Apparently, I hadn’t realized that decades ago I should have been discouraged at the thought of accomplishing anything. This is what Mitch Pearlstein suggests in “Making sense of the debates on CRT and ‘systemic racism'” (Opinion Exchange, November 13).
African Americans of my generation, says Pearlstein, who believed in what was once called institutional racism, were likely to infer “that their chances of success as adults were drastically reduced, leading them to conclude that they were round: “What the hell, why should I do homework? Why should I study hard? I don’t have much of a future anyway.”
With “worried friends” like Pearlstein, who needs enemies?
Never would I like to inform Pearlstein that we, the cohorts and I, felt powerless in believing, rightly, that racism was pervasive in 1960s America. But more important than the label we have. given to this correct belief were our actions. We organized and responded with mass protests and confidently felt that we could be effective.
The exercise of real power, we instinctively knew, took place in the streets and not in the aftermath. We later learned that by doing so, we transformed not only ourselves, but the larger reality we were enveloped in, including – for those of us who were inspired by Malcolm X – the world. beyond the United States.
Pearlstein raises an important point. Without understanding the reason for what Critical Race Theory (CRT) calls “systemic racism”, it is possible to fall into the trap of victimization.
Contrary to its claim of its origins, the CRT is rooted in the frustrations of African-American civil rights lawyers who, more than seven decades ago, sought to use the country’s legal system to address racial discrimination. Their growing recognition of the existence of institutional barriers to racial equality spawned what would later become the CRT.
Marxist-inspired “critical theory” seemed to offer an explanation: systems of oppression. But critical theory was a poor cousin of genuine Marxism. It lacked the revolutionary element of its supposed ancestor – resistance, namely class struggle.
In the hands of academics mainly, for whom intellectual work and not activism is paramount, Marx’s ideas have been reduced to structures of oppression. The vital dynamic element, the struggles of the oppressed and their allies, was missing.
Too bad civil rights lawyers did not read Marx in his own words. A lawyer by training and a former academic aspirant, the young Karl Marx also believed that working within the system could advance the interests of the oppressed. He quickly discovered the opposite – in particular, the original golden rule: those with the gold make the rules. The legal system, in other words, was embedded in a larger system of class privilege and oppression.
Capitalism, the modern edition of class society, depends on, reproduces and over time aggravates social inequalities – including that of race. So, yes, “systemic racism” does exist: it’s called capitalism.
To ignore this fact is to ignore potential allies in the struggle for racial equality. Only the working class in all its colors and other identities has a class interest in ridding the world of social inequalities – the only class that needs social solidarity to advance its interests. That awareness of this fact is not automatic and that it is necessary to consciously fight for it does not deny it.
In good capitalist fashion, there are indeed people and institutions, as Pearlstein also suggests, that have an investment focusing exclusively on race. It advances their economic model. For this reason, they conveniently ignore facts that challenge their claim that racism is as prevalent today as it was in the 1960s.
So their deafening silence over embarrassing facts, such as the six white jurors who voted to convict Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd – the first time, incredibly, an American jury could convict a white cop for killing a black man. .
The breed-first industry promoters are in a symbiotic relationship with someone else whose business model is also primarily breed-driven – Tucker Carlson. They allow each other’s business.
In the last half of his life, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. revealed a revelation. On more than one occasion he has pointedly called attention to the sobering fact that despite the enactment of the landmark Civil Rights Law of 1964 and the Voting Rights Law of 1965, the socio-economic reality of African Americans had not fundamentally improved. For there to be racial equality in the United States, he concluded, “a radical redistribution of economic and political power” was necessary.
We will never know if King, assassinated in 1968, understood the full implications of his words. But is there any doubt that what he proposed would have called into question the very foundations of capitalism?
No wonder so many of King’s late-day cheerleaders have a chunk of memory when it comes to his insight. It threatens the very basis on which they thrive. It is, in my opinion, as relevant today as when it was first spoken over half a century ago. The well-meaning supporters of the CRT, unlike its selfish entrepreneurs, ignore it at their peril.
My arrival in Minneapolis half a century ago fortunately put me in touch with the authentic, not the academic Marx – with veteran working class fighters who, from 1934, changed politics forever. of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. If I had known of King’s revelation, I might have reached groundbreaking conclusions a little earlier.
August H. Nimtz is professor of political science and African American and African studies at the University of Minnesota.