Ian F. Haney López is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of a number of influential books in critical race theory including White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York University Press, 1997) and Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford University Press, 2014). Fernando Gómez Herrero is Honorary Fellow (Modern Languages and Cultures) at Birkbeck College, University of London.
The following is the second of a two-part series. The first can be found here.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: I suppose that you would say that culture was code for white supremacy. If those guys are doing that, what would the counter-narrative have been? A more dynamic, more pluralistic and open, more relativistic-multicultural?
Ian Haney López: I would have said that then. But now I would say that argument was doomed. And here is the difference. Was the problem in the 1970s and the 1980s really that some scholars misunderstood culture? Because if that was the problem, then the solution is, find really hard ways to promote the right understanding of culture. If that is the problem, that makes sense. I and a lot of other problem seemed to respond in that way. That is the problem, that people seem to misunderstand the problem of culture. But, from decades removed, especially when we are talking about Richard Nixon, that wasn’t the problem at all.
The problem was that Barry Goldwater first and Richard Nixon after him, learned that the surest route to political power in the United States, in the face of the Civil Rights Movement demand for racial equality and for racial integration, was to stoke white racist fears and that they could pursue this route to power by seeming not to be racist, by repurposing the language of culture. In other words, the problem that needed to be solved in the 1970s and 1980s was not a misunderstanding of culture. It was the purposeful misuse of culture as a route to power by people who were strategic demagogues.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Is culture the only language available?
Ian Haney López: I think that culture was the main language available as a way to repackage racial stereotypes because racism had always conflated culture and biology. So many racial stereotypes were cultural and behavioral stereotypes. So, it was very easy to leave those out to repeat whilst simultaneously saying “I am not racist because I am not mentioning biology and I am not using a racial epithet.”
So, this culture and race was the route. It was not the only one. I and many others use the term “culture war politics.” Culture war politics is a way of saying this is not just about race, instead it was about every source of social hierarchy that could be harnessed to distract people from the reality that power was increasingly hijacked by economic elites.
To make this more concrete, the Republican Party used to be widely known as the Party of Big Business. How in the world did they become a populist party? They became a populist party by saying to voters “the real threat in your life comes from your neighbors, who differ from you in one or other of those variable hierarchies, different skin color, or different gender or gender orientation, different religion or different immigrant status, fear your neighbors, don’t worry about the fact that this economy is increasingly run for the benefit of the very rich.”
There is a class strategy to promote culture-war politics. Here, the word culture is operating in a different resonance. Here, the word culture is used in contradistinction to class issues. We are not going to talk about class issues. We are going to be talking about the language of Rights in the approach to politics. The Right is going to insist that when we use a word like “elite,” that the Right pushes us to think in cultural terms rather than in economic terms.
And it is that way that someone like Donald Trump can present himself as anti-elitist whilst simultaneously saying that someone like myself, a University professor is the true elite in the country, [and] he reads The New York Times. Richard Nixon is really the pioneer of this.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Hispanic is conventionally “non-white” in the U.S., but there is more than that: give me a synthesis of your White by Law (1997).
Ian Haney López: If you are born in the U.S., you are a citizen of the U.S. And that birthright to citizenship was codified finally in the fourteenth Amendment. But if you are not born in the U.S., you have to go through a process called “naturalization.” We call naturalization the process whereby a person who was not born in the U.S. becomes a citizen of the U.S. Congress in 1790 in one of the very first acts passed the law that said citizenship through naturalization was only available to free white persons.
The result of this is people had to figure out who was white and who was not. Under the sort of common sense of race, it should be obvious, and people think they know, but of course, once you start the push on any sort of racial categorization, it very quickly falls apart. And the same happens with “white.” And specially in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a series of cases are pursued in the U.S. Courts, including two that arrive in the Supreme Court, pushing the Court not only to decide who is white, but on what basis people should be designated white or not.
And there are two very striking cases that are decided within one year of each other that are written by the same Supreme Court Justice that are both unanimous and that reach opposite results in ways that someone is white. The first case involves someone of Japanese descent, Takao Ozawa, and part of his argument is that he is white as a matter of skin color. He makes an argument in court that says, “look at my skin color, my skin color is whiter, more pale, more fair, than the skin color of many people who are called white. I am white, naturally.”
And the Court responded by saying, “race is not about skin color. Race is about science. It is about anthropology and about the big racial divisions that anthropologists have made. And the anthropologists distinguish between the Caucasians and the Mongoloids. And using that, people of Japanese descent are Mongoloid. Therefore, you are not white.” Eleven months later, along come Baghat Singh Tind.
Anthropologists have been confounded by the Indian sub-continent. If you deal with the continental theory of race, what do you do with the sub-continent? You have Europe. You have Asia. Now you have the subcontinent of Asia. Anthropologists by this time have decided that people from India were Caucasian or Caucasoid. So Baghat Singh Tind walks in the Court and says, “hey, six months ago you wrote this opinion that people from India are Caucasoid, therefore white, therefore naturalise me.”
And the Court completely reverses itself and it says “whatever the speculations of anthropology may be, that is not the measure of what “white” is, the measure of what “white” is, is common knowledge. And under common knowledge, people from India, and they describe them as Hindus, and under common knowledge, Hindus are not white, and therefore you are not white and therefore you cannot naturalize.”
In the space of eleven months you get the same Justice writing for the same unanimous Court saying that white is defined by anthropology and then flipping and saying, actually, it is not, science has nothing to do with this, it is all common knowledge. What I am trying to convey in White by Law is the Court was correct the second time. This isn’t biology. This isn’t science. This isn’t a part of the natural world. It is social practices.
It has always been social practices, including the social practices of the Supreme Court when its health pervades a cultural common sense of racial hierarchy in that something that should be legitimately recognized and enforced by law. Just to be clear, the Court is correct when it comes down to understand race as a matter of common knowledge. But it could not be more wrong in pretending that that common knowledge isn’t problematic, and it could not be more wrong in legitimating the use of those cultural myths and hatreds as a basis of allocating membership in society.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Teasing out a bit what I said before, if the Hispanic category is conventionally non-white, and its three main groups are Mexican, Cuban and Puerto-Rican, and there are other many subcategories, what is happening now? How do we net and how do we make sense now of those social practices about this “Hispanic social construct,” recalling your aforementioned article, that is combining phenotypic differences, origins, contexts, choices, coming out of that rich background that you have just talked about?
Ian Haney López: I think the core there is to cover this shift about how we conceptualize racism that I previously mentioned. There are two conceptions of racism on the table: the one that is predominant, that is widely shared but it is rarely examined, is the belief that racism is fundamentally a conflict, a hierarchy, that is white over non-white. The other is a belief that racism is fundamentally a class-weapon that promotes white over non-white hierarchy as a strategy. These are very different ways of thinking about racism. They start from different implications for emancipation.
So, we are now moving in the conversation between the analysis, which says this is what is actually going on, to what does this suggest for or around war.Just to stay on the analysis side, the “this is what is happening.” My work over the last decade has really been to document the way in which racial rhetoric in American politics became part of the class war, and to show that there is a direct connection between two of the most significant developments in the United States over the last fifty years: one, the rise of increasing levels of government violence against communities of color, combined with racial division, increasingly fracturing racial conflict, and simultaneously, the mass transfer of wealth from Americans up to the top 1%.
These two are connected. Why are they connected? Because we are in the midst of a class war that is being won by the rich where the main weapon is the promotion of racial conflict through government. When that is the main weapon, that is not merely a rhetorical strategy, it is a strategy that translates into governmental policy.
The other thing I’d say is that this isn’t a new development. The other side is more general. Racism arises hand in hand with the development of capitalism in the context of colonialism. Colonialism simultaneously creates and exploited an economic system that relies for its moral justification upon racism. These two rise together. Racism has always been from its inception part of an exploitative economic system, and they are inseparable, that was true in the rise of racism as a way to explain the enslavement of people of African descent, it was true in the U.S. just after slavery ended, where there was a movement in the South to build a common cause between the people freed from slavery and for whites that ultimately failed because of the return and the appeal of white supremacy.
This insight of the inseparable connection between economic exploitation, between wealth inequality and racial inequality, was one also promoted by Martin Luther King Jr. late in his life, especially with the poor peoples’ campaign. You see it in more radical figures like Fred Hampton in the Black Panthers. You see it in Dolores Huerta and César Chávez in the United Farm Workers. Over and over again, we see a radical vision in the U.S. that says “we cannot significantly remedy racism or reform capitalism without doing both simultaneously.” This is an analytic claim.
So, now we can start to segue towards what that means for emancipation. So, let us think about the emancipatory implications of these different paradigms. If you perceive in the paradigm that racism is primarily a hierarchy of white over non-white, if that is what you perceive fundamentally, what does that suggest about emancipation? In a place like the U.S., it suggests a dire future.
It suggests almost the impossibility of a genuine reform because the analysis then unfolds along these lines: if racism favors whites over non-whites, and the large segment of the population is white, and a disproportionate amount of power is held by whites, power that is economic, political, cultural, etc. and whites see themselves, consciously or subconsciously as helped by racism, then it is simply really not realistic to expect that you are going to enlist more than a few exceptional whites in the struggle for racial equality.
And this is one of the currents within critical race theory, most closely associated with Derrick Bell, who says that racism is permanent. And he is coming to this conclusion from within this paradigm. What does that suggest for a route to social change? It suggests that fundamental change is fundamentally impossible, seek what happiness you can, see what joy you can, in simply standing up and resisting, but you must know that you will not succeed. Any temporary peak of progress, he says, will slide into irrelevance. That makes sense from that point of view.
I think it helps us understand both the mindset but also the temperament of many of the people engaged in racial justice work in the U.S. today. Operating within this paradigm, racism is primarily white over non-white hierarchy. They are deeply pessimistic about the possibility of fundamental reform and see little option but to denounce, disrupt, condemn. Certainly, very little incentive to compromise, because why compromise if you are never going to win anyway? If compromise is simply, inevitably cooptation.
Now, to move to the second paradigm. What follows if in fact racism is primarily a class weapon that succeeds by promoting white-over-non-white conflict but that ultimately hurts everyone in the U.S. except for the very rich. What follows is a different vision of social transformation. It is a vision in which perhaps the vast majority of whites can be convinced to see their own salvation depends not upon fighting racism against Black and Brown people and instead build a common cause with people across the racial divide so that these white people can be helped to take care of their own families.
And this is the vision of Martin Luther King: anti-Black racism is the biggest threat in the lives that we all face, white, black or any other race. Do we face it in the same way? No! Anti-black racism, way worse for Black people. Nevertheless, we are all threatened by it because to the extent that we invest in anti-black racism, and we invest in white supremacy, we hand over control of our country to the wealthy few who run it for their benefit, to extract more and more wealth from the rest of us.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Just to make sure, you will occupy this second position.
Ian Haney López: Yes. It is the second position that I come to advocate, it is worth mentioning, not simply as a theoretical matter, not simply because it seems to flow from my analytic perspective towards “racism as a class weapon” sort of analysis. I advocate this position because for the last four years I have been actively testing it. This is a different part of the conversation in relation to my orientation towards academia and towards projects.
As I move from Derrick Bell’s despair about the permanence of racism to sensing that a cross-racial supermajority of Americans might be created on the basis of cross-racial solidarity as necessary to economic emancipation, as I begin to move towards this fusion of racial justice and economic justice, it begins to me to see that it opened a route to political change in the U.S. to the problem of racial demagoguery by the billionaire class.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: This comment goes naturally into your latest book Merge Left. This is my synthesis of the book and I would like your engagement with it: the racist strategising on the Right needs a class-and-race strategising counterpart by a coalitional Left, something like a “Popular Front,” you just called it a “racial supermajority,” is that it?
Ian Haney López: It is but there is a very important clarification here. The calls for a “popular front” and the “cross-racial solidarity” are quite common. Typically, the move is to say, we all need to unite, we all need cross-racial solidarity, but race divides us, so let us suppress a tension for race and racism, and focus on what theoretically unites us, our class issues. So, very often, a “popular-front” message, or a “cross-racial solidarity” message is actually couched in color-blind terms. And by color-blind terms, I mean the adoption of the idea that suppressing that tension to racism is the way to build common cause.
And there I am saying the opposite: I am saying the single most successful weapon in breaking social solidarity is racial division, and we cannot successfully recreate social solidarity, unless we directly address racial division. If I change your wording just slightly, we need a deeply race-conscious popular front. We need an expressly anti-racist 99%. I am using 99% to pick up the language of the “Occupy Movement.”
I think one of the shortcomings of the Occupy Movement was that it thought it could create solidarity with the vast majority of Americans only or primarily, overwhelmingly on the basis of class issues, rather than recognizing that class in the U.S. is inseparable from racial fears. That is how the class issue of the American majority has been shattered and submerged to these culture-war issues of racism or homophobia or patriarchy. And we cannot rebuild social solidarity until we directly engage and defeat the primary method for shattering social solidarity, and that is anti-Black, anti-Brown racism.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Insisting on Merge Left, I find the book readable, accessible, enjoyable. It has a focus-group-incorporated format, a kind of Do-it-Yourself political strategising, or at least Think-about-It in the immediate present in the U.S, if I may put it that way. You speak of the dog whistle, which is also your previous work, as a secret handshake, or a wink, a secret signal, to stimulate hostilities, sometimes with humour to exacerbate cultural and racial differences.
Merge Left operates at this pedagogic level of accessible content, as though you were thinking “I am not going to give a big theory to my reader. I am going to give instead something very understandable, so that if you hit the street pavement, you can use it and counter-attack what is already raining on you…” Am I getting this right?
Ian Haney López: That was very much my aspiration. I said earlier that my commitment as a scholar is to be intellectually involved with the world even at times at the cost of my academic standing. A book like Merge Left is very much what I had in mind in the sense of purposefully not writing this book in a way that would impress other scholars. That is not a priority for me.
My goal in writing Merge Left was to create a handbook that would help engaged citizens to understand what is happening to us and create an analysis and a vocabulary and a vision for how we would respond. That is very much what I am trying to do. In practice I think the book may have come across to you as that. Non-scholars may see it differently.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: I did not mean it in any bad way. It combines well with your website materials (race-class-academy.com). If I push you a little bit here, if someone approaches you from a psychoanalytic perspective, and look what is happening in the U.S. now, the “big lie” still has long legs, the two parties around the events of 6th of January, it is almost like discourse analysis will at least stop the code?
Ian Haney López: I think that is one way to read it. One thing to emphasize is that, as I came to think about racial solidarity as a shared interest to fight against this class war, as we get to think along those lines, it became important to test how that works. I launched a couple of projects, recruiting communication specialists, pollsters, think tanks. I did a bunch of work. That work, by its very nature, really focused on the rhetoric of political campaigns and campaign messaging. So, it is understandable that some folk would react to Merge Left really through this lens that this about campaign messaging in a way that obscures the underlying analysis, that trivializes and minimizes what’s being said.
Again, it is a purposeful decision to try to make accessible, to try to convince people that there is good evidence that this would work. I think a clear window into the intellectual scope of Merge Left is in the afterword of the book, which I considered having as the introduction, but I didn’t. I wanted to bring people easily.
It is the afterword that really says “this may look like political messaging, but this is really about the foundation of our country and its potential demise in the near future and the incredible powerful role of racism in securing power for titans of great wealth and the importance of cross-racial solidarity, if we are to save our democracy in our society.” It is really a profound intellectual ambition to the analysis of the book, but I thought a bit of an impediment would be to communicate it that way. So, it is there. It is visible in the afterword.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: I can see that. It seems to me that you are trying to catch someone by the lapels whilst riding the train, and make sure to understand this thing quickly and then perhaps move on to something of greater complexity…
Ian Haney López: My hope was somewhat different: to show people that this would solve the immediate and pressing problem, i.e. winning elections, putting your candidate in office, breaking the power of the Republican Party, and then to hope that the sense of this immediate problem would be the motivation that people needed to engage more deeply in the implications of racism as a society-destroying force and build cross-racial solidarity as a basis for societal salvation.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Insisting on that, the book focuses on electoral political and the latest election raises all sorts of alarms: there is no majority vote without appealing to and winning the white vote, 74 million, 47% of the vote for Trump after his four years! Racism pays electorally in the U.S. and the impact of the narrative of racial fear is big: hardly a new statement.
Sociologists were already talking about the paranoid style of American politics and anti-intellectualism in American life (Hofstadter) as you have mentioned before. So, what is new now? Is it the impact of digital communication taking this to a new level (the Roger Stones, Bannons, Millers, etc.)? Is this some type of great reset of things of American society?
Ian Haney López: What’s new now is forces pushing in different directions. So, forces pushing for societal collapse. Societal collapse may sound hyperbolic, but we don’t have many more years if this trend continues, before democracy ceases to function in the U.S. We don’t have that many years in which to rein in the power of big polluters to reverse climate collapse. We don’t have many more years to avoid the rising levels of social strife that begin to resolve in widespread violence.
In the U.S. we stand on the cusp and also in Europe playing out for example in relation to Brexit. The forces pushing in that direction stand on three main pillars: one is selfish, self-interest demagogue politicians, of which there is shortage, as this route to power creates a culture of demagoguery and self-interest among politicians; second, the power of concentrated wealth, which over the last fifty years has dramatically increased, as the wealthy become far more wealthy, and this is not the fault of all of the wealthy, but it is the faulty of all those extremely wealthy who are reactionary in the mindset and the belief that society should be organized for the benefit of the rich and are willing to use their enormous wealth to pursue that aim; and the third leg of this stool is propaganda machinery. Propaganda machinery used to be print.
Then it became television, especially in the form of Fox News, radio of course also. But that propaganda machinery is becoming more powerful and more effective in the form of big data, groups like Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon, the successful manipulation of Facebook… These are the forces that are pushing us over the cliff.
What might arrest this trend, one change that might give us some breathing room, some hope, three big changes, perhaps: one, a rise of a new culture of political activism, partly animated by economic concerns, in the U.S., the 99%, the Occupy Movement, Bernie Sanders, partly animated by racial-justice concerns, in some measure Black Lives Matter, as a movement is the largest movement in the history of the U.S., in terms of numbers, in terms of geographic scope; second, an increasing political mobilization around the environment, there is a whole new generation of folk today who say “our major social systems are failing us and climate collapse is inevitable unless you change them, and I think this is a very important development, and a very important recognition; and third, what I am going to call “the costs of whiteness” are now astronomically high and perhaps might be capable of being made visible to white folk.
This is a little bit cryptic: what I mean is, white people who are organizing their social and political identities around and defending themselves as whites around politicians who have ruined the lives of white folks in terms of promoting policies that led to the disappearance of good jobs, the elimination of pension, the denial of effective access to health care, all of this scarcity that many white folk face, can be laid at the feet of politicians elected by their appeal to whiteness. So much so, that this is a qualitatively different moment than any other moment since the rise of white supremacy as an ideology that justified capitalism.
Qualitatively different because this is a moment in which the vast majority of whites might actually come to see that whiteness endangers their own families, that their belief in whiteness as a source of pride and status, that their subscription to anti-Black racism, is actually their biggest danger their own children face. And that is a huge change. Another way of expressing this is, in 1967-1968, Martin Luther King realized he needed the poor people’s campaign to unify the working poor, white and black, black and brown, but he could not get many white working class to join that movement, because consciously or unconsciously, they sensed that the benefits to being white outweighed the speculative advantages of a poor people’s movement.
That is no longer true in 2021. What are the benefits of being white to the white working class? The benefits of organizing themselves now as white, surely there are some minimal advantages over people who are black or brown, but overall, when they organize themselves as being white and around those privileges, they elect Trumpian figures, who shredded the social safety net, the economy and health care, but do shower billionaires and corporations with the largest tax cuts in the history of the country. We are at a moment where we might be able to get the majority of Americans of every different color to see that their own salvation depends upon reaching their hands across racial division and do build solidarity power with people of different color.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: In a nice moment in Merge Left, you quantify, out of 5, 1 on each side is unpersuadable, so the terrain of 3 in the middle of mixed discourse, feelings is the theatre of operations. In other words, 10% bigots, 10-15% deplorables, so that is 25% difficult to handle, then there is the rest… Trying to move forward with your presentation, it seems to me that you are placing your political faith in a type of discourse analysis that if presented to shrinking white majorities, those 3 in the middle, they will come to your side and see that they have been damaged by figures like Trump…
Ian Haney López: Yes. Several clarifications. One, the figures are actually from our initial research: 18% are on the reactionary Right, defined as people who don’t like people of color, think the rich are rich because of hard work and moral desert and they distrust government, 23% are on the broadly progressive Left, feel warmly towards people of color, believe the government has an important role to play in regulating rights of upward mobility, think the rich are rich often because of circumstance rather than the work that most of us do, and the outcome of it, [most of us] will never be rich.
Those are the polls, 18% on one hand and 23% on the other, and that’s what leaves the roughly 3 in 5 who are not in the middle in the sense of holding a considered nuanced middle position but rather who are bouncing back and forth holding elements of both systems. Another point to clarify, that 60%, that 3 in 5 in that contested middle, is not just white folk. If you think about Latinos in particular, 30% of Latinos just voted for Trump.
We need a story, even for Latinos, that explains why building power across racial divisions is a better route to take care of family than subscribing to the idea that there are good people and bad people and they better make sure they are with the good people and punch down at bad people, their neighbors. So, this is not simply how to reach white swing vote. The third point is more of a question. I am not sure what the phrase “discourse analysis” is doing here.
In my mind, I prefer the use of the term “narrative.” And by narrative, what I mean is an organising story, a story that helps people frame, understand and organise ideals about the world in which they find themselves. That shift is enormously important. So, the Right is providing a narrative. The Right narrative says, “all of us are threatened by people who are darker, vile, inferior and underserving, and even more, we are betrayed by people like liberals and the liberal government who huddles those people and refuses to control their violence, distrust liberal government, trust the market and the wealthy to be the engine of social progress.”
That’s a story. That’s world view. It is repeated in many different forms across many different mediums daily. People are bombarded with that story. Progressives need a counter-story. We need a counter-narrative. So, that is really what Merge Left provides. It is a story that says, “we are all in it together no matter what we look like, no matter where we come from, it is an appeal to our common equality, and it goes on to say that some politicians backed by dark money profit from division, distrust those who stoke division, build power with others, make sure that government actually works for us.” And I am calling that a narrative, a story that, again, can be told in many different forms across many different media repeatedly to give people the way to frame what is happening.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: The end of the book, the references to the togetherness, the “we the people,” embracing the founding ideals, against the radical oppressive dehumanisation, we demand the American revolution): is this language strong enough, convincing enough? Or is it what is most available now?
Ian Haney López: I think it is. But, again, I make the distinction. One question is, “hey, what is the most successful way of communicating these ideas to different audiences in the electoral context?” And the other is, “how convincing is this analysis and how likely is this theory of social change to succeed?” It is important not to conflate the two. We can have more intellectual and more ideological folk and look at the language that is persuasive and say, “what is persuasive? It does not persuade me, it offends me, anything that talks of patriotism is a “fuck them!”
They are reacting in the wrong way. Separate out the question of “what language works” and this is a learning experience for me. That is why I hired a communications specialist. I, as an academic, had no idea what language worked best to communicate these insights to the vast majority of white people, African American, Latinos, Asian American and Pacific Islanders… I did not know. I had to go and find out. Separate that out from this really important issue, how it is the analysis and what is the likelihood of success in this approach to social change.
On that question, let us try to strike a nuanced position: I think building cross-racial solidarity, the basis of seeing racism as a class weapon that hurts all of us is the most likely route towards political power and democratic salvation. I emphasize the “most likely.” Does that mean it is likely? No. I think things are scary. But I am also pretty clear that the other two principle routes on offer are going to fail. One of those is “simply ignore racism and emphasize the immediacy of class issues or may environmental issues. But in any event, don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by racial-justice issues.”
That is going to fail. And it is going to fail the way it has always failed because the Right understands that division works, and that is what they are investing heavily in all the time. The Left may decide to stop talking about race but that is not going to be the end of “race talk” in society. Because the Right is promoting race talk constantly. The other main route on offer is denunciations of white racism, the sort of denunciations that come from folks who prioritize racial justice and understand racism as fundamentally “white over non-white hierarchy.” Will this promote fundamental social change?
I think even a lot of the race-folks think “no, it won’t.” That is why this denunciatory, accusatory stance. They don’t think it is going to succeed. So, to my mind, we basically have three options: class only, race only, or fused race-class approach in which we say “we are all in it together, we are being divided by racism, fight racism, so that we can take care of our families of whatever color we are.” In my mind, the evidence is pretty clear, that is the most likely route to succeed.
What does it depend on? Widespread adoption, the hard work of building racial egalitarianism, corporate buying in, buying in by the Labor Movement… The obstacles are huge. I do not want to say this is a panacea, if we get this. We are halfway to the rainbow. But I do genuinely believe this is the most likely route to rebuilding our society, to saving democracy, reverting climate collapse. I also think it is the most likely route to racial justice.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Will the minorities save America? Will the minorities save us?
Ian Haney López: No. I think what might save us is a sense of our shared humanity across lines of division, whether we are privileged or disadvantaged by those lines of division. That is the only source of salvation: people who feel they are disadvantaged, are they going to save us? It is not going to happen. That just describes a contemporary vision. But it has not worked yet and it is not going to work.
We need people who are partially advantaged by various social hierarchies to realize that their fate is nevertheless threatened unless they reach across those lines of division, and build power with others who are partially disadvantaged, so that all of us together can stand up to the power of concentrated wealth. In another way, this is another more simple metaphor I have heard in the Labor Movement, “The only antidote to money power is people power.” And to that I would add, “and the people who understand that best are the money power people and that is why they invest so heavily in fracturing social solidarity.”
So, if we want any chance of being able to stand up to money power, the money power that is threatening our democracy, destroying our environment and funding and promoting systematic state violence against communities of color, if we have any chance of standing up to money power, we must create people power, and creating people power requires affirmatively rejecting division and building a sense of linked fate. Who is going to save us? All of us are going to save us or none of us will be saved.