Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Race-Obsessed, Class-Blind

Chauncey DeVega, editor and founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes, has written an interesting, topical, and thoroughly patronizing essay addressed to "angry white conservatives who are mourning Mitt Romney's loss."   If the piece is intended to annoy conservatives as well as liberals who aware of the impact of class, gender (did I mention class?) and factors other than race, it is also a brilliant essay.

Noting "ultimately, Barack Obama is a Black man who is the chief executive of a white government," DeVega recognizes that the President "has done remarkably little in terms of advancing policy goals that would directly benefit people of color in the United States. In fact, Obama has spoken less about race than any president in 50 years."   Remarkably, this was after he asserted that having a black President of the U.S.A. is "a ground breaking achievement that should not be easily discounted or dismissed."  Except, presumably, that he has done virtually nothing to address the unique needs of blacks and has chosen to ignore the issue beyond that of "any president in 50 years."   There are echoes here of Republicans who have responded to the thundering rejection of their party's agenda by Hispanics by vowing to enlist more candidates who speak Spanish and look Latin, whatever their ideology.

DeVega points out

...White men control every major social, political, economic, and cultural institution in the United States. With few exceptions, white men are the CEOs of every Fortune 500 company.
White men control both Hollywood and the mass media. There, approximately 95 percent of the most important positions as writers, directors, advertising, producers, show runners, executives, and the like are held by white men.

This is a great advantage in a country where white men make up 30 percent of the U.S. population.

White men control the United States Congress and Senate. There are now 20 women in the Senate—a record number. But there are no African Americans in the same governing body. There are two Hispanic and Asian senators, respectively. The majority of senior-level and cabinet positions in the federal government are held by white men. White men are also over-represented on the United States Supreme Court.

It is unclear whether DeVega is addressing white people generally or conservative whites when he claims "people who look just like you remain in charge."   Remarkably, however, not all whites look alike, and I haven't yet found "in charge" anyone who looks like the Caucasian neighbor of mine, or is much like him.  Instead, the ones in charge are just like the bank executive who received total compensation of $261 million during his five years as CEO while his firm- which at $476.2 billion was the most generously aided recipient of federal largesse during the financial crisis- lost nearly 90% of its stock price.   Shortly before his recent departure, he steered his corporation to an $88 million quarterly loss, but as CNN Money reports

Citigroup said Friday that the former CEO, who resigned last month in a management shakeup, will receive an “incentive award” of $6.7 million for his work at the bank this year.  Former president and chief operating officer John Havens, who stepped down along with Pandit, is getting $6.8 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The two men will also continue collecting deferred cash and stock compensation from last year, awards valued at $8.8 million for Pandit and $8.7 million for Havens. 

Is Vikram Pandit even white- is he among the "people who look just like you"?   DeVega no doubt would want to know, or would assume he is.  I don't care, nor would historian/author Thomas Frank, who even in 2004 understood "the great goal of the backlash is to nurture a cultural class war, and the first step in doing so, as we have seen, is to deny the economic basis of social class."   He recognized the general applicability to the nation's conservative movement when he criticized the College Republicans of Kansas University by acknowledging

These complaints are of course small beer by the usual standards of oppression and unfairness.  I was never beaten for trying to vote or shot at for walking off the job. But these developments were nonetheless sufficient to awaken me to the existence of class, of the elite.  Also to the startling fact that I was not part of it.  The Franks may have lived near them, but I could no more choose to join them at their well-appointed table (to return to David Brook's cafeteria metaphor) than I could flap my arms and fly to the moon.  I had about as much of a stake in the order that propped up Mission Hills, I now realized, as did the Section Eight residents in decrepit midtown Kansas City, shuffling along the street muttering curses to themselves.

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