self-fulfilling. It is my obligation as a man to admit complicity, do whatever I can to reject the system, but to understand that one aspect of my identity makes it the case that I am a participant in the problem and that there is very little that I can do about it. I realize that this is a difficult task because one gets criticized, it is only natural to get defensive. But everyone in this discussion is very intelligent and therefore very capable of getting over that initial reaction.

I think Rumbi really hit the nail on the head when she said, "I guess my feeling is that when you say you feel “alienated” because the debate wasn’t framed the way you felt that it should be framed, or because discussions about poverty will often times implicate your identity by, simultaneously, also being discussions about race, it sounds like you expect something to be done about it." The critic shouldn't have to do something about it. You should do something about how you react to the criticism.

-- PrashantRai - 11 Apr 2012

In the interest of bringing outside reading into the conversation, Kent Russell's American Juggalo is a great, quick journalistic take on race and class in America. Its focus is more on how the race/class discussion in America alienates poor whites (who, using Michelle's figures, make up ~10% of an increasingly economically-static America), but I think that is perhaps a more interesting -- and valuable, with respect to solving the very real problem of rural poverty in America -- discussion than how those of us who are white CLS students feel in this discussion. -- MatthewCollins - 11 Apr 2012

I can’t speak for others (although I imagine that Toma and Kipp share my sentiments) but I am in no way attempting to shirk complicity in the perpetuation of ‘white supremacy’. I just don’t think that all of this complicity can be placed on ‘white people’ as a race, as I feel it sometimes - though not always - is by those attempting to challenge it. We are all complicit in the system, regardless of skin color.

To borrow your example regarding rape and the sexualization of women, I – as woman – don’t point to ‘men’ and blame them for the structural inequalities still remaining in our political, legal and social institutions and the social framework that perpetuates the subjugation of women. As a woman, I also accept complicity in perpetuating the system. Women themselves are often just as complicit as men in proliferating stereotypes and – whether advertently or not – allow the system to maintain itself. This is one of the problems I have with some of the rhetoric in certain feminist literature. It posits men as ‘the other’ and women as on the defensive in an ‘us against them’ framework. I do believe that men need to acknowledge their complicity, but women must also do so. I believe we must acknowledge that we are all complicit, and recognize that this complicity is what unites us and that we must work together to institute change.

I don’t mean to say that African Americans are in some way responsible for or the cause of white supremacy, or that they are refusing to acknowledge their role in the system, or that they uniformly demonize white people. I only argue that privilege and focus should be placed on what unites us as individuals all living under the same structurally unequal system and that we all have an interest in dismantling it. Living within a ‘white supremacist’ society and with social racism is destructive and to the detriment of all races. I think that if we abandon racial distinctions and classifications that have historically been used and continue to be used by political forces to perpetuate difference and 'otherness' and cloud or distort the similarities that unite us, we will all be better off.

-- MeaganBurrows - 11 Apr 2012


I don't think you meant to imply this, But when you say "as a woman, I also accept complicity in perpetuating the system. Women themselves are often just as complicit as men in proliferating stereotypes," are you suggesting that, by analogy, minorities are equally to blame for the existence of white privilege? In what way do minorities benefit from a system of white privilege in the same way that white people do? It is in that sense I use the word "complicit," so I guess I fail to see your point when you say "this complicity is what unites us." I know you said that you don't mean to imply that minorities are responsible for or the cause of white supremacy, but then I guess I don't understand what the above quoted statement means since it seems to very straightforwardly imply that minorities are somewhat responsible for white supremacy.

-- PrashantRai - 11 Apr 2012


Totally agree with your point above--and I think that other posters do too--that conversations about "whiteness" are indispensable (which is why, in my initial post, I wrote that we must talk about issues such as white privilege). I was born in Russia where my family was persecuted, grew up here as an immigrant, and yet would NEVER deny that I have been the beneficiary of white privilege. To claim otherwise would be dishonest. Discussions about whiteness are not necessarily alienating; labeling a group, any group, as greedy and oppressive is alienating

-- TomaLivshiz - 11 Apr 2012

__As social theorist Patricia Hill Collins writes in her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, “Oppressed groups are frequently placed in the situation of being listened to only if we frame our ideas in the language that is familiar to and comfortable for a dominant group. This requirement often changes the meaning of our ideas and works to elevate the ideas of dominant groups." __

Should minority groups modify positions or how they articulate them to accommodate the dominant group? Is it preferable that the speaker Kipp is referring to frame the issue in terms of race and alienate Kipp in the process, or that the speaker be accommodating, recast his rhetoric in unoffensive terms, and cultivate a potential ally in reaching a goal that Kipp and the speaker apparently share? I honestly don’t know where I stand.

I’ve thought about this tension in terms of feminism, a theory I believe in and a word I believe ultimately may take our eye off the ball.

Feminism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and by Cambridge University Dictionaries as “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.” If that’s all “feminism” is, then why the hesitation (or something stronger) among so many women my age, myself included, to use the word?

Maybe using the word feminism obscures the point. I’ve made the declaration and looked out at woeful, fearful eyes-- mostly male. As if the word instantly conjures up visions of a hostile takeover by male-bashing, man-hating, no-armpit-shaving, militant feminists. Once that vision has happened, in my experience it becomes more difficult to discuss dispassionately and productively issues such as why women occupy only 15-16% of all top level management positions and why we still earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns... and most important, it becomes harder to constructively imagine what we can do about it.

Maybe the word has taken on meaning-- of anger, man-hating, female supremacy, and radicalism-- that doesn’t represent the attitude of many young women. “There’s no need to be angry about it,” I’ve heard friends say. But I also think it’s a concern about perception. Feminism is widely regarded as unattractive. If the common aversion to the word is grounded on the desire to use “comfortable” and “familiar” language to make the dominant group more comfortable and make women less threatening-- at the cost of sacrificing the meaning of our ideas-- then maybe that is the reason to keep the word around. Maybe the trouble I have with the word feminism is the point.

Meagan said: It is only when we actively work to acknowledge and restructure our conscious and unconscious social-psychic baggage that serves to ‘color’ of view of the motives/skill/contribution/validity/position of ‘the other’, that we truly begin to dismantle both ‘white supremacy’ AND ‘racism’ or ‘patriarchy’ AND ‘mysogyny’. I wonder what is the most effective way of attacking white supremacy and patriarchy, and I also wonder how to effectively align principles and tact.

-- SamanthaWishman - 11 Apr 2012


I am not suggesting that minorities are equally to blame for white privilege or that oppressed minority groups are responsible for their oppression. Nor did I maintain that minorities benefit from white privilege. The descriptive reality of white supremacy is a function of institutional hierarchies. I believe we are all complicit in reinforcing and maintaining the social distinctions that are often used to lend credence to the institution of white supremacy and to perpetuate discord and disunity. What I simply mean to say is that all races share some responsibility (to various degrees) in maintaining socially entrenched racial stereotypes and ‘racist’ distinctions prefaced on ‘otherness’.

Here is an example. Last weekend I was walking home from dinner in midtown up Broadway. It was late - around 10 pm - and as I was walking up a well-dressed, older black man emerged from a restaurant, bid farewell to his dining companions and started to walk up the street a few feet in front of me. Ahead of us both were two black youths, dressed in baggy jeans and hoodies, hanging out on the side of the street. The man in front of me slowed down a bit, so that he was almost walking beside me, as we reached the boys. After we had passed them he turned to me and said “I just wanted to make sure you were all right – it didn’t look like they were up to anything but you never know”. I said thanks, and we went our separate ways.

I think this just points to how, regardless of the color of our own skin, we all have internalized classist and racist proclivities that manifest themselves both consciously and unconsciously in day to day life. I try hard to acknowledge and stay conscious of my own, so that I can better critique and dismantle them, though I don’t always succeed. My above post was not meant to assign blame. It was just meant to call attention to the fact that we are all, regardless of race, complicit in harboring societal stereotypes, ‘us vs. them’ distinctions and a sense of ‘otherness’ – regardless as to whether we choose to or not – because of how we have been socially conditioned. I simply believe it would be most effective to work together to recognize, call into question and discard these classifications that serve to reinforce disunity and to bolster the institution of white supremacy.

-- MeaganBurrows - 11 Apr 2012

I think everyone is on mostly the same page at this point.

Toma, I agree completely that saying something along the line of "all white people actively work towards increasing oppression of minorities in America" is obviously false and unnecessarily alienating (and is also racist in it's own right). Somehow, though, I seriously doubt that that was the point the speaker in Kipp's story was making (even Malcolm X denounced that idea, saying once, ""I am not a racist.... In the past I permitted myself to be make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race."). This is all probably moot since no one but Kipp knows exactly what the speaker was saying, but since it was in a speech at the multicultural center at Berkeley, my guess is that it was probably something closer to what you and I agree on, namely that acknowledging white privilege is a crucial component of any discussion regarding class stratification. I guess my point is that I agree with what you're saying, but that is quite far from agreeing with what was originally said. Kipp can go ahead and correct me if I'm wrong though.

Meagan, I agree that we all play a part in reinforcing stereotypes. There was an argument in my criminal law casebook, when discussing the connection between police discretion and racism, that the fact that more black people are now members of the police force does not mean that there will no longer be racist police discretion, because studies indicate that many black members of the force also racially profile people. Sure, point granted. But the problem of otherizing discussed earlier does not stem from the critic distinguishing white complicity with the complicity of minorities; it was rather discussed in connection with when a minority speaker criticizes "whiteness" as a foundation for class stratification, that somehow the association of class stratification with a race alienated those people of that race (paraphrasing Kipp, "why not say what it is?" IE class, not race). And my point was that the association of class stratification with a race is inevitable and necessary when that relation is grounded in fact. In the end I don't think we're disagreeing on anything, I think we're just making different points.

Cheers, Prashant

-- PrashantRai - 11 Apr 2012

To everyone that has commented so far: this is an amazing discussion. Kipp, I really respect your honesty and courage in starting this thread.

I have two points to make. They were supposed to be super short, but I got carried away.

1) Are Discussions of Classism Really Less Alienating? I think that, in this thread, there is an accepted assumption that condemning oppressive policies along the lines of class rather than race is less alienating to dominant groups and, as a result, provides an increased opportunity for collaboration between privileged people and underprivileged people. I don't agree.

Let's tweak Kipp's scenario: what if, that night at the event, instead of a glorified janitor, Kipp was a trustfund baby, albeit equally as down for the cause as the real Kipp. What if the speaker had instead disparaged all rich people as greedy and oppressive? I'm not sure that rich-Kipp would have felt any less alienated or unfairly stereotyped. I guess my point is that I am not convinced that there is a 'unifying' way to speak about oppression in the presence of people that are members of oppressive groups. While real-Kipp wouldn't have been as offended by the substitution of wealth for whiteness in that scenario, that has everything to do with the fact that he does not see himself as rich.

I think that the idea that talking about bad policies in terms of class is any less divisive than talking about these issues in terms of race is refuted by the political reactions that we've seen to the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (remember all that talk about 'class warfare'?). No one ever wants to be the bad guy whether he is characterized as such by the fact that he is rich or white.

Anyway, maybe I'm being unimaginative, but I can't think of a way to talk about racism (better expressed White Supremacy) or classism (better expressed Aristocracy) in a way that is not divisive, and doesn't run the risk of alienating Kipps--which brings to me to my next point:

2) Why Assume that the Most Productive Discussions are the Least Divisive Ones? First, let me say that in terms of healing racist feelings, I agree that unity between members of privileged and underprivileged groups is definitely the answer. To heal feelings of animosity and prejudice you need integration, social interaction, and dialogue.

However, I felt that--and I hope I'm not mischaracterizing you guys because it's hard to figure out which racism we're talking about (psychological or structural)--this discussion contained the assumption that the best (or most likely successful) way to fight White Supremacy or Aristocracy is "unity" between oppressive groups and oppressed groups. I don't think that the assumption that social change is catalyzed in this way is supported by history. I think that the majority of revolutions (or shifts in socioeconomic power) have necessitated, first and foremost, unity within the oppressed group.

Such unity is power. We can see evidence of this in recent American history. The Civil Rights Movement and the strides in social and economic policy that we see today were catalyzed by the unification of people of color both internationally and domestically. The result was integration, but the impetus was power. The boycotts, the riots, the marches--were all demonstrations of unified power that the American government responded to.

In conclusion... The sum of my two points is this: I think that sometimes the means for the necessary unification of underprivileged people will result in divisions along the lines of oppressed and privileged groups. If you are a member of a privileged group that is down for the cause, sometimes this unification will be at your expense. In saying that, I don't want to discount or silence justifiable feelings of alienation. I agree that on an individual level, sweeping characterizations are totally unfair. However, I do think most would agree that the success of the cause is bigger than you.

-- GechiNzewi - 12 Apr 2012

I felt compelled to add to this discussion because I was so impressed with how articulate and respectful it is even while disagreeing over some of the most controversial and personal issues (racism, classism, sexism) we'll confront. I wish our national discourse was respectful and high-minded.

With that personal diatribe out of the way, I wanted to add an article I read a couple weeks ago that this discussion reminded me of. A NYT op-ed by Rich Benjamin, The Gated Community Mentality, talks about the Zimmerman case in terms not only of race, but also class, age, property ownership, etc. As an outsider in a gated community, according to this piece, Trayvon Martin was in danger owing to a confluence of many factors, race being one. "Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor."

If you read the whole article, you may find Benjamin's mathematics to be problematic, and some of his conclusions to be ill-evidenced (how did Zimmerman know Martin wasn't a resident in such a big community? were there no other children in the community?), but there's something to be said for expanding the dialogue to merely a white vs. black one. Certainly racism was a problem, but perhaps not the only one. The full article is here:

After class today, I talked with Kipp about this thread and he asked me to read it. I know it's a long post, but I wanted to address a lot of points. If you are really interested in correcting the issues that were discussed earlier in this thread, please read on:

First, I believe it is necessary to understand why this system, which results in the existence of several marginalized groups, came to exist. Then, also to examine what happens to people or those groups when the system is resisted. Third, ask ourselves how we can we change the system. Finally, we should really think about if we are willing to deal with whatever consequences come in changing it.

1. Reading through the posts, whether dealing with economic, gender based, or racial discrimination, the source of this injustice is how the United States decided to create a caste system which has resulted in an aristocracy today in which people have a difficult time figuring who the "oppressor" or "enemy is." We can all agree the United States began and continued to flourish through slavery. To legitimize this practice, "racial" distinctions were created to place blacks and whites in certain "positions" in society. This maintained a certain power structure that is subconsciously engrained in the minds of countless Americans. However, white men "at that time" explicitly wanted to place themselves at the top of this power structure, so they discounted and subjugated women using any method necessary (e.g. religion - Adam and Eve, etc.). This structure or inherent social "order" is still purposefully ingrained in our "system" today causing enormous differences in wealth, massive violence, and “psychological slavery.”

2. In finding ways to justify the system, the people who have the most power in this country divert attention away from themselves and create the "other" so the 99% fights against one another while the 1% laughs and carries on unabated. Those who have attempted to overthrow the corrupt system (e.g. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.) were murdered. For years, these murders were carried out by those in the highest rungs of power. However, since the system has now become entrenched, everyone else subconsciously and some consciously do their dirty work for them. For example, black and black crime is increasing at alarming rates, when in the past the KKK or white racist groups were the widespread murderers of black communities.

3. This system has only strengthened despite what may appear to be “incredible progress.” Kipp wants to help, but I mentioned to him, similar to comments made by Prashant and Rumbi, that it is necessary that he understands his “white privilege” and how he is subconsciously affected by it. In addition, as Meagan pointed out, we also cannot let ourselves, no matter our color or gender, continue to strengthen the system by doing nothing at all except following conventional norms. If a friend is bragging about how he “runs” things at home and his wife does not speak unless spoken to, you should condemn those actions. If private conversations are occurring blaming a “minority” for taking someone’s job or spot at a school, you should condemn those actions.

4. As soon as we find a common cause and work together (e.g. with the Trayvon Martin case), governmental social control will be powerless against the will of the people. It may mean risking one’s life, since the system is so entrenched and those in power will stop at anything to keep it that way. However, this is the harsh reality. We also have to ask ourselves do we really want to fight this battle. Really helping these communities, as I told Kipp, will also result in a reduction of “white privilege,” which is a privilege that is not always visible but one that some will do anything to keep intact. I want to work with Kipp and anyone else who really wants to confront these issues. However, law school works to keep the system intact and justifies it. Most people who graduate from CLS will do nothing to change it due to individual gain. But anyone who really wants to work at this, please let me know. We can make law school work for us (i.e. classes, events, meetings, collaborations, etc.) and take it from there. I’m all in and want to know if anyone else wants to go all in too. -WilliamDavidWilliams

I ran through this entire thread and found it truly compelling, enlightening and thought-provoking. From the first day of classes, I've been incredibly impressed with the sheer intelligence of my classmates, and everything said here has only bolstered that feeling.

As Gechi astutely pointed out, I think that the real thrust behind this debate of alienation versus inclusiveness is a discussion of how we best tackle this "system of White (Male) Supremacy" that we see as the cause of so many problems for blacks, other minorities and, more generally, society. I honestly don't know what the answer to that question is. As Kipp and others have said, it doesn't seem to make sense to lambast all whites as a group and risk alienating those who are on the side of racial equality and justice, since integration seems to be so key to solving many of these problems. But as Gechi also pointed out, alienation inevitably comes from ANY sort of discussion in this realm; perhaps the focus is best put on achieving unity within the oppressed group(s).

I think my problem in figuring out what the best answer to this question is comes from the fact that we talk in these grand, vague terms of a "system of White Supremacy." William David discussed how powerful white men created this system through the propagation of slavery and other methods in order to achieve and maintain power. The vestiges of slavery are obviously real and incredibly destructive, leading to an underclass made up mostly of minorities who have little hope of climbing up the ladder (or, at the very least, have a lot farther up to climb than do most whites). I believe all of this is true. But when we blame the "system of White Supremacy," I'm not really sure what exactly this means. And because I'm not sure what exactly it means, I don't really know how to fight it. We've talked about discussing things in terms of what they DO instead of what they ARE, so instead of blaming this amorphous "system", why don't we start to discuss how this system actually operates so that we can fight it? In my mind, it operates by incarcerating minorities excessively and disproportionately, in the process tearing apart families, putting them deeper into poverty, and removing role models from the family. It also operates by refusing to give equal education to poor and rich, depriving poor (mostly minorities) of so many opportunities. These are just two ways, but I know there are countless others.

I know this veers a little bit from the original subject, but I just wanted to express some of the frustration I feel with discussions like this and some of the ones we've had in class, a frustration that comes from the fact that talking about the existence of this system seems rather meaningless to me. William David, you said that you feel that the "system has only strengthened despite what might appear to be incredible progress." What do you mean by this? Why do you think this? What exactly is the system DOING and in what ways exactly is it acting that has led you to this conclusion? In my mind, we need to first be asking and answering these questions; otherwise, the questions about how to tackle the "system of White Supremacy" more generally just become rather pointless.

PS William David, I would love to make law school work for us in the ways that you're talking about. What do you have in mind?

-- JaredMiller - 17 Apr 2012

Jared - thanks for following up...

1. I remember when Eben said, "The beauty of the law is in its weakness." Given that law is governmental social "control," I think this statement holds the key of why you become frustrated with the "system." I would suggest that this is because the "law" is extremely deceptive. People, judges (e.g. Judge Day), state and local governments, etc. hide behind the "law," when there are actually more powerful forces at work. It's not really the law, but deep seated notions of family, religion, education, propaganda that are actually intertwined with the law to make it seem as if the law is doing the work. Behind the more powerful forces is the notion of "white supremacy." All white supremacy refers to is keeping those dominant from the "founders" to their descendents in power. That's why even when laws deceptively "change," they change to do their best to keep notions of "white supremacy" evident. For example, although in Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall was able to convince SCOTUS to desegregate schools, the COURT did so with the racist assertion that "separate cannot be equal" and stated that "only" the minority group was deprived of an adequate education. This is the white supremacist belief that "blacks are inferior" and they need to be around whites to have an equal education. Everyone is deprived with this discrimination, and the court refused to reallocate wealth to make sure schools were appropriately funded for all people. Thus, the system was reinforced and it still is reinforced through the "War on Drugs" (drug laws - disproportionately affect African Americans), the type of "docile" education provided through NCLB, casting of political "elections," producing deviance through poverty and the denial of justice, etc. It is so hard to "fight" and is frustrating because it is so entrenched and thus hard to "see." This is why Trayvon Martin was likely killed. It is so entrenched that it is in the subconscious, and only through effort is this "racist" thinking averted.

2. Thanks for wanting to make "law school" work too. That is refreshing and took courage for you to respond to this. This class is the first step. We should do our best to get as much out of it as we can. Then, we should reflect over the summer and stay in correspondence. Maybe we can take some classes together that reflect and support this effort. We need to do whatever we can to become the type of lawyers that we need to be. In July, we should start brainstorming/planning methods in which to affect the law school community and later the rest of the nation. I was thinking about doing a lot of collaboration on events that challenge the status quo (e.g. having open discussions about the legal system and the best way to use it and the greater methods of social control for change, inviting "radical" professors to speak on issues, etc.). Eben is providing access to countless people who never had it through the Software Freedom Law Center. We have to work on providing access too, while using the media and other avenues to convince the world that the world needs changing.

This government cannot function without the PEOPLE. Thus, it uses casting to "convince" the people. We have to figure out how to move the people against the system so that more people can have the justice they deserve.

I thought y'all might be interested in reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger for the Atlantic who writes about race, comic books and the civil war, among other things. Specifically relevant is this post discussing the connection between democracy and racism in light of Coates' ongoing reading of Tocqueville. Here's an excerpt:

"One of the great intellectual tensions in my life comes from reconciling a deep belief in democracy with the fact of African-American history. What is unavoidable is that in America white supremacy has often been quite democratic. Tocqueville calls this sort of tyranny much worse because it bears the imprint of the "majority" and thus is imbued with a kind of moral justice."

One of the things I love about the law is that courts are not beholden to the will of the majority. The protection of individual rights can be and often is accomplished by courts when it would not be done in other democratic channels. At the same time, landmark court decisions that expand rather than contract rights can have a large positive impact on public opinion in support of the right in question.

(This is not incontrovertible; there's a causation question here, often discussed in terms of the Warren court and the civil rights movement but also applicable to the gay marriage decisions in Massachusetts and elsewhere, about whether a court has helped move public opinion or was just reacting to changing public opinion or even just reacting to changing "elite" opinion).

-- ShakedSivan - 18 Apr 2012

William David, to your #2 I would love to collaborate with you going forward. I'm now part of two student organizations (Law/Culture and the Criminal Justice Action Network) which, while pretty BS in my opinion, can contribute resources to this effort. Let's make sure we continue to engage going forward.

As to #1, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, but the frustrations I was expressing with the "system" weren't directed towards the system itself (though I do, in fact, have many, many, many frustrations) but instead to the way we have been talking about the system. I just don't find it very productive to talk about the system and the problems it causes in the abstract, as this monolithic entity. I don't see us getting anywhere when we criticize the "system" when it's really specific institutions within that system that are to blame.

I also think this conversation veered wildly from Kipp's original premise: That when we talk about White Supremacy, we're not giving enough credence to the role that class - and not just race - plays in that system. The discussion of whether or not Kipp had a right to feel alienated became the focus, but I think this RaceVClass dynamic (the topic of this thread) is a very worthwhile conversation to be having. Like you said, William David, we have a society where we still very much feel the effects of the vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. While the position that blacks (and other minorities) hold in society can certainly be attributed to race, I'm not so sure that there's such a 1-to-1 causal connection from race to explain why there's such inertia at the present moment. Achieving equality involves selflessness. Giving more power to the lower classes involves taking away power from the upper classes. Ensuring fair opportunity involves sacrifice from the top. In my mind, it's these factors that more adequately explain our unwillingness to change. I am certainly not going to deny that race plays a huge factor in all of this, especially within an institution such as our system of mass incarceration. There is definitely a certain aspect of the "other" that makes achieving equality that much more difficult when the lower classes are predominantly made up of people of another skin color or ethnicity. But at the end of the day, the reason society is not going to change is because that would involve loss from those holding the keys to change. And that holds true no matter what color your skin is.

-- JaredMiller - 19 Apr 2012

"But at the end of the day, the reason society is not going to change is because that would involve loss from those holding the keys to change. And that holds true no matter what color your skin is."

Your quote is why I deviated from the premise. Those holding the keys to change are predominantly, if not all, white males. This is because our nation was founded on slavery, and because of its success in terms of monetary gain, those with the keys to power, predominantly white males or those who promise to uphold a "caste" system, work to keep "slavery' in place. It's just basically invisible now because it's so effective. That's why when Kipp was upset because the speaker was general and could have worded his charge differently, the speaker was just saying that a notion of white supremacy at our nation's founding to justify slavery has helped keep a racist system in place.

I deviate from the premise because we are fighting the wrong issue. The speaker didn't rule out wealth differences because he mentioned race. That is an incorrect assumption to make. ("And then a speaker would declare it's the greed of the white man or that white people are an oppressive people.") Just because he mentioned race in his speech doesn't mean that those in power don't want wealth differences as well. I believe that is also what he was referring to in his speech. Once this is understood, no one was excluded or discriminated against.

Also, although race has not been the only way that people have been prejudiced against, I do believe it is a 1:1 causal factor. Especially considering that my ancestors went through slavery, my grandmother and great grandmother worked as domestics in white households, and their experiences have helped me develop a clearer picture of what has taken place in our country. Even as you mentioned, when you go to a prison or jail you usually see predominately African Americans, when African Americans make up only 13% of the U.S. population. Especially when you study the destruction of famous black businesses like those on Black Wallstreet, the Black Codes, even the attempted sterilization evidenced in the Skinner case, countless lynchings, lower life expectancies for African American males, the "War on Drugs," etc., it is hard to deny that those in power have not deliberately attempted to confine African Americans to a lower class.

The speaker should just be understood for all the pain he has had to go through. He is hurt. We should understand the way he speaks and not demand he speak differently. As I said he could have explained himself better, but we have to look at the particular circumstances of the situation considering the history of our nation. He even clarified himself, but I wouldn't be mad at him. I would be understanding and get to know him. Then, I would join with him and others who want to make things better. We shouldn't worry about the language as much in this context, but what's at the heart of the issue. This is a systemic program, so we have to attack the system. One of the tools that has kept the system in place has been a notion of white supremacy, whether explicit or implicit.

We have to understand the system, understand the methods and the people who oppose this system, and then come together despite our differences to promote not just any "change" but a positive change. The main issue is finding a common purpose that is specific and action-oriented. It may cause consternation, but no revolution ever started without it (even the American Revolution). That is what will be required to make an big impact on this system. A revolution.

I think William David and Gechi make some excellent points and really hit a lot of the issues on the head in relation to the experience that Kipp had with the leader of the discussion. On the other hand, I can see where Kipp is coming from.

In undergrad, it was always the running joke that everyone had a support group. There was the women's group, there was the "Third World Transition Program", sexuality groups, nationality groups, etc. The only group of people who didn't have somewhere to turn were heterosexual American white males. There were never any groups that were targeted towards exploring what it meant to be a white male within American Society and within the world. It was just assumed because of their race and their gender that they didn't need the structured support that came from the institution. Based on their race and gender, it was assumed that they had a type of socioeconomic privilege that they took for granted. This assumption does not only negate the pervasive impact that class has on the experiences of people within the nation, it is also alienating.

While I do agree that conversations about poverty or social inequality should not be sugar coated to accommodate people who may feel uncomfortable with the racial undertones that are tied into the discussion, shouldn't there still be a space for white males to take part in the discussion? Just as Jared pointed out, those in power have found ways to keep the oppressed divided. I guess I'm just wondering what a coalition for general social equality could look like.

-- JenniferAnderson - 22 Apr 2012

Just wanted to say thanks again to everyone. I do agree with Jared that this conversation completely veered from where I intended it to go. I'm glad we covered whether I was justified in my feeling of alienation. It was a fascinating discussion. But I was hoping to shift the conversation towards how race and class interplay in this country. More specifically, I wanted to get your opinions on the concept of "class struggle" and why it's a non-starter in our culture.

Wealth discrimination gets rational basis review under Equal Protection Clause analysis in this country (I think Rodriguez from Con Law may have been the worst thing to happen to progressivism in this country in the last forty years). To say that a law disparately impacts the poor just seems to be an uninteresting argument to our courts and even ourselves.

It could be the byproduct of the American Dream - perhaps a sentiment that your class is your fault, an entirely mutable interest that can be shed with a little hard work. Maybe it's just Cold War scars and fear of socialist talk. Of course, concern for the oppression of the poor does not require that one is a pure socialist. But many think it does. Maybe it's just faux pas.

When I discussed the example of the speaker, I didn't mean to suggest that it's the fault of community leaders that we don't point to the oppression of the poor as a core issue. It's something much greater than any one person. But I do believe we can reintroduce it into conversations regarding legal or political or social discrimination in America.

And I think we'd be better off for it. Race, class, gender and sexual orientation all influence one's social standing in America. I wish we'd cover them all!


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r59 - 22 Jan 2013 - 19:58:24 - IanSullivan
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