The fact that our president-elect appealed to both class and white racism in this election is beyond any doubt – it’s all on video. Yet, there are those who want to defend him as if the way he used race is somehow separate from the question of whether or not he really is a racist.
They’re really actually defending themselves – they don’t want to admit that they’d vote for an open racist. They don’t want to accept their personal responsibility for the resulting rise in crimes against Muslims, people of color, and LGBT people that has followed the permission their chosen candidate has thereby given for people to act as open bigots.
They'd prefer to deny that they themselves hold enough racism to give someone who appeals to white racism a pass, as if playing on racism, xenophobia, and homophobia isn’t important to them. They don’t want to think of how their votes evidence their lack of empathy for anyone but themselves.
Both class and race figured at a basic level in the rise of this president-elect who lost the popular count by over 2.8 million votes. And that latter is a point we’ll always need to remember – of the Americans who voted and whose votes were counted, over 50% did not support his campaign. To the majority, he's a loser and his campaign strategy was offensive and embarrassing.
The election post-mortem, however, has included debates about the relative importance of racism and classism in its outcome, as if these don’t support each other. The phrase “identity politics” has been used quite broadly as if whatever it refers to is a negative thing.
So how do we work through all this to move beyond this election?
When one works from a scarcity model of life – a model that supports the worst elements of capitalism, by the way – it’s easy to fear that attention to another issue will take it away from my issue. It’s a mindset that there’s not enough attention to go around.
In addition, this scarcity mindset suppresses the facts that all oppressions are related and that ending all of them is necessary. I cannot just isolate my issue from any other.
It misses the point that any oppression will not die out until all the others also disappear. Oppression is an approach to life, a way of thinking, a frame that looks for a victim, and a fallback for a failing culture to scapegoat an “other.”
The scarcity model also obscures the fact that oppression is more than just prejudice. Everyone has prejudices, but oppression is prejudice plus power: the ability to effectively promote or prevent movement and change.
As such, what we are fighting must be viewed not as just individual prejudice but systemic problems. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. are promoted by the institutions of our society that need to preserve the status quo and how those institutions play off of each other – that’s “the system.”
And – here’s something we'd rather deny – because the problem is systemic, every single one of us, no matter what demographic we identify with and whether we want to admit it or not, has been taught racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, able-bodyism, and others. When someone says, for example, “I am not a racist,” they miss the deeper point – we all have been taught to be racist; the issue really is: are we working on it in ourselves and society.
Because they're all related, then, and we’re a part of all of it no matter how far we’ve come, the second challenging, hard-to-face necessity emphasized in this series is that we need to reject denial, complaining, and guilt feelings to think in terms of building coalitions. We no longer can afford one-issue movements.
We begin by understanding that what initially appears not to be “my issue” is really my issue. It’s not just that we all have one common humanity whose feelings, desires, prayers, and hopes we share (If we think about it, what people pray for around the world no matter what their religion are the same things all people and their families worry about.).
We are not fighting a good charitable fight because some other group of pitiful people needs us to save them – that’s patronizing and disempowering for them. Instead, we need to learn how each of the isms hurts us, limits us, and boxes us in.
How does white racism separate those who identify as white from their full humanity? Read: Thandeka’s Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America.
How does the oppression of LGBT people limit the potential humanity of those who identify as straight? Read: Robert N, Minor, Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human.
Racism, LGBT discrimination, able-body-ism, classism, environmental degradation and others must end, I must be convinced, for my own good – and other people will benefit.
Next, we take a hard look at our lives, our friends, the circles we move in, who we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with in our chosen justice work, and where our comfortable interactions are. What we will often find is that naturally our circles are those that we’ve felt safe in and thus often they consist of the same demographics as us. Given the nature of the oppressions around us, that’s exactly how the system expects us to live.
Coalition building doesn't mean that an organization does “outreach” to those it has not included. It means building long-term relationships that grow to share trust and understanding.
It means all partners over time becoming convinced that the others are there for them when they have a fight for justice on their hands. No one needs to look around at the last minute wondering who will be there for them.
And it means listening to find out what the needs of those outside our demographic are, letting them take the lead in their fights but standing as allies, believing that what they say about their experience is true, asking how to be supportive, listening to their hurts, and not walking away when the going gets touch. It's hard, but necessary, stuff.