White Supremacy and the Progressive Movement
Host Jacqueline Luqman is joined by Paul Jay to discuss the importance of combating white supremacy within the context of a broad people’s movement
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi, I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
The progressive movement is growing in the United States. And in that growth, they’re confronting issues that have been long dormant in politics and in society. One of those issues is white supremacy. The question: is white supremacy the most pressing issue that progressives have to face going forward, or is it not, is something that I’m talking about today with Paul Jay, the Editor-in-Chief of The Real News Network. Hi Paul, thank you so much for joining me.
PAUL JAY: Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So we see this great progressive groundswell that’s happening now in American politics and American society. It’s threatening to some, threatening to the capitalist elites, but it’s a welcomed change for a lot of people, especially people on the bottom, especially the oppressed, the working class, and particularly Black people. One of the arguments that is hotly debated in the progressive movement is white supremacy. Is that the issue that the progressive movement has to address and resolve, so to speak, before it can gain any traction in this country, or is it something else?
PAUL JAY: Well, again, my little caveat at the beginning–I’m just speaking for myself here. The Real News, as such, doesn’t have a position on such things.
I think the answer is yes and no. White supremacy is an ideology. It exists in the realm of ideas, opinions, the way we treat each other. It’s an ideology born from slavery, and not just an American slavery, but slavery that goes back, whether you want to go back as far as Rome and Greece. The origin of the ideology is that you must dehumanize those who you super-exploit. You must treat people you super-exploit, especially slaves, you must treat them as subhuman. And whether it’s the attitude of the British to the Irish or the Romans to the Slavs or the cross-Atlantic slave trade and Black slaves, African slaves, in the United States. The essence of it is the economic relationship. You need to super-exploit, take away the rights of this section of people, so that you can exploit them in slavery without reserve. I mean, the only mitigation of it is you’ve paid for people, so you don’t want to kill them unnecessarily because you’re losing your property.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Their property.
PAUL JAY: That’s like the only limit there is. Other than that, a slave has no rights. Which is, you treat people like animals. So the ideology born out of that that allows people to think of other people in such a way that you can carry out that, that in American terms is white supremacy. White supremacy has another role, again ideological, which is to make white workers think they’re better than Black workers and to divide the Black working class from the white working class, and to say to white workers, “You may think you’ve got it bad, but at least you have the dignity or respect, or whatever the hell it is, of being white.”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The intangible benefit of whiteness.
PAUL JAY: Of which there is. So it’s also to divide people. But to say that a system of ideas is the problem doesn’t answer the question, why does this white supremacy keep being perpetuated? What keeps it continuing on in the society? There’s no overt slavery anymore, so why do we still have such power of an ideology born from slavery? And the answer is because this system wants to continue to super-exploit People of Color, particularly Black people and particularly Black people who are the descendants of slaves. Because even African immigrants in the United States don’t get treated as badly as the sections of the population, like in Baltimore. You had levels of this supremacy. So an educated African feels superior to Black Americans unless the Black Americans have made a ton of money, then they can transcend, to some extent, this.
But the underlying issue is economic relationship. And so, you gotta talk about who owns stuff, who has power, how wealth is distributed, but more importantly, how it’s owned. And if we don’t keep talking and focusing on that, you can’t change the consequences of white supremacy. Because otherwise, what is white supremacy?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, I think some people would argue that yes, that is actually born out to be true. Where even in the throes of class struggle, even in the throes of, say, the struggle of the labor movement, where on most other issues, working-class whites and poor whites realize “we have much more in common with Black people than we do with the people who we work for.” If it were not an issue with just something in the DNA of the way white people, or maybe the way their thought process is conditioned to operate, that someone, anyone can come in and say, “Well, I understand that you think that you have a lot in common with them, you’re better than they are.” So if it’s not an issue of “look, this is just how some white people think,” then how do we explain that?
PAUL JAY: It’s in the DNA of the culture. When we’re born, we don’t get a choice what kind of world we’re born into. We’re born into a culture, and in the DNA of American culture is white supremacy. I don’t want to underestimate the role of white supremacy. It’s not like ideas don’t matter. They matter. And in the American psyche, the white psyche, being born into this culture, you internalize this stuff and it affects how you act, how you vote, what you do, and it affects the left. And it shouldn’t be underestimated. Like I’m blown away when I see how many white–I must say there’s some progress on this in some areas now–but how many left organizations, media organizations–
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Which are by default mostly white.
PAUL JAY: That’s my point. 90, 95 percent white. And the way this white supremacy gets internalized is not that people are deliberately not hiring People of Color and Blacks into these left organizations or media organizations or such, but it’s so internalized, you don’t even see it. You don’t see, you look out and you don’t see a sea of white faces. And that it doesn’t impact you–
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And people don’t think, “OK, there’s something wrong.” Literally, people don’t think “there’s something wrong with this picture,” that everyone looks the same and there is no–I don’t like to overuse the word, but diversity represented in this organization. And that’s fine. I think I agree with that, that makes sense for most cases. But when we have a society in which the data shows that Black people with a college degree are paid less than white people with the same level of education, with the same amount of time with the work history. Black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as white college graduates. When we look at employment discrimination outside of college degrees, if someone has an ethnic-sounding name, they’re less likely to get a callback when they apply for a job. So these are things that are not subconscious or unconscious reactions.
PAUL JAY: It could be both.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah, so what do we do?
PAUL JAY: But everything you just said is an economic relationship. Everything you just said is a way to take advantage of people and use the ideology of white supremacy to justify it. Clearly, white supremacy permeates people’s psyche in this country, white people’s psyche, clearly. As I say, it’s a culture born out of slavery. But how do we change it? There was an interesting few sentences–I can’t quote it exactly, but when Black Lives Matter put out their programmatic document, they had a paragraph that kind of dealt with this. And they said, “Yeah, racism amongst working people and such, it’s a problem–” I’m not quoting it exactly, “but we shouldn’t get hung up on this, because it’s not our mission to go change the heads of a bunch of white people. We need to change it with power, when you enact legislation that deals with inequality and the economic consequences of this kind of racism.”
I saw a video the other day, there was a meeting of women involved in the Women’s March. And one of the women got up and said, “We need to deal with the real problem facing us, the most important thing facing us, white supremacy.” And everybody cheered. How are you going to do that. Are you going to go give therapy to a bunch of white people? It’s about power, it’s about ownership. And yes, it’s about making sure that, especially on the progressive side, people are mindful of not just diversification, but even more importantly, conscious and deliberate policy that People of Color, particularly Blacks and particularly Blacks who were the descendants of slaves, rise to leadership, to be mindful of that. Because there won’t be a healthy, progressive movement in this country. It’s not about being nice to Black people, but being in the interest of a progressive cause, in the interest of working people. There won’t be a decent movement in this country without the descendants of slaves being in leadership. That doesn’t mean exclusively, and not just to have a nice look that there’s some Black people around.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right, but actually making decisions on movements, on platforms, on policies, on legislation that affects the lives of people who are impacted by those very things negatively, very negatively up to this point. So what we’re talking about, really, what I hear you saying is that it’s not about–and this is something that we’ve always said, Black people have said for a long time. It’s not about changing your heart, it really is about changing the way this society interacts with us.
PAUL JAY: People of all colors have to fight for progressive ideals. One of those ideals is against white supremacy, against racism, but it has to be a vision of a future which changes this elite ownership. And just to have Black ownership doesn’t change it, like in Baltimore you have people talking about that.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Because Black capitalism doesn’t work either.
PAUL JAY: Well, look at South Africa. It’s not that there isn’t still a white elite with wealth and power–
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Certainly, that actually controls the economy.
PAUL JAY: But there’s a Black elite that owns enormous sections of South African economy now.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes, and are just as corrupt.
PAUL JAY: Because it’s the system. You can’t have this system of a minuscule section of the population having private ownership over the mass sections of the economy. And if we don’t focus on that and we just focus on this formulation about white supremacy, one, it doesn’t get to real solutions because it doesn’t change who has power. And two, there’s no winning without getting large sections of the white working class on board with this bigger vision.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Absolutely true. This is a fine line that we have to walk in the progressive movement, between challenging power and addressing the real world implications of white supremacy. And if we’re going to win in the progressive movement, we have to walk that line between the two.
Thank you very much, Paul Jay, for coming and talking to me today about this issue. And I am Jacqueline Luqman for The Real News Network.