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The Salience of Social Class

Social class, I would argue, albeit massively racialized (and gendered) is the system upon which the maintenance of capitalism depends (Kelsh and Hill 2007; Hill 2008a, b). It is possible, though extremely difficult because of the multiple benefits accruing to capital of racializing workers (not least forcing down labor costs), and the unpaid and underpaid labour of women as a whole, to imagine a capitalist world of ‘racial’ (and gender) equality. It is not logically possible for capitalism to exhibit social class equality (see Kelsh and Hill 2006; see also Hill 2007; Hill et al. 2008; Kelsh et al. 2009). Without the extraction of surplus value from the labour of workers, capitalism cannot exist (Marx 1887; see the Appendix to chapter 9 of this volume). There are four caveats I need to add to this fore-fronting of social class.

First, I fully agree with Critical Race Theorists (e.g. Gotanda 1995; Delgado and Stefancic 2001, pp. 21-3) that we should reject ‘color blindness’,13 the belief that ‘one should treat all persons equally, without regard to their race’ (Delgado and Stefancic 2001, p. 144). As Delgado and Stefancic explain:

Critical race theorists ... hold that color blindness will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms, ones that everyone would notice and condemn. But if racism is embedded in our thought processes and social structures as deeply as many crits believe, then the ‘ordinary business’ of society—the routines, practices, and institutions that we rely on to effect the world’s work—will keep minorities in subordinate positions. Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery (Delgado and Stefancic 2001, p. 22).

Second, I agree with David Roediger (2006, p. 3) that Left commentators are wrong to announce the end of Du Dois’s ‘century of the color line’ (e.g. Gilroy 2000; Patterson 2000, cited in Roediger 2006, p. 4). Paul Gilroy (e.g. 2004) has more recently expressed a somewhat overoptimistic in my view belief in multicultural ‘conviviality’. As I will argue in chapter 4 of this volume, one of CRT’s strengths is its insistence of the all-pervasive existence of racism in the world.

Third, while I totally reject the views of those contemporary Left theorists (e.g. Apple 2005, 2006) which promote the idea that ‘race’ and class are equivalent (for a Marxist critique, see, for example, Hill and Kelsh 2006), I would insist that arguments made that, because of the centrality of class, the Left should not concern itself with issues of racism are fundamentally flawed. Thus, I believe that Adolph Reed’s arguments that ‘[a]s a political strategy, exposing racism is wrongheaded, and at best an utter waste of time’, and that ‘[racism] is the political equivalent of an appendix’ to social class (Reed 2005a; see also Reed 2005b) are extremely dangerous and not conducive to progressive struggle.

Fourth, my critique of CRT accords with that of Darder and Torres (2004) (misleadingly lumped together with Reed by Roediger 2006, p. 4) in two major respects. The first is that, as I indicated earlier in this chapter, it is my view that ‘race’ is a social construct and has no scientific validity. The second, as I will argue later in this chapter, is that the Marxist concept of racialization provides a more convincing explanation of racism than CRT notions of ‘white supremacy’, and is necessary in order to understand the multiple manifestations of racism and their relationship to modes of production. In the context of these multiple manifestations, the debate between class or racism becomes redundant, in that for Marxists the struggle is against racialized (and gendered) capitalism.

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