Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Europeans so often look at the United States with a mix of wonderment, disgust and deep confusion, especially when it comes to Americans voting against their own economic interests—as is the case with the support for Donald Trump of a sizeable portion of the white working class. For the outside observer it’s hard to make sense of images like those of the red faced and uninsured white American holding a sign reading ‘keep your hands off my healthcare!’ and vehemently rejecting a government that could provide affordable systems of care, education and housing.
Key to understanding this is the ‘southern strategy’—a tenuous partnership between disaffected poor whites in the newly de-segregated south and wealthy white northerners, pioneered by the Republican Party and glued together with the common goal of dismantling black progress, which in the 1960s was gaining pace with the black-led civil rights movement and groups like the Black Panthers.
The revitalised racist rhetoric born during Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in the late 1960s buttressed the enactment of anti-welfare policies—a thread that continues in American politics through a convoluted association of any social program with the advancement of undeserving black people.
It was surely not the first time the wealthy white class used racism and economic frustration among the white working class to secure their wealth—in fact, this tactic is as old as the institutionalisation of chattle slavery itself
Whilst the southern strategy explains in part the racist underpinnings of contemporary American politics, the failure of white liberal non-profit organisations and individuals to tackle it is less often discussed.
My own story can help shed light on this. At 11 years old my parents sent me to a progressive K-12 private school in Baltimore County. I was one of a handful of black students in a school filled with the children of upper class white liberals, and I was silenced. The school board was more interested in black students existing to share our culture for a white multicultural experience, rather than creating a safe atmosphere for all students to learn.
White teachers and students attempted to relate to us through distorted visions of black authenticity, and in doing so consumed us as objects. When racial issues arose and I felt compelled to share my knowledge, white students, usually male, shouted me down when my critiques ran too deep.In the microcosm of this elite private school I lived this American political dilemma: a white and educated progressive class unwilling to actively address and dismantle racism and classism.
Some staff members took it upon themselves to create spaces for black students to vent about these racist aggressions, but the institution as a whole did little to actively address the students and teachers racial biases on the grounds that it may make the majority of students feel uncomfortable.
The few white students known to be from a working class family often faced outright rejection as dirty and ignorant from the wealthiest students. They could serve no purpose in maintaining the latter’s white liberal identity, predicated on being not racist and having exposure to multi-ethnic cultures.
In the microcosm of this elite private school I lived this American political dilemma: a white and educated progressive class unwilling to actively address and dismantle racism and classism. Just as my wealthy white-run school kept its black students in a cramped space of personal and intellectual expression, so too does the white-run ‘non-profit industrial complex’—a term Ruth Gilmore Wilson uses in her essay The Revolution Will Not Be Funded to describe the professionalised organisations that seek to ‘manage’ social and political movements and act as gatekeepers to funding, among other functions.
This sprawling sector emerged in the vacuum of a welfare state shrunk in part by policies informed by the southern strategy and it is extremely lucrative: by 2035 it is expected to gain a cumulative 1 trillion dollars. Thus for the liberal white elite, launching systemic challenges against racism would not only be culturally uncomfortable, but would also threaten an entire industry and professional class nestled within—and profiting from—their comfortable white politics.
Armed with the assurance of being both better than white racists and performing necessary benevolent gestures to help assist an underclass assumed to be powerless, organisations like United Way, the Carnegie Foundation, and a slew of federal watchdog advocacy groups, have created an entrenched culture of political stasis. This political ecosystem differs greatly from the grassroots activism and community-based strategies that actually shifted cultures of racism and policies of oppression in the 1960s.
This is partly a consequence of legal and structural limitations. As Gilmore writes, ‘the shadow state . . . without significant political clout, forbidden by law to advocate for systemic change, and bound by public rules and non-profit charters to stick to its mission or get out of business and suffer legal consequences if it strays along the way.’
Yet there is something deeper and more destructive at work here. In Dr. Amie ‘Breeze’ Harper’s recently published article Don’t Include Black Me In Your White We she talks of a ‘non-racist racism’ that exists among many white liberals:
‘You’ve been this way since the ante-bellum slavery officially ended. You were that “moderate” white person who didn’t think Black people should be “slaves”… but also didn’t think they really should have the same power, resources, agency as any white person. And yea, you considered yourself one of the “good” whites since you weren’t lynching Black people like those “bad” whites; yours was a kinder non-racist racism.’
The white liberal left, with their objectifying interest in people of colour, classist separation from the white poor and moneyed interest in the continuation of the non-profit industrial complex, have prevented those individuals and organisations that must lead their own struggle from taking the fore in the fight against racism in American society. It doing so, they have helped create a vacuum for a white supremacist outburst to sweep the nation.
In order to dismantle the southern strategy and address the system of white supremacy that continues to run this country, white Americans must embark on anti-racist work that both takes the lead from black and brown activists and also tackles racism among poor whites. It is the duty of white people to educate their own communities and demystify the centuries long notion that racism will help the poorest white people attain wealth. In reality, the false hope that belonging to the white race will deliver prosperity keeps them chained to the whims of the 1%. It must be known that the global liberation of black and brown people will usher in an era where we reject the notion that slavery and colonialism are necessary to build a prosperous and happy society.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going