Race v. Class? More Brilliant Bourgeois Bullshit from Ta-Nehesi Coates

Street, Paul
Date Written:  2017-09-15
Publisher:  CounterPunch
Year Published:  2017
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21320

Coates is either flat-out lying or woefully ignorant when he argues that "the left" is disinterested in the big and significant problems of racial identity and racial justice. The longstanding legitimately Left progressive agenda addresses both race and class at one and the time. It does not accept Coates' false dichotomy between class and race.



“To say that the rise of Donald Trump is about more than race,” Coates asserts, “is to make an empty statement, one that is small comfort to the people – black, Muslim, immigrant – who live under racism’s boot” (emphasis added).

The first part of that statement is sheer nonsense. Of course we should not expect Black and brown victims of racism should to be soothed or cheered by the knowledge that a racist president is also a sexist, a plutocratic fake-populist, a nativist, a reckless militarist, and an enemy of livable ecology. But surely those (including people suffering directly under racial oppression) who oppose racists in high office should and generally do also oppose sexism, nativism, and the rest. And surely, decent anti-racist people would want to understand all the factors that contributed to the terrible ascendancy of a horrific racist president like Donald Trump, including factors besides race and racism alone, no? Right? Hello?


Meanwhile the real conflict for many of us on the actual Left isn’t between identity politics and class politics. It’s between bourgeois, zero-sum, divide-and-rule identity politics and a left politics that understands racially (and gender- and ethnic- and so on) specific experience, oppression, and identity as critical in building movements of popular solidarity in the struggles against the combined, interrelated, and overlapping evils of class rule, racial oppression, imperialism, patriarchy, police-statism, and – last but not least – ecocide.


Coates is absurdly over-focused on the statements of top candidates and other political elites. The solutions to contemporary capitalism-racism-imperialism-sexism-ecocide and other related evils won’t come from the top down. They’ll have to emerge from the common people, everyday workers and citizens, struggling and organizing from the bottom up.

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