May 20, 2017

The cult of Adolph Reed (and maybe, of dime-store Marxism? — updated)

Earlier this week, I tackled a very problematic piece at The Atlantic, one that claimed that postbellum segregation and Jim Crow in the U.S. South was about class first — and specifically about blocking the organization of labor across color lines first — and only about race second, with the implication that race was a distance second in that second.

I rightly noted that most the South didn't industrialize much in the first couple of decades after the Civil War, that when it did, unionization had its own racial problems, that farm organizations also had segregation problems, that the South also didn't urbanize much in that time and more.

That alone was enough to set off the Doug Henwoods of the world.

But, then, I dared question the insights of Adolph Reed and the shitstorm hit.

Reed is even worse in attempts to claim that modern minority economic problems in general, and modern black economic problems in particular, are "all about class" or nearly so

A few months about, when discussing Black Lives Matter raising police brutality issues across the country, he responded rhetorically, wondering why police brutality was so high in New Mexico when it's one of the whitest states in the country, in his claim.

And, according to the Washington Post data, the states with the highest rates of police homicide per million of population are among the whitest in the country: New Mexico averages 6.71 police killings per million; Alaska 5.3 per million; South Dakota 4.69; Arizona and Wyoming 4.2, and Colorado 3.36. It could be possible that the high rates of police killings in those states are concentrated among their very small black populations—New Mexico 2.5%; Alaska 3.9%; South Dakota 1.9%; Arizona 4.6%, Wyoming 1.7%, and Colorado 4.5%.
No, I don't think that's playing "gotcha." Rather, I think it — and the whole piece — was Reed playing "gotcha" with Black Lives Matter activists. The first four states on the list all have high American Indian populations. New Mexico has a high Hispanic population and Arizona a medium one.

But, that's a sidebar. New Mexico, separating out Hispanics of any race, as the Census calls it, as a separate socio-ethnic group, has long been a majority-minority state. Even without doing that, it's STILL a full one-third non-white. It has about zero in common demographically with Wyoming. I'm using Wikipedia, even if some call it "lazy-ass." (I'm also using my personal knowledge of New Mexico.)

(Update: If we want to properly follow through on ethnic assortment and police brutality, Reed is even more wrong, per High Country News:
In the West, as in the rest of the nation, Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement, at a rate three times higher than whites.
And, hence, the development of a #NativeLivesMatter hashtag. Rather than do too much in the way of updating on this piece, I'll do a separate one with overhauling. And, note that the Native Americans killed by cops is not only at a rate 3x higher than whites, but a rate higher than any other group, including African-Americans.)

And, now, Henwood apparently doesn't want to accept that, complete with screen grab sent to him via Twitter.

Dude? (And I use that term on purpose. And, now, perhaps for Henwood as well as Reed.)

New Mexico has been a majority-minority state for decades. It is one of four such states, and is specifically just 40 percent non-Hispanic white.

Whether Reed is that ignorant, or, just to insult BLM, he was claiming that if you're not black, you're white, in either case, I lost a lot of respect for him right there.

And, speaking of?

What if BLM is right — and we need to extrapolate from largely white cops' undue violence against blacks in particular to their violence against minorities in general? (That said, I'm not claiming that such violence IS what's happening. My claim is limited to Reed's claim about New Mexico's whiteness or not. That's contra one Reed-ite on Twitter who apparently thought — or more likely, wanted to believe — that I was making that larger claim. And, the screenshot map she sent me only included the Southwest. And, getting back to the issue of sociology vs. Marxist-based ideas of class, such data don't address the issue of how much, in a matter like policing, how much minority cops internalize attitudes toward minorities of their white coworkers.)

The last few paragraphs above, from the "Besides ..." on, are what led me to blog about this issue.

The left-liberals with a "class-only" lens seem to me to be guilty, first of all, of starting with a zero-sum approach to particular issues of labor or other socioeconomic troubles. And, because they're approaching it from the labor side, that zero-sum lens is a class-based one.

And, I think Reed himself has problems with this. Let's look at at that pull quote just above.

I think he's trying to force racism to be viewed through a class based lens. And I simply disagree.

A further sign of that?

Elsewhere, per Naked Capitalism, Reed has claimed that identity politics are being used to undermine class-based politics. Dude, there are plenty of people who aren't Hillbots or other DNC surrogates, and who, like me, find your "either-or" claim ridiculous. And, you don't have to be a Green to know that. Local Democrats in Ohio are on the record as rejecting any such dichotomy. And, yes, worshipers at the cult of Reed, I think he IS perpetuating a dichotomy. Deal with it.

I also disagree with the following Tweets from the Twitter interlocutor who posted the Reed quote screen grab above.


The "without race, no racism" is, of itself trite. The claim that "race" in the modern sense is a class construct? Those people need to read some sociology, and not just about the U.S., nor about the capitalist West in general. I'll also suggest non-Western social histories, social psychology, and to the degree that it is done right, evolutionary psychology done right.

It ultimately goes back there. The quasi-xenophobia our hominid ancestors had against members of outgroups, against "otherness," existed about, oh, 2 million years before capitalism.

Ergo, no, the idea of constructing "race" did not come from capitalism. Nor, of course, is racism purely a "white" thing and certainly not a "European white" thing. Pre-capitalist Islamic empire Arabs were racist against blacks. Blacks can be racist today. Jews certainly can be, and are. (During the Sassanid Empire, a Jewish state in today's Yemen joined the Sassanids in a sack of Jerusalem, complete with pogrom [sic] against Christians.)

I have no problem seeing where class may have been an issue in segregation. But I know it wasn't the only one, and highly doubt it was the primary one. Ditto on other issues of black-white labor relations before World War II, at a minimum on a terminus ad quem.

Beyond that, I'll freely admit to being a bit of an agent provocateur, or neo-Cynic challenger of received wisdom. But, no, it's primarily that I see a certain amount of left-liberals operating with a "class-only" lens, or nearly so, on issues like this. And it's both wrong and off-putting.

To riff on an old bon mot directed against Freud? Sometimes racism is just racism.


Now, more on the idea, which led to the Reed-ites popping out of the Twitter woodwork, on the issue of how much segregation and Jim Crow were due to simple, plain old racism, no class-first claims, and how much they were due to employers trying to break up interracial solidarity of workers.

First, was an 1890s New Orleans strike an exception or not on poor race relations within organized labor in the South? I say more exception than rule. Even if blacks and whites struck together, they were kept in separate unions, in this case. Even with "relatively" enlightened miners in the early 1900s, segregated locals were maintained by the United Mine Workers! In other words, it's arguable that selfish white miners recognized they had to play ball with black miners just enough to keep them from being scabs, and nothing else, and either couldn't or wouldn't bring themselves to transcend either their own racism, societally imposed standards of racism, or both. 

"Class" in capitalistic societies may ultimately be socioeconomic, but it's never JUST socioeconomic, and even that word has "socio-" in front of "economic."

And, the fact that white workers allegedly received no material benefit over racism is itself working through a quasi-Marxist lens. Many Religious Righters get no material benefit over voting GOP, but due to pro-life issues, continue to do so. This idea of nonmaterial sociological benefits is behind the whole idea of "mudsills," also covered by Eric Foner and others.

Second, a lot of people with either a class-only or a class-first lens for these issues are getting a little butt-hurt. That's fine, or "fine." It adds to my contrarian nature on something like this. 

Related, per one Twitter commenter? I do not claim to be seeing things through a "race-only" lens. Or necessarily through a race-first lens, though, if you want my comment on that, I DO view Jim Crow that way. Let's not forget that the incident that led to Plessy was about public transportation — nothing to do with labor issues. And, I'm sure I'm far from alone about viewing Jim Crow laws, and other elements of segregation, through a race-first lens.

Seriously, while I think Reed has some insights, I 

A. Think he's wrong on this issue;
B. Think there's a cult of sorts of Adolf Reed; and
C. Think there's a cult of sorts of chic Marxism.

Well, as a good neo-Cynic, I love puncturing cults' balloons.

Also, re the background of some of the class-first scattershotters, I think "Marxism" or "communism" (at least in America) are as vacuous of terms as is "liberalism." The typical self-professed American Marxist is likely to be making that profession while grasping to a handhold of a purchase in the middle class with two claw-like hands.

Beyond that, Marxists who put hammer-and-sickle combos on their Twitter bios, or nom-de-plumes, probably are unaware that the sickle comes from the Bolsheviks forcibly incorporating the Russian peasants' party, the Social-Revolutionaries.

Finally, no, I don't claim "some of my best friends are ..." I do state that I've spent a clear majority of the last 15 years in not just majority-minority cities (ever more big cities in America are majority-minority in the central city, and a fair amount in the broader metropolitan areas), but in majority-minority communities or neighborhoods, or suburbs or small towns. 


At the same time, having run into social justice warriors, or SJWs, repeatedly online, and now, more and more, within Green Party activism groups, I am halfway sympathetic to some of Reed's worries about Black Lives Matter, and other identity politics-based activism groups.

Halfway sensitive.

But not all the way sensitive.

And, still not really sensitive at all to the idea of needing to see nearly all issues of the left through a class-first lens.


Update: This led me to write a blog post about Twitter protectionism by myself or others, kind of like a miniature version of concern trolling. Well, sometime between writing the Reed piece and it, Henwood blocked me. Good-bye. Just to make it formal, even though he wasn't following me, I blocked him back.

I should add, per this Existential Comics issue, that it's "interesting," during the time I followed him on Twitter, that Henwood just about never, if at all, mentioned Frantz Fanon. I'm not sure Reed does a lot, either.

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