Systemic Economic Disparities: Bigger Than Class.


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My post from yesterday, in which I used San Francisco's Chinatown as an example of systemic economic issues and the sway they have over perceptions of race, showed up on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog at The Atlantic this morning. After reading the commentary by TNC and the community, I want to clarify a couple of points.

First, my language around the systemic forces shaping Chinatown poverty makes it sound like I'm saying that "one plus two equals three, and three is greater than one or two." Let me state for the record that I'm neither down with oppression addition nor with Oppression Olympics. Different groups have different experiences, period, because human beings have different lives. It bears repeating.

And second, my point was absolutely not that class trumps race. Get that away from me! I draw a very clear distinction between "class" and "systemic economic issues," and my post was about the latter. Individuals can travel class and race in ways and degrees that communities can't; a young black doctor can move his family to the suburbs, but a black community near a factory can't relocate away from its high rates of environmentally related diseases. Systemic economic conditions aren't a moment or a status; they persist backward and forward through time, with racially disparate outcomes, usually with origins in targeted racist policies of the past. And they're as unique as the communities they afflict. They don't have the last word on our class, perceived race, and intermarriage rates as individuals. But they've got the first word and on.

In the comments, sometime TNC guester Cynic makes some good critiques and rightly calls my frame a political one. Organizing's not in my own background, but it is in the backgrounds of most of the people from whom I've learned about race as an adult. So when I think and talk about race, I'm often doing it in terms of alliances, or of economics, or of macro levels in general. So, yes, my aim is to tackle cyclical economic, health, and housing disparities. This doesn't preclude race at all; indeed, it can't be accomplished without a race lens and some smart, empowering, identity-explicit alliance work. Organizing campaigns and media campaigns that ignore race are ignoring the complex identities and histories of the communities they're working with, and they lose.

TNC, Cynic and I are all pretty much in agreement. I just want to make it crystal that I'm not saying that class > race. I think that's a really toxic bit of liberal colorblindness that needs to end.

Also in the comments, someone asked "what can be done?" I'll say that my line on Chinese immigrant communities comes directly from some great and all-too-brief work with SF Chinatown's Chinese Progressive Alliance.

-- Channing Kennedy