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While Darder and Torres allow that “racism” is still a problem worth addressing, the recent writings of the radical political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. are done even with that. Sounding more like the “colorless” Debs than any major left commentator on race and class in recent memory, he argues, “Exposing racism [is] the political equivalent of an appendix: a useless vestige of an earlier evolutionary moment that’s usually innocuous but can flare up and become harmful.” Reed’s two late-2005 articles, “Class-ifying the Hurricane” and “The Real Divide,” are the signature pieces of the left retreat from race. They appear in relatively popular left/liberal venues, The Nation and The Progressive respectively, and represent attempts by a prominent activist in the movement to build a labor party in the United States to speak broadly and frankly. Moreover, Reed’s scholarship had offered significant opposition to liberalism’s retreat from race during the Clinton era, especially in his collection Without Justice for All.

“Class-ifying the Hurricane” appeared while the horrific impact of Katrina in Reed’s former hometown of New Orleans was fresh in readers’ minds, just after many had noted the racist reporting that contrasted black “looters” with white survivors shown doing precisely the same foraging. It noted “manifest racial disparities in vulnerability, treatment, and outcome” of the experience of natural disaster. And then it turned on a dime to excoriate the “abstract, moralizing patter about how and whether race matters.” Even so, in this first of his two paired essays Reed’s retreat from race could be read as simply a strategic one. “For roughly a generation it seemed responsible to expect that defining inequalities in racial terms would provide some remedial response from the federal government,” he wrote. “But for some time race’s force in national politics has been as a vehicle for reassuring whites that that ‘public’ equals some combination of ‘black,’ ‘poor,’ and ‘loser.’” Katrina lay bare both race and class injustices, but in part because of the growing strength of racism, an effective response to it would have to be strictly “class-ified,” according to Reed.

“The Real Divide” repeated, expanded, and made more bitter the arguments in The Nation article. Reed did continue to mention, in a labored construction, that he was “not claiming that systemic inequalities in the United States are not significantly racialized.” Indeed “any sane or honest person” would have to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of “racial disparities [that] largely emerge from a history of discrimination and racial injustice.” Nonetheless, Reed followed up these generalizations by categorically declaring that “as a political strategy exposing racism is wrongheaded and at best an utter waste of time.” The focus on racism is for Reed a dodge designed to make “upper status liberals” feel morally superior as they vote for the deeply compromised Democratic Party and ignore the “real divide” of class. In one of the few bits of the article offering ostensible, if incredibly narrow and misguided, class analysis, exposing racism is said to serve “the material interests of those who would be race relations technicians.” As in “Classi-fying the Hurricane” the arguments are partly that racism, being “too imprecise” and too abstract, lacks power as an analytical tool. However, the point Reed develops more is that among whites the very “discussion of race” reinforces “the idea that cutting public spending is justifiably aimed at weaning a lazy black underclass off the dole.” The “racism charge,” on this view, is easily defeated by Republican appeals to “scurrilous racial stereotypes” and therefore should be jettisoned.

full: http://monthlyreview.org/2006/07/01/the-retreat-from-race-and-class/
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