Divide and Conquer: The Politics of Racism

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Former President Carter said in September that racism is playing a significant role in the mounting opposition to President Obama by the right wing. The politics of racism are once again on display, as the forces of right-wing mass media and reaction look to divide and confuse the working class.

The racist images of Obama are intended to prey on the fears and doubts of the white working class, poor, and middle class as they face the onslaught of mass unemployment, home foreclosures, bankruptcies, and declining wages.

Extreme right-wing elements in the Republican Party and corporate media like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, South Carolina Rep Joe “You Lie” Wilson, and right-wing militias are using McCarthy-Era tactics to confuse and divide the working class along racial lines. They are whipping up racist venom and using boogeyman language to describe Obama, as death threats against the President have increased 400% compared to Bush. If the blame for this crisis is not placed at the doorstep of capitalism and its two-party system, then African-Americans, immigrants, LGBT people, and labor unions will become scapegoats for the crisis.

The GOP’s “White Voter” Strategy
From 1968 to 2000, the GOP electoral strategy reaped the benefits of the white backlash against the gains of the militant black freedom movement, anti-Vietnam War, and women’s movement. In the absence of a clear alternative from the labor movement, former Democratic Party working-class whites (particularly men), began to vote and support the GOP. Since 2000, however, the white-voter strategy has lead to several electoral defeats for the Republicans. In desperation, the GOP has sought to return to overt racism and fear-mongering in order to appeal to the most backward and confused elements of white workers and the middle class.

The economic tsunami has washed away the remnants of the American Dream for the working class and poor. Among African-Americans there is a raging economic depression with 12% official unemployment. A recent study by United for a Fair Economy showed nearly 30% of African Americans have zero or negative financial worth compared to 15% of whites.

How to Fight Racism
The racism we are witnessing in right-wing media and demonstrations is woven into the social fabric of capitalism. Racism, just like nationalism, is used to cut across potential working-class unity and the social power of working people to combat the policies of big business. Racism is used to continue the subjugation of people of color, particularly the black working class and poor, maintaining a state of inferiority, economic despair, political disenfranchisement, and social decay. Pious pontificating about a post-racial America, as imagined by Obama, is wishful thinking and cannot take on the forces of the right wing and racism. A militant, grassroots, and multi-ethnic movement of the working class and poor is urgently needed in our workplaces, communities, and schools to combat the racist agenda of the two-party system and big business.

Only a movement that campaigns for living-wage jobs for all, massive public works in our inner cities, ending police violence, and the building of our own political and organizational weapon – a party of the working class – will be able to cut across the racist poison and dead end of the extreme right.

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