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Monday, April 11, 2011

Ponder how race and class intersect

I've studied a lot about race, specifically in African American Studies readings and classes. However, I realize I have sometimes given other categories of identity, especially class, proverbial short shrift. And at this point, I can't say which I believe is more important; I've read thinkers who say race is the operative category of difference dividing societies, including in the U.S., while others who say, "It's all about money." And there are merits to both sides: for example, one could point to the history of political movements in this country and say Americans have organized along lines of race far more than lines of class, and at the same time, one could reduce a lot of power in this society to who has capital.

The most reasonable conclusion I have come up with regarding these issues is that race and class overlap and intersect to the point where you arguably can't talk about one without talking about the other. For example, racial slavery as it operated for the first few centuries of U.S. history was at its base an economic system that certainly had a lot to do with both race and class. At the same time, today wealth has been racially divided as a result of a long history of denying people of color opportunities for accumulating familial assets (including through enslavement and other means); today a white family with a level of income comparable to, for example, an black family can sometimes have 11 times (!) the level of total wealth of the black family due to assets that the white family has been able to accumulate over generations.

So perhaps, through all of this thinking about the intersections of identities, I am wondering how to challenge oppression when it can coexist with privilege. White families with racial privilege can be oppressed by class, and black families who are rich can still face racism. Given this co-existence of oppressions, I wonder how to challenge both racism and classism, without prioritizing one form of oppression over another. I don't think the answer is in overthrowing a particular oppressive system, but perhaps there is some way to advance dialogue without saying one form of oppression matters more than another.

What do you think?