·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

News & Politics

Race is Not a Class

— September 5, 2016

We should not fall victim to the suggestions that race is an intractable problem in the United States or that racism is the cause of black poverty and of the frequent police killings of African Americans. The cause of these social ills is capitalism.

It is essential to note that the black Americans who have been murdered by police in recent years have overwhelmingly been poor people killed in poor neighborhoods. Just as essential is the realization that twice as many white people are killed by the police as blacks. These whites also were poor or homeless people killed in poor neighborhoods. The fact that blacks are killed in disproportionate numbers relative to whites must be acknowledged, as must the explanatory fact that blacks represent a disproportionate number of the urban poor in the country. What must be included in any analysis of U.S. police killings is the obdurate fact that police consistently show themselves as willing to shoot white people as blacks.

The media, however, is unwilling to reveal these other police killings. Nor will Hillary Clinton call to the stage the mothers of unarmed white people murdered by police. These killings–like the facts that many of the police killings of blacks have been carried out by black officers, in cities with black police chiefs and black mayors—these killings of whites do not fit the narrative of the ruling class. The issue that capitalism wishes to keep before us and between us is the issue of race. The message is at all times that the U.S. is a nation hopelessly divided by race (just as the U.S. works to persuade Middle Eastern countries that they are divided by religion). Because as long as we are thinking and talking about race, we are not thinking and talking about class.

While racism no doubt plays a role in some number of police killings, both systemically within departments and psychologically in individual officers, we must not mistake the role of the police. They are there not to protect and serve the communities they patrol. That is not the purpose of this armed force among us. Police are in place to protect property. In poor communities—white, black, immigrant—police function as an occupying army. Indeed, under Bush and, especially, Obama, the police have been aggressively armed by the federal government with military equipment returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This occupying army keeps watch on the population like prison guards, punishing small offenses, harassing the citizenry, and remaining vigilant should anything like restlessness or rebellion rear its head.

When the poor do stand up and reject the conditions of their lives, the police quickly grab their military gear—as we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore—and illustrate their true purpose and allegiance. They are not of their communities, rather they are imposed upon poor communities by a colonial power interested only in protecting its own wealth.

A country trained to understand itself and its conditions of life in terms of race does pose a challenge to the plutocratic rulers of society, but so far it is a challenge they have been willing to face. That is, the challenge of black uprisings. While such uprisings are usually localized and furtive, as in Ferguson and Baltimore in the past two years, political solidarity based on race expressed itself most powerfully in the Civil Rights movement, from which political gains such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, later, affirmative action in college admissions, were won. These victories, however, took from power nothing power was not happy to part with. Essentially, sadly, the result of the Civil Rights movement, and to some extent the Black Power movement of the 1960’s, has been merely to open space for the growth of an affluent layer of black Americans.

It is this small, affluent section of African Americans that is guiding the Black Lives Matter movement and that initiates such upper-middle-class maneuvers as the recent announcement by Georgetown University that it will offer preferential admission to the descendants of slaves. Of course, given Georgetown’s average tuition of nearly $50,000 per year, it is again only the wealthy descendants of slaves who will benefit from the program.

What the American oligarchy will not tolerate, has never tolerated, is a unified movement of the working class. It was as he was making the transition from race-based to class-based politics that Martin Luther King was assassinated by the government. Because it is only when workers—black, white and other ethnicities—join as a class and with a class-based program that the hierarchical structure of the society faces an actual threat. That is why the issues of class and income inequality were driven from the discussion by the Clinton campaign as soon as the Sanders campaign had folded.

Class is the dangerous topic. Race is an eminently safe topic. It is much safer for Hillary Clinton to promote identity politics and excoriate racism than to admit that she represents the forces that actually oppress the people of the U.S. and the world. Better to blame police violence on racist white officers (even when they’re black) than on a system that sees all working class people ultimately as enemies.


Source: wsws. “The socioeconomic basis of identity politics”

Photo source:

Join the conversation!