WHITEY WHITE: The Unbearable Whiteness of the American Left

In the United States, campaigns for social justice are always “a racial thing.” That doesn’t mean they might not be about other “things,” too. Indeed, they invariably are. Race does not exist in a vacuum. But in a country that has never considered equality beyond its most abstract iterations and that has practiced slavery far longer than freedom, race is never entirely absent.

Nor is this a new problem. It’s a longstanding, endemic and entrenched feature of what purports to be the American left and the causes with which it identifies. It is difficult to imagine a progressive American movement that does not have the interests of minorities and the poor at its heart—whom else would it exist for? As Karl Marx noted in Capital: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” And yet the physical presence of those groups in the spaces created by the “left” all too often appear as an afterthought, if indeed they appear at all.

“However rebellious children may be, they have their parents’ genes,” wrote Andrew Kopkind in 1968. “American radicals are Americans. They cannot easily cross class lines to organize groups above or below their own station. They are caught in the same status traps as everyone else, even if they react self-consciously.”

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