I’m considering starting every piece with, “One of the most amazing things about the current discourse on race is how resistant it is to moving from the theoretical to the concrete; from explanation to practical prescription.” Avoiding concrete explanation and practical prescription is the point of the current discourse promoting social justice (or here insert ‘fighting’ racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia or any of the other concepts without agency said to oppress people) and any honest assessment worth engaging starts with that understanding.
However, what’s most amazing, is not that observation, but the degree to which the people who speak the most of marginalization on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and place of origin seem to care the least about tangible remedies for the marginalized. Either the problems of the marginalized are not tangible, or these people are not actually talking about the needs of marginalized people. It’s the latter. Typically, they are substituting their own class or social interests for those of the marginalized. Tangible remedies for circumstances creating desperate atomized people and marginalization don’t need a modifier. We could simply call those remedies justice.
The important thing to note about social justice is that it’s centered on helping ‘them’ through personal sacrifice and being an ally. It’s an incredibly moral position empty of any actual commitment or actual morals. Much of what is called social justice works through memeification of amorphous cultural ideals presented on the surface as broadly accepted. It rests on an assumed shared understanding of the underlying problems. In a sense it’s a Pandora’s Box that works best when closed. When opened, it becomes clear that it’s been emptied. We’ve been mired in its malign influences for centuries. Much of it is centered on the ideologies it is ostensibly meant to fight. This sleight of discourse is how racial segregation and race essentialism have come to be seen and promoted as positives. Advocates of social justice insist that the pile of manure is actually a rose, and actual roses are racist and transphobic.
I have a somewhat weird fascination with people pushing moral idealism who use terms like ‘class reductionist’ as if it describes anything real. Who are these people living through a pandemic and depression accompanied by the upward transition of billions in wealth, growing food insecurity and permanent job loss complaining about a focus on class, or as I call it, economic security?
I recently returned to an alternate account set up years ago on Twitter. My primary account had been suspended for harassing people by not accepting their unconvincing arguments. The relative silence of my alt and banishment made me feel a bit confrontational. This led me to doing something I’d occasionally do out of boredom, except this became the entirety of my Twitter interaction for two weeks. I term searched ‘class reductionist/reductionism’ and responded with a variation of, “class reductionist is a term used by ppl who don’t care abt the material well being of black ppl or poor ppl of any race and want to pretend otherwise.”
The response rate to sending this repeatedly was relatively low. With the exception of one person saying that on further consideration I was right, the typical response was that ‘class reductionism’ ignored identity and thus identity issues like racism. I’d then respond, “Can you explain what important identity related thing people need as vital as the food and shelter millions now lack that’s missing from a focus on economic security?”
A very common social media refrain is, “ending economic inequality won’t end racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia.” I’m still waiting for someone to offer an example of economic inequality not ending racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia or explain what will. While it may seem I’m just being facetious I’m not. A hallmark of this social justice discourse is that it conflates individual feelings, mostly projected on working class and poor white people, with historical factors creating disparate outcomes in the present. It also determines that disproportionate impact makes a problem an identity issue. So, for example, although the vast majority of victims of police violence are white, it’s a black issue because it’s statistically more likely to happen to a black man. Rather than just dismiss, in this instance, systemic racism as the meaningless concept it is, I prefer to offer a definition that recognizes those historical factors, including that the end of legal racial discrimination means that it also impacts white people.
There is nothing vital that humans need left out of a focus on class. This is true regardless of one’s race, sex, gender, or immigration status. This is important to recognize, especially at a time when so many people are struggling to meet basic needs. A focus on class does exclude people unconcerned with material deprivation and may feel threatening to people with economic security under current conditions. In a sense, it excludes many of the people who want to see themselves as good allies, which is why they attempt to insert their interests in the converation. This is the point of discussing racism, sexism, transphobia, etc as embodied things needing to be addressed separate from economic security. In fact, increasingly, a focus on class is itself seen as another form of oppression. Only racists, transphobes, and nazbols care about economic security.
The primary purpose of the social justice conversation is the sleight of discourse, it’s an obvious shell game. It shows the problems of poor black people, or immigrants, or trans people; housing and food insecurity, the possibility of violence. It shows the absence of the cultural values college educated people assume poor and white working class people lack. It insinuates causality. It’s a completely empty scam. The tangible problems defy their explanations. Their shells never even held the pea.
This shell game, the shitty magic trick that fools no one, attempts to substitute the concerns of economically secure and elite people for those of actual marginalized people. Thus a huge push for abolishing/defunding the police for the benefit of urban black people who don’t want that or promoting latinx to name people who won’t use it.
I’d initially thought the idea of class reductionism being another form of oppression was a relatively recent mutation of the meme. It makes sense that anti-materialism has always been central to the meme, its dogwhistle. The first examples I found from accounts I recognized were from Imani Gandy and Tim Wise from 2014. Wise has made a career addressing the racism that exists in other whites as the most pressing aspect of racism, and Gandy is Twitter famous for being a lawyer working on foreclosure who hates Bernie Sanders. Seeing them helped to crystalize what’s happening in a way that the thousands of anonymous accounts had not.
Social justice substitutes the pursuit of material remedies for the pursuit of social capital. It’s especially clear with people like Wise or Robin DiAngelo. It’s less clear with someone like Gandy or Nikole Hannah Jones because we’re told we have to believe black women. There are potential social costs to saying their problems are not racism. However, their problems are not racism.
They are comparing themselves to white people with positions, resources, or power they covet and back-filling the explanation for their disappointment as racism. I think it’s fair to say that Hannah Jones’ position, for example, is due to, rather than despite her being a black woman. People like Jones and Gandy are not describing something that has impeded their progress when they talk about racism. They are offering the only thing they can think of that explains why they lack the power and recognition they assume they should have. This is why a focus on economic security is racist. Economic security isn’t a concern for black women like these. And not centering black women is now the definition of racist.