In the aftermath of last week’s presidential election, many have attributed the Democrats’ defeat to their inability and/or refusal to respect, speak to, care about, or prioritize the so-called “white working class.”   According to this view, the “white working class,” like innocent children, have been “abandoned” by party elites. See, for example, this tweet from Senator Bernie Sanders:

bernie-tweet

But even if we forget that Sanders lost to Clinton primarily because he got blown out among black voters, especially those in the country’s poorest region, the Deep South; even if we forget that, in last week’s general, Clinton won the under 50k vote; even if we forget that black people, Native Americans, and Latino/as suffer substantially higher rates of poverty than whites and would therefore seemingly be more antagonistic to working class-abandoning elites, such as Clinton, than white people (when the reverse is true); and even if we forget that whiteness served as far and away the best predictor of whether one voted red or blue, a question remains:

What makes the “white” working class different from the black, or Native American, or Latino/a, or Asian-American working class?

Here we encounter something quite strange: figures such as Sanders, who tend both to prioritize the fight against economic injustice above that against racial injustice and to believe the latter to be largely a consequence of the former than a separate species of its own, end up defending that view by speaking in a way that contradicts it.  Indeed, if we believe that economic systems oppress people by sorting them into social classes, then how can an entity such as the white working class even exist?  By distinguishing the white working class from their non-white counterparts, one admits that racial identity and power trumps class position, even though one intends the exact opposite.

The class reductionist approach undermines itself in another way.  Typically, those sympathetic to this view would respond to my critique by describing the purportedly high rates of racism among “working class whites” as a scheme concocted by upper class capitalists to prevent poor whites from realizing that their economic interest lies in solidarity with non-white people.  One eradicates racism therefore not so much by denouncing racism but by explaining to working class whites why voting Republican or supporting the economic status quo would be bad for their pocketbook.  For this reason, class reductionists believe that Democrats lose the working class white vote because they do not know how to talk to them; they are patronizing, removed, and smug.

However, while this approach positions itself as the ally of the neglected and race-shamed white working class, it ironically perceives poor whites as too stupid to know what’s good for them.  It differs on this score only in relying upon a different set of “elite” saviors to come to their rescue.

Importantly, I am not saying that Sanders, his supporters, or any other “leftist” who may feel critiqued in this post does not care about racism.  Nor ought this post be read as an encomium for Clinton.  This post instead intends to critique only a popular account of the relation between race and class.

We need to stop repeating this lie that white supremacy is not in the self-interest of any class of white people.  We further need to ask ourselves why we cling to it so dearly and why it provides us such comfort.  In truth, white people have not been duped; our support for white supremacy reflects not just a flaw in our thinking, but a perversion of our wills. We do not endorse white supremacy because we do not know any better; we believe that white supremacy is good because we want to believe it so.  Misinformation and poor logic qualify more as consequences of our attachment to white supremacy than its underlying causes.

If one speaks of “the white working class” but never refers to the black, Latino/a, Asian-American, or Native-American working classes, one is making excuses for white supremacy.  Period.  In fact, one can reasonably separate the white poor from the non-white poor in theory only because they have separated themselves in reality: like their wealthier counterparts, working class whites have excluded black people, and to a lesser extent, non-black Latino/as, from their neighborhoods, schools, and families. When we give voice to the phrase, “white working class,” we affirm and authenticate that segregation.

In truth, the white working class differs from the working class due only to its whiteness.  Let us abandon not the working class, but our faulty ways of speaking about it.  In order to better attend to the intersections of economic and racial injustice, let us speak not of “the white working class,” but of “working class whiteness.”  Until we do, the violent power of whiteness will continue to hide behind the innocence of economic oppression.

UPDATE (5:49 pm): I want to head a common misreading of the above post off at the pass.  This post does not deny that white people live in poverty or are victims of economic injustice.  (Its second to last paragraph in fact affirms my belief in the existence of whites who are poor.) The fact that many white people will misread it as such proves my point.  Being poor does not make one less white; we only think this way because we think of racism as essentially a class relation.

181 thoughts

  1. No such thing as the white working class? HAHAHAHAHAHHA you need to leave the city and go… anywhere…. that’s not on a coast. You’ll meet the “white, working class” in large numbers. Your absolutely laughable assertions here run totally contradictory to left’s often quoted rebuttal to the right’s distain for welfare: “most welfare recipients are white”. So which is it?

    1. I don’t live in a “city” and grew up in a small town surrounded by a rural county that was in the heart of the rust belt. Most people I went to high school with did not go to college.

      1. They you understand how ridiculous your article is. The Dems failed to connect with the white working class they day they decided to try to grab more black votes by adding “all white people are privileged” and “white people are the root of all evil” to their rhetoric platform. The white working class votes GOP because even though the GOP sucks and doesn’t do much for them, it at least doesn’t demonize them.

      2. That’s the most substantive reply you can offer? I was hoping you’d reconcile for me why white people should vote for a party that openly hates them? If you don’t think “white working class” should be broken out of “working class”, then why do Democrats do it? Why do you do it right in the beginning of your article?

      3. i have already addressed all of those counter arguments in the post.

        it sorta seems like you think I am arguing that there are no white people IN the working class, which is not at all the case. Perhaps you should try reading the post a little less apoplectically.

      4. You absolutely did not. Quite the contrary, you double and then tripled down on the anti-white rhetoric of the Democrats. That’s fine though. I just figured I’d let you know. Whether you guys wake up and change your tune really doesn’t affect me, because we’ve now seen that the rest of the country is a awake. You keep doing you and wondering why you’re losing elections in which proportionately more minorities and women voted for a guy labeled “racist” and “sexist” than voted for Obama the progressive savior.

      5. if you think being anti white supremacy means being anti-white, that says a lot about your understanding of what it means to be white.

        but thanks for the tip! why don’t you leave me your real name so I can reach your for future advice.😉

      6. yes, whiteness is intertwined with white supremacy, since it only exists because white supremacy created it. but no, i do not think white people have to surrender to it. There is a difference between being “anti-white,” which implies wanting to harm or suppress white people, and being anti-white supremacy and the whiteness it spawns, which implies wanting to build a society in which people who currently identify as “white” do not oppress others.

        But I am white, as is every single member of my family of origins, and I certainly am not “anti” them. I want their flourishing and goodness just as they want mine. And, to top it off, some of my best friends are white!

      7. What you don’t seem to be grasping is that Bernie’s statement is 100% accurate and the DNC’s inability to connect with white people is solely due to the constant attempts by them and people like you to paint a false narrative about them. In this article you double down on this false narrative by trying to say that their refusal to accept your false narrative is them holding on to white supremacy. In reality, it’s simply the rejection of a lie. True progressives like myself and Bernie recognize this, and recognize that your mentality cost the DNC this election and will soon cost it its existence.

      8. You really spent all those big words on trying to convince folks that this whole election was determined by a non-descriptive by race of working class of people? The conflating of “white supremacy” into a simple description of a certain voter is pretty laughable, is it less “white supremacist” to call them “Reagan Democrats”? Your dreaming if you think any political campaign doesn’t use class, race, education, etc to target specific groups that they can get the maximum bang for their advertising. Responding to a commenter as being from the rust belt, is that a code word for “white working class”? Maybe? It’s one in the same…

      9. Rust Belt refers to the cities that stretch from Buffalo and Pittsburgh to Milwaukee. They are called rust belt for three reasons; first, rust in the sense that they were heavily reliant on industry and factories such as steel; two rust is the sense that that economy has mostly vanished so rust in the second sense of decayed; and three belt because of its geographical alignment along the Great Lakes. And there are actually very sizeable black populations in all of the rust belt cities and they were a huge part of that regions zenith. So no not a synonym for white working class.

    2. That is not what the author said. There is no difference between the white working class and everyone else. Just like there is only one race. We only use the word “racism” anymore because it serves to distinguish the bigotry against POC, mainly African Americans.

      1. While that statement is correct, it’s liberals that have made the distinction and chose to separate out white, working people to focus solely on minorities. That’s why bernie said what he said. That’s why the Democrats were demolished in the election. That’s why democrats need to rely on illegal voters, fight for felons to vote, now trying abolish the electoral college etc. They made the idiotic choice of being the party not of the working class, but of the minority working class, and they sell it by blaming whites for everything. It’s a failed strategy and they know they’ve lost the vast majority of the country, but they’re so heavily invested in it they’d lose all legitimacy if they tried to walk it back. So instead we get articles like this that try to double down on it. But doubling down on a losing strategy just makes you a bigger loser.

        Don’t worry, you guys will get it someday after you get decimated in enough elections.

    3. @thewhiteboardpig Ah yes, another excellent example of Lewis’ Law in action, although in this case I think that it can be edited to read, “Comments on any article about racism justify the need to fight racism.” Well done, my cranky, condescending friend. Well done!

    4. These are not mutually exclusive issues. White people aren’t always “working class” and POC aren’t the major recipients of welfare. As one who spent DECADES with union and former union people I know whereof I speak. Women and people of color are ‘working class’ too. Not just white guys. The idea that people are different in different structural locations is actually NOT legitimate, and if you begin with the wrong questions, you will always – ALWAYS – create the wrong ‘solutions’.

      1. Yea I’m still completely lost at what point you are trying to make. I’ll go ahead and blame my incomprehension on my poor reading skills. Bottom line: your words are like scrambled eggs in my brain. Our conversation has officially become pointless.

        All the best to you and happy thanksgiving. I hope you are able to spend the day surrounded by love and good food.

    1. I grew up in a small, “rural” town in the heart of the rust belt. Still close to many people there. Went to public middle and high school. Don’t live in the same town as my college so I am “outside” of my university’s culture most of my waking hours.

      I also lived for two years on the South Side of Chicago.

      I’m not active in a union since my place of employment does not have one, but I am a huge supporter of them. Ancestors were Molly Maguires and founders of one of the first coal miners’ union. 🙂

      You assume I am some stereotype of a “liberal elite” but sadly for you I am not.

      1. This sounds exactly like “the liberal elite.” Your story reads like an upper middle class child of former hippies coming of age tale. Very Lena Dunham. So you support unions because your ancestors were in one? Wow, that’s just like paying dues. You lived on Chicago’s South Side for two whole years? Wow. So I guess you understand the experiences of minorities now. No dude, this comes across as every upper class white college kid does; you are not a white savior that will save all the minorities by pointing our inequalities in the system. You just patronize them. You’re just one more white that thinks they couldn’t possibly be part of the problem. You are though, and you haven’t earned all those pats on the back you’re giving yourself.

      2. Definitely don’t think any of the things you attribute to me and my parents weren’t hippies, although it wouldn’t matter if they were.

        But I will agree with you and affirm that I neither deserve nor want pats on the back from anyone, especially people of color. I’m glad we can agree about that.🙂

  2. Hi there. This is a friendly comment and honest question from a fellow academic. Agree w/ you 100% in an ultimate, strict sense. There is no such thing as “white working class.” Yet, in an ultimate, strict sense, there is also no such thing as “race” at all. There are only the long-term structural and cultural effects of the modern categories of race as a tool of knowledge-differentiation and oppression, with which we must continue to grapple.

    In that sense, “white working class” might be as strategically relevant as any other racial category. As you note, working class whites DO see themselves as a distinct racialized-economic category. And part of the resentment they feel is that sense they’ve been structurally oppressed too, but they don’t “get to” complain about it or use racialized explanations for why they haven’t been able to succeed or thrive. They don’t have liberal sympathy, in other words.

    To the extent that this gripe presumes that the self-identified “white working class” feel self-justified in competing with other groups as such, and presume the right to dominate other groups, this should be recognized as white supremacy, critiqued, and rejected.

    To the extent that this gripe is rooted in historical factors that involve neoliberal policies; the manipulation of liberal sympathies toward representational ‘progress’ by neoliberal branding strategies at the expense of economic justice; and very real historical tactics of “white trash” exclusion by the same white people who were slave owners and apologists, there is something important here that we might be overlooking if we simply ban the term “white working class” from the critical vocabulary. And I’m honestly not sure what is gained by simply replacing it with “working class whiteness” (unless one is going to add the -ness to other racial cagetories).

    If I’m missing something here, I’d love to learn more.

    1. Hi! I think if we actually more rigorously distinguished race from class, then we would actually enhance poorer whites’ space to express grievance about the ways they are mistreated. When we continue to conflate race and class or perceive the former as more or less a byproduct of the latter, we encourage poor whites to think that critiques of racial privilege and poorer mean that they aren’t economically oppressed.

      As for my preference for “working class whiteness” I think it makes clear that they aren’t a separate species of working class but a particular version of whiteness.

    2. These groups no more recognize a competition with each other as you must realize as well. You all are making a whole lot out of this “white working class” it really requires a complete development of intent behind the moniker. It’s use is not deep seeded psychology , its a common identification that has been in use for a long time. If we used “Reagan Democrat” would we be highlighting their “whiteness”??

    1. Trump did the same with black voters as Bush W. did, which seems to suggest that 2008 and 2012, were due to the Obama effect. If I had to guess, Obama simultaneously turned out more non-conservative black voters and changed the votes of a few black people who ordinarily voted republican. Also, let’s not forget misogyny and sexism. There was a noticeable gap between the black male vote and the black female vote.
      And I think we are also underestimating what an extraordinarily talented politician Obama is. He was able to do things that SHOULDN’T have been possible.

      A personal question I have based upon anecdotal conversations with people and some hunches based upon my research: I wonder if there is a difference in the “descended from African immigrant” black vote and the “descended from black slaves” vote.

      Either way, especially when we add in the whole margin of error thing, whiteness still seems like the dominant predictor.

  3. It is worth noting that the tweet used as fodder for this is not from the personal account of Bernie Sanders. The tweet depicted is from his staff. There is another account he runs. I still agree completely with the points about race and class in this article. But the distinction is important.

  4. This is very interesting. Please help me with your argument. The part that to me you seem to leave out is the historical role of Jim Crow laws in the creation or definition of “working class whites,” our current label for a demographic group. Jim Crow was one legal instantiation (and/or creation) of white supremacy in post-slavery America. But what if someone turned your thesis on its head and suggested the following? If you refer to privileged and/or elite whites without referring to privileged and/or elite people of color/non-whites (such as those discussed in Graham’s Our_Kind_of_People), then you are promoting white supremacy. Instead, shouldn’t we just say that race and class are both important social variables? When we try to understand how they interact, we need to talk about working class whites. Of course it doesn’t follow that we do not also need to understand working class people of color–and that they are not the only people of color.

      1. As I thought. Your distinction is purely semantic. As someone else pointed out both race and class are social structures that don’t exist in an absolute (biological sense). How is working class whiteness substantially difference from a white working class. Consider that the classes tend to self-segregate and the initial quote and the context in which I’ve seen this discussed recently was talking about geographical areas that would be fairly segregated by race.

        The only instance in which “working class whiteness” and “white working class” are substantively different are within an academic context.

        In response to a question you asked me to which I responded and the response got lost in the ether. When would you use the term “white working class.” Well, I would use it in practical applications in political advocacy directed toward downwardly mobile white people who might be shaken of racist and xenophobic notions. Talking to people in terms that affect them specifically, especially in regards to making a living and leaving a future for their kids, comparing side by side would be a useful tool. None of these things: race, ethnicity, class, religion, exist within a person a priori, as I am sure you understand. They are all culturally derived and with race and ethnicity there are minor biological differences but there is no metaphysical whiteness or blackness.

        So it seems to me that the best way to talk to someone is in a language they understand. In many cases, this is analogy, which is a neat pathway to empathy.

  5. I don’t mean to suggest that you are failing to attend to both.

    I took you to claim that talking about working class whites without talking about working class people of color promotes or reinforces white supremacy. I don’t understand your argument for that. So I flipped your thesis and asked whether you think your talking about elite whites but not elite people of color promotes or reinforces white supremacy. If your response is that we COULD talk about elite people of color, then I suppose those you intend to critique could say the same thing: we COULD talk about working class people of color. What would you say? I’m simply trying to sound out your argument, which I’m not following.

    Perhaps a more basic concern is that I don’t see reification of race categories (e.g., not white people, but whiteness as such) actually helps that much, because it tends I think to suggest more unity than actually exists within contingent historical race categories. Whiteness is not one thing. Neither is blackness, etc.

    1. my response would be that I am not sure how an “elite” (i am assume you mean elite in a class sense, so a CEO, for example) person of color would oppress his/her workers in a different way than their white counterparts. I guess I don’t see how wealthy black people, as a class, perpetuate economic injustice any differently than their white peers so no I don’t know why we would separate out black CEOs or managers from white ones. I know that black scholars and activists (see for example Michael Eric Dyson’s back and forth with Bill Cosby) certainly discuss the way class inequality plays out within the black community and that seems totally legit to me.

      Speaking of working class whiteness does exactly what you say: it recognizes that racial identity is not embodied uniformly. Here I am basically just trying to be faithful to the intersectional approach pioneered by black feminist scholars such as Kimberlee Crenshaw.

      1. the best book on blackness and class privilege is this: https://www.amazon.com/Black-Picket-Fences-Privilege-Middle/dp/0226649296

        I highly recommend it. If anything, she proves that “the white working class” differs from “the black working class” in that it is MORE privileged, not just racially, but also economically, than their white counterparts. This backs up my main point: the only difference between the white working class and the black working class is the former’s whiteness and the privilege and power it affords. Note here I am NOT comparing individuals. To the contrary, anytime we use the word “class” we are speaking about groups who share a relatively uniform economic position and relation to labor and capital.

  6. so basically, if we can’t speak about “whiteness” because it “reifies” an infinitely complex reality, then I also don’t see how we could talk about “social class” either. This again points back to my question of why many of us, even on “the left,” are so much more comfortable thinking about social class as an identity and class oppression as a reality than we are race and racism.

    We could ask the same question about gender and many people do. Can we even speak of a coherent thing as femininity or “woman?” I guess I’d say, if you feel comfortable using the term “femininity” or “woman,” even if you recognize its diversity, then I think you should be comfortable talking about whiteness, despite the fact that white people, as individuals, are very different from each other.

  7. Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest we cannot talk about demographic categories, only that it’s not helpful to speak as if the category members have some essence in common, such as whiteness. That may be merely a concern about your phrasing, not your basic point.

    Maybe your are saying in these replies that your argument is simply that we should not talk only about class, because white privilege attaches to race membership and disadvantages all non-whites regardless of class. That is surely true.

    Honestly, I don’t think many people would deny that, Bernie Sanders included.

    In your original post, near the end, you stated this: “If one speaks of ‘the white working class’ but never refers to the black, Latino/a, Asian-American, or Native-American working classes, one is making excuses for white supremacy.” I don’t see the argument for that. That is what I’m asking about.

    1. show me one politician who uses the phrase “black working class” as often as she/he uses the phrase “white working class” and then you might see what I mean. You will also notice in your searches that the phrase “white working class” is almost always used to present them as forgotten victims. It’s also used to lie in that Democrats still win a majority of poorer peoples’ votes.

      But I am still waiting for you to explain what insight is gained by speaking of “the white working class” in the first place? why isn’t “working class” sufficient?

      1. I have seen an income-based break-down from the 2016 exit polls presented by the New York Times, but I have not seen a breakdown within the $50k and under group by race. Do you have that? You need that if you are going to assert that winning a majority of low-income votes gives the lie to the unimportance of separating low-income voters by race.

        Your title asserts that there is no such thing as the white working class. Then you assert in your blog post that talking about that group without talking about non-white members of the working class supports white supremacy. I still don’t see the argument. I’ve been asking all along for the argument before I suggest that these are bizarre claims.

        The question whether working class and poor whites are forgotten victims is another matter. You would agree, I suppose, that affirmative action programs in admissions and hiring did not negatively affect privileged and elite whites to the extent that it affected low-income and disadvantaged whites. The burden of affirmative action has not been distributed equally among whites. We can acknowledge that without rejecting affirmative action.

  8. “One eradicates racism therefore not so much by denouncing racism but by explaining to working class whites why voting Republican or supporting the economic status quo would be bad for their pocketbook.” I caught myself doing just this, while writing up an essay on media strategies. However, I think that we can denounce the racism and denounce the economic forms of oppression together by not allowing the latter to eclipse the former. Your formula, Working Class Whiteness, comes in very handy here. Lots of food for thought here. I will be sharing this with others.

      1. In case you want to check out the argument I articulated with reference to your essay here, which I shared on Facebook, here is the link. If there is anything you want to add, please let me know. I am really happy I found you here.

  9. If you really think changing “white working class” to “working class whiteness” would have any affect on anything in this world you are very out of touch with reality. The white working class is also important to distinguish and discuss because they form a majority of the country’s population by land area (if you look at a map, they fill out most of it even though it is relatively sparse in some spots) and are extremely relevant especially in the electoral college setup. They also have much more power than the non-white working class because of their raw numbers (even in the Northeast US, specifically the immediate suburbs to large cities) and influence at the local and state level, not just with regards to government but organization and political influence as well. I understand your argument, and while I don’t mean any disrespect (it’s extremely well written) I just don’t think it makes any practical sense. My changing the phraseology slightly, what is the ultimate goal? I’m new to this site, is this intended for academics only and use in research/pubs? This type of hyper-examination and enforcement (not in this case but in general) of nomenclature may seem small but I believe played a huge role in the Trump movement. It’s all slanted against white/male/straight and anything else that affords privilege or power. The problem though is that historically there is ALWAYS a group in power which oppresses others directly or indirectly, and to think that you can remove this from our primate DNA is a beautiful thought but will never happen.

      1. Its a moniker…its not a statement on their power, status or impact on others. White working class voters have not been monolithic, those same voters voted for Hope and Change in 2008 and 2012 voted for Trump in 2016, while other racial groups are more monolithic in their votes….thats why they use this moniker, its not a deep seeded psychology….I don’t understand why this article tries to explain something that never existed..

  10. This article is obviously meant to be satire. It’s like an article from the onion. It’s showing how Democrat leaders think and why they lost. Of course the author knows that the white working class is real.

  11. Yo, Katie sry you gotta work so hard to make a simple point. This comment thread is an abomination… interestingly enough just like white people.

  12. I think I might be one of the class “reductionists” you are talking about here, so I’d like to offer a response.

    You say “…figures such as Sanders…tend both to prioritize the fight against economic injustice above that against racial injustice and to believe the latter to be largely a consequence of the former than a separate species of its own, end up defending that view by speaking in a way that contradicts it.”

    Speaking for myself, it’s not that I prioritize economic justice over racial justice. It’s that I believe the same systems that produce economic injustice also produce institutional racism, and attacking those systems is our best route to justice on both fronts. And I’m not suggesting we ignore race. Where the damage done by those systems is race-specific, our solutions must also be race-specific.

    But the approach to both economic and racial injustices must be rooted in the real, material conditions faced by working and middle classes. Getting all caught up in the hearts and minds of whites is a mistake. The problem I have with your approach is that it appears to be centered around….white people. It’s as if your main goal is to purify white hearts, fix white thinking, and make sure white people use the right language. I think it makes far more sense to address the systemic causes of racism within our institutions than to quibble about white people’s phrasing.

    1. also, the “hearts and minds of white people” unfortunately do matter because they have disproportionate political power. If the Democratic Party and/or other leftists chooses to respond to this election by centering “the white working class,” they will not only be misdiagnosing the reasons for their loss, they will end up harming people of color more than they already do. So yes, given the way language does not merely reflect thinking, but also shapes it, debates about “language” are almost never “quibbles.”

      And your statement about how “race-specific damage requires race-specific solutions” directly contradicts the one that comes after it where you say “the approach to both economic and racial injustices must be rooted in the real, material conditions faced by working and middle classes”. I also can’t tell in that second sentence if you are saying that only working and middle class people (including people of color) perpetuate racism, which would not make sense, or if working and middle class people (including presumably those who are white) are victims of racial injustice, which would not make sense.

  13. Strongly agree. Various good pieces are coming out about how to talk with extra-urban Trump voters, such as
    http://www.vox.com/culture/2016/11/14/13526406/progressive-fundamentalism-make-america-great-again
    but they don’t explain how to interpret the result. The whole American narrative is fundamentally about white status, not economics, for the simple reason that America’s economy (and Europe’s) rested on enslaved human labor. Understanding the WWC as a group feeling aggrieved about its status explains its political behavior where economics don’t.

    1. Thank you!

      I think you raise a great point. This way of talking about the relation between race and class better positions us to break out of this nasty rhetorical habit of assuming that “working class” or poor whites are somehow more racist or culpable for white supremacy than their wealthier counterparts.

      1. Hi,
        I couldn’t figure out how to leave a comment in the main section, so I’ll do it here. I think this is a great piece.

        I think what some of the other commenters don’t understand is that while it may make sense for political campaigns to think of the white working class as a distinct group, it’s a non-starter from a policy-making perspective.

        I wonder how Bernie Sanders would respond if one were to ask him to design a policy aimed specifically at helping the white working class. How would he do it? How would singling out white workers for special protections benefit the country or lead to economic justice? Yeah, it might help the Democrats win elections, but that’s politics, not reality.

      2. Wow this is a really great proposal. I think you’ve identified a real way forward: asking politicians which policies would benefit the white working class that wouldn’t benefit or affect the non white working class. This is really genius.

  14. I think there is potential in your argument, but it falls short. The social construct you claim “does not exist” matters because, as you pointed out, “the ‘hearts and minds of white people’ unfortunately do matter because they have disproportionate political power.” Race, as someone pointed out, is also a social construct that strictly spekaing “does not exist,” yet it does. So when you ask, “but what makes the white working class different from the non-white working class, despite their racial power?” The point lost is that it IS their whiteness that sets them apart. Their white privilege is what makes them different. Taking a color-blind approach to a group with racial power but disenfranchised economically is deeply problematic.. See the work by Gloria Ladson-Billings, just as an example, in her 2004 address “Landing on the Wrong Note.” I think it might help flesh out some of the ideas you present.

    And as a person of color, your attempt to “[empower] people of color” is patronizing.

      1. Then your point is excellent, but it gets lost in your argument. Glad you put yourself out there…not everyone would. (And I still think your response about empoweing POC is patronizing, so I hope you think carefully about how to express your work–especially since you are writing about the words we use to represent ideas.)

      2. my apologies. If i expressed my sentiment as “I would rather people of color acquire more power and eradicate white supremacy themselves than have the change come from and as a result of the actions of white people” would that be less patronizing?

        I used the concept of empowerment not because I think people of color are “weak,” (i believe the opposite to be true) but because I think the main cause of white supremacy is simply that: the fact that white people, both as a group and as individuals, have more power than people of color. An approach which privileges converting whites above all else, in my opinion, risks perpetuating white supremacy by implying that racial justice should happen only when whites let it. So in this vein, I try to follow the advice of activists of color and support movements led by and primarily comprised by people of color. That is more what I meant. So yes, I try to convert whites, but I also try to lend my support to the work that people of color are already doing.

      3. and might i ask that you not be patronizing to me as well? Saying that you “hope I think carefully about how to express my work” when my bio clearly states that I am a theologian and scholar like yourself is a way of talking to me like I’m a disobedient child. I may be wrong in what I say, but there’s really no grounds for you to scoldingly assume I don’t “think carefully” about what I write.

        as a scholar yourself, you know that the one thing all of us have in common is that we think very carefully and extensively about our areas of expertise. 🙂

  15. From Ladson-Bilings (2004) where she discusses the Brown v. Board remedies:

    By framing the debate as solely racial, the remedy offered relief in the form of balancing racial numbers with no regard to educational quality. In a case like the Boston, MA, school desegregation plan, poor African American students from Roxbury were sent to desegregate White working class schools in South Boston (Hochschild, 1984). Articulated by Roediger (1991), and previously by W. E. B. DuBois (1935/1995), we see in its reaction to
    Brown a White working class that again trades a class identity to maintain solidarity with whiteness. DuBois asserted:

    The South, after the [Civil] war presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is Likely to see for many decades. Yet the [white] labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery
    and Reconstruction, the kernel and the meaning of the labor movement in the United States. (DuBois, 1935/1995, p. 353)

    1. I’m not a Dubois scholar so I could be wrong about this, but it’s my understanding that in his later years he turned more towards communism. If that means that he thought that racism wasn’t fundamentally an economic problem that necessitated an economic solution only or primarily, then I would disagree with him, however much I admire him.

      If instead you simply want to point out that white supremacy colludes with economic injustice or has economic components and consequences, then I definitely believe that is the case.

  16. It seems to me, that far from being a “typical” communist in the class reductionist sense, DuBois, with his concept of the color line, laid the groundwork for intersectional analysis of the relations between class and race as methods of domination.

  17. Hmmm.

    I apreciate yoir willingness to tackle the issue. I do think you are wrong, though.

    I think it is possible to posit race and class as separate but co- present entities.

    Can white workers benefit from racism? In immediate terms, yes. But only at the price of longer-term gains. White workers in the South make more than Black workers in the South. They also make less than BLACK workers in the North. And ours remains the industrialized nation with the smallest labor movement and no national healthcare. As a friend once said, ‘ benefitting from racism is like scabbing’.

    On DuBois, yes, his is a very strng take, particularly because he shows how these categories matter in actual histor I recommend you read his ‘ Black Reconstruction’. Much of the ‘left’ — Trotskism in particular — refute his view. Fyi, they, too, deny that there is such a thing as a ‘white workingclass’ and a ‘Black workingclass’. Only in theit case, it’s the fight against racism that is the ‘ real distraction’.

    Finally, on the Democratic Party”s ‘betrayal of white people’ (as someone else here posted): I am a white workingclass man and do not feel the least betrayed because we actually talk about racism. Slavery existed. Race-based wage rates exist. Race-based job assignments exist. Race-based hire and fire practises exist. And guess what? It makes it hard to organize when every Black guy around you is making less and is stuck in a non-skilled category UNLESS you address that. Unless you make that an issue in your organizing drive. I know. I’ve been there.

    And one more point. Last I looked, workingclass people do not ‘decide’ on the racial composition of their neighborhoods or job sites. Capitalists — busimess owners and real-estate agents — do that.

    1. And they do actually…white flight is something white people of all economic statuses have been doing for about one hundred years and continue to do. Same with the acts of violence and terrorism both individual and collective that kept black people from integrating white neighborhoods and helped to build the black ghetto. Read “American Apartheid” or “Parish Boundaries” or “Family Properties” or Ta-Nehesi Coates’ “the case for reparations. ” the statement you make about poorer whites not sharing responsibility for residential segregation is empirically untrue.

  18. The post helps me think more about the racial consciousness that shaped me growing up: my paternal grandmother (biological grandpas and their families have had virtually no role in my life) was a German immigrant (old school Milwaukee: union labor, Democrat, etc.) and my maternal grandmother was Latin but was beaten and divorced by 23 with 4 kids and so pretended her family was Italian because she thought it would help her get by (lots of sexual and domestic abuse combined with patriarchal responses from civil and ecclesial spheres led to a great deal of confusion and instability–but my uncle runs an Italian restaurant and my mom knows how to make spaghetti but not enchiladas). While both sides at least pretended to be white, and both sides were “working class,” the white part never took all the way on my mom’s side. The seams always showed. At the end of her life, my grandma would sometimes point out we were Mexican, especially her friends said racist things about immigrants. My friends at school made racial comments to me about my family. I didn’t know any better. I just always felt insecure about having such an odd family. Looking back, what I thought made my dad’s side “normal” and my mom’s side “weird” was the difference between how easily one could be white and how difficult it was for the other. Psychologically, the way my two families shamed are very different (and I don’t mean to essentialize my mom’s family’s complicated ethnic/racial/class identity, only to contrast it to my dad’s family’s far more straightforward identities). My dad’s family is more likely to shame you by invalidating your emotions in order to insulate themselves from the discomfort. My mom’s family more typically shames you by taking your emotion on and trying to “fix” it. The latter is a far less effective as an insulating mechanism, since it means you can fight them about it, and you know they’ll listen even if they’ll probably never have very good boundaries. That’s where the aspirational whiteness falls apart entirely–a certain sort of solidarity and willingness to empathize comes second nature to them, so you never have to be afraid that they’ll insulate from you and say, “you don’t matter.” Both sides are now economically better off. But guess which side had more Trump voters?

      1. My dad’s family. There’s a contingent of white professional-class democrats now (through marriage, mostly), but my mom’s side much more intuitively gets what’s going on. They still try to deflect sometimes, but they’re pretty terrible at it.

      2. It’s also pretty stunning how straight/white people feel comfortable policing identities. I cannot tell you how often people demand a “percentage” and then have the audacity to either validate or invalidate my claim. Or to categorize me into their own system of identity. Or to ask how I might or might not use my identity to get ahead (often subtly or not-so-subtly crediting affirmative action for any success I’ve had). The implicit pressure is to assimilate into their system of naming. Always “just be normal.”

      3. The most common thing I hear when I bring up marginalized groups (especially because my german grandmother lived with muslim boarders from Kuwait, Syria, and Egypt in her home for 25 years, and some became very close to our family) is, “that wasn’t the reason.” I take them seriously when they say that overt racial animus or anti-LGBTQ animus didn’t motivate them. I especially pay attention to when they tell me what they didn’t think about or what didn’t factor in to their decision (much like the goats of Matthew 25, incidentally). I’m struck by the pattern that comes from the shaming mechanism: insulate yourself from uncomfortable emotions by either deflecting the conversation into a partisan debate or by invalidating the emotions (minimizing them, distracting from them, creating false equivalences). And so what’s been most interesting to me lately is the way that the seamless whiteness consists partly in habits that make it easier to avoid empathy and compassion (they can always choose to self-insulate). That strikes me as both tragic and destructive. Tragic because a world in which you can’t self-insulate is harder, but also more vivid; self-insulating makes you fragile, weaker, less able to trust people. It’s terrible when you feel afraid or sad or angry and the only thing you know how to do is to threaten to distance yourself. You never get the opportunity to tell someone how you feel in a non-coercive way and let them actually care for you. Tragic also because a world in which no one self-insulates is also a world in which it will feel less necessary to self-insulate. The self-insulation and all strategies that accompany it indicate the lie at the core of bent will. So what I’ve tried to do in response is break that pattern, mainly by creatively agitating until I make an uncomfortable emotion inevitable and the inviting them to empathize once the self-insulating mechanisms are down. At least to start.

  19. White supremacy is certainly in the self-interest of every class of whites, but what evidence is there for the claim that Sanders believes racial injustice to largely be a consequence of economic injustice? If anything, he believes the inverse, that the economic violence perpetrated against non-whites is a subset of racist violence that takes many forms (source: https://berniesanders.com/issues/racial-justice/).

    1. I am making this claim based upon public statements he has made (see for ex the recent tweet in this post) but it is quite possible that he sometimes expresses the opposite view. Thanks for the link I will definitely check it out. By the way, I think very highly of Sanders and respect him tremendously.

  20. I think saying that “the white working class does not exist” is a very unfortunate way to say, well, anything. If you are white, and work in the same factory your Mom worked in, and you saw that headline, what would you conclude? Think of your friends in high school. If I were this guy, I’d say “First I don’t matter” (because that absolutely correct explanation of the BLM slogan never made sense to him), “and now I don’t exist?”. I’d feel quite condescended to.

    1. I think you misunderstood my post. I do not deny either that there are white people IN the working class or that there are poor white people. I in fact state the exact opposite. I sort of get the feeling you did not read the post.

  21. THANK YOU. I had literally just gotten off the phone with my girlfriend after trying to articulate why I felt so fundamentally dissatisfied with the many liberal and leftist hot takes that I’ve read since last Tuesday. Not one has been willing or able to recognize the nuance you just did. Thank. You. You are so right, and you have one believer in the ideas you just laid out. I appreciate it.

  22. The purpose of using the term “whitewl working class” is to ensure that we divide labor into opposed groups in order to protect against organized labor gaining any real power.

  23. how is it class reductionist to say that working class interests outweigh racial antagonism? surely it’s possible to both critique and dismantle the racial prejudice of white workers and also believe that both white workers and non-white workers have similar interests and ultimately would stand to benefit from left wing politics?

    1. Well yes I would say white and non white members of the proletariat share the same class interests as you astutely point out. So given that that is the case why do so many insist on describing white members of that class as their own separate entity.

      Also: there are more interests than class interests and not all economic interests are class interests. So for example one of the main drivers of the black white wealth gap is home ownership/ values. This is entirely because of racism…redlining etc see Coates’ The Case for Reparations. So a white factory worker could have the same class interests as the black person down the line from him but still receive an economic (among other) benefits from white supremacy that aren’t “class” related.

      1. demographics? are you not arguing in this piece that white workers have distinct interests from non-white workers? that seems like the same type of argument to me.

        class isn’t just about income, or even relationship to the means of production, our entire society is structured by class. home ownership is heavily racialized, but that kind of asset ownership would be impossible to conceive of without a separation between those who own land and those who dont, and without the existence and maintenance of private property. the claim of “class reductionist” marxists is not that racism doesn’t exist or doesn’t create economic disparity, it’s that an anti-racist politics that doesn’t emphasize common ownership and the abolishment of class society along with race cannot achieve its aims.

      2. All you say about private property is true but white people would find a way to exercise racialized dominance over black people no matter our economic system or even if we abolished private property.

      3. For example even whites who don’t own land seek residential segregation from black people. They also enjoy racialized privileges and powers over even propertied black people. Class status perhaps gives black people more resources to shield themselves from the effect of white supremacy but it does not make it go away.

  24. and? a capitalist can donate large sums of their income to activist causes, that doesn’t mean that in the final instance their interests aren’t the interests of the broader capitalist class. if we have to individualize every aspect of people before we talk about them in aggregate, then there’s no point in doing social analysis at all

      1. then why act like im saying that human beings are literally only an exact summation of social relations? im not denying that people exist in dynamic ways, or that they lack agency, just that in the final instance their interests are class interests

      2. You are either misunderstanding me or I am misspeaking because that is not something I am aware of having accused you of. Either way, I am telling you now that I don’t think you believe that.🙂

  25. how?
    if there were no divisions based on ownership or resource distribution, and there were no institutions, like the police or the prison, that preserved race and class as constructs, what advantage would white people have over black people? theres no such thing as transhistorical racism

      1. slave society was very much a class society. how could these divisions exist in a society with no class divisions?
        i believe firmly that in order for that society to be created, the fight against racism, and the abolisment of the police, prisons, and a strong quota system are vitally important. but to say that after that, racism would still exist seems idealist to me

  26. sorry. i assumed when you said “People are more than just economic desires, power, and pleasure” you were implying that i believed that they were.

  27. i’ll check it out for sure, but from what im seeing at the moment, i disagree with his thesis that slavery is a transcendental relationship between master and slave. i think chattel slavery was not only uniquely brutal, but would not exist without the development of capitalism in europe and the desire for raw materials it created. further, even if i accepted that slavery was a transhistorical relationship, it’s still a class relationship between owners and non-owners (to put it somewhat euphemistically)

  28. This is so embarrassing, and is exactly what gives the ivory tower a bad name. When was the last time you actually visited a community of people outside the academic bubble? You can play word games all you want, and apply tortured theoretical logic. But if you go out and get to know actual people, you’ll find that there is indeed a white working class. I think it’s possible that some members of that community may in fact be people of color, but as a group they are mostly white. And as far as the academy goes, they are the lowest class, well below working class people of color. Mainstream professional society sees minority groups and (non-white working class) women as oppressed but noble people fighting against oppression (rightly, without going overboard on the nobility part), but throws scorn on the white working class and stands up for them not at all. That is why Trump just won the election, and that is why democrats have been crushed at the state level (only 16 democratic governorship–this is a pattern people!). And until we progressives wake up to that fact, we will keep losing.

    Signed, a committedly pro-social justice progressive who has spent a lot of time in the academy and a lot of time out of it.

    1. Everyone lives in a bubble if they live in one place. I do not live on my university campus or in the surrounding town so constantly. And I visited my rust belt home town about five weeks ago.

  29. Thanks for your thoughts. I, too, am from the heart of the rust belt, suburbia near Cleveland, OH. I think you bring up a lot of good points and I want to expand on them with some of my own.

    I think it is important to note that the “white working class” or “working class whiteness” is the result of a combination of forces including economic issues, racism, and, perhaps most importantly, perception. While voters of the lowest income bracket voted for Hillary, Trump’s supporters overwhelming thought the economy was in a bad state and that their financial situation is worse off today than it was four years ago. (Ironically, the economy is not the most important issue to them. Immigration and terrorism is.) Many of these folks are yearning for yesteryear. Not only are they looking back with rose-tinted glasses, they are looking back at a time that cannot and should not return. The global economy and prevalent jobs are changes, and we cannot allow our country to go back to a day when white people felt certain of their success because of the subjugation of people of color.

    I think this interplay is important for understanding and overcoming these issues. The Democratic Party (and honestly the GOP) is at a crossroads. How do we serve two seemly opposing groups — the “traditional” Dems or the new progressives? And do we need to? I think we do, I think the white working class (and economic levels of white folks) includes many “good white folks” who are ignorant – and, in some cases, willfully ignorant – of the effect racism has had on their lives and how much they benefited from harms inflicted upon POC. I’m hopeful that some, if not many of these folks, can gain a greater understanding beyond themselves. I did, although I’m far, far from perfect yet.

  30. Excellent. I said it a while ago, far before the polls falsely indicated that Hillary would win– White Supremacy was running for president. Not Trump and Hillary, rather, White Supremacy. Over half of European Americans have selected a bigoted and alt right (same thing as racist) leaning President, not merely because they are frustrated with their economic standing. No no. It’s because they were frustrated with their dwindling social standing and the positive evolution of multiculturalism in society. The simple fact of the matter is that more than these people did not like losing their status of white as the preference and white as the standard. To the extent that they were willing to elect a a president who has shown a complete disinterest and lack of regard for all other groups. What a tragic yearning these European Americans have. (PS. The time has come to end the lie of race based language… stop using language that “white supremacy” created. No more white. No more black. These are tools we keep picking up, that work against our truest aims to live as human beings, absent of subconscious superiority or inferiority mental filters)

  31. This article comes across well but upon further examination the meat contradicts the thesis in the title. If, as intersectionality proposes white working class people have status over working class people of color because of their whiteness how can you possibly say they don’t exist? I would argue they do exist and it is entirely fair to view them as a seperate demographic working for their own perceived interests.

    Counter thesis: if Bernie is a an old school “economic reductionist” leftist you are a “racial reductionist” whose reactionary ideology if taken to fruition would lead to a society where multiculturalism is the ultimate privilege and educated whites and PoC lord over the people who grow their food and make their products. Whites who complain about the status quo are labeled bigots, blacks “uncle toms” or “crab niggas”, and hispanics “race traitors”. There cannot be one simple analytical mode to the intersection of class and race in American society and whether you think the working class “of whiteness” exists or not it is important to focus on the fact that for the past 270 years of American society this place has risen and fallen by their fortunes. Slavoj Zizek pointed out perfectly that people like you are in a huge way hypocrites and talked about Tim Cook as the ultimate example of the social justice traitor, a homosexual man who donates to LGBT causes but casually ignores the fact that his phones are made by people in slave conditions. Without a specific focus on economics leftist thought in general is at best an opiate for the disenfranchised and at worst something for the rich and privileged to appropriate so they can feel good about themselves.

    1. No. I definitely acknowledge the existence of white members of poor and working classes explicitly in my post, which means I also acknowledge the existence of economic injustice and oppression. But let me further dispel the myth that I am a race reductionist: I think poor people who are white are economically mistreated both in general and by wealthier people in particular, even when these wealthier people are non white.

      1. So where does the tie in to the overall “white supremacy” theme actually kick in? You can’t have it both ways..I dont understand how something so simple can be giving an intent that is manufactured by folks like you. This is not rocket science..and I am in rocket science…

      2. great question! there are a lot of great resources out there defining what whites supremacy is.

        Start with http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/michelle-alexander-a-system-of-racial-and-social-control/

        https://www.amazon.com/When-Affirmative-Action-White-Twentieth-Century/dp/0393328511

        https://www.amazon.com/Racial-Justice-Catholic-Church-Massingale/dp/1570757763

        and yes, it is good that you realize that your professional training is in rocket science and not critical race studies, or the sociology, philosophy, and history of white supremacy. I think that recognition is a really good place to start.

    2. Anecdotes are not a good way of ascertaining a general truth. This is like saying “one time it snowed in may” therefore the month of may is always snowy in every part of the country.” The facts do not suggest that your anecdotal experience reflects a general truth so if this is why white people voted for Trump they are hallucinating a reality that does not exist.

      1. Do you not understand that this very paragraph represents the perceived arrogance of liberal elitism? As another educated liberal, I look at your “credentials” and say to myself, what she says is “factual” because I am familiar with the rigours of how you obtained those credentials.

        Working class people do not share that same understanding. They have no concept of the rigorous scientific method you use to formulate your statements. ALL they have is anecdotal observations, and simply stating that their anecdotal observations are not based on Facts, without walking them through the process of how such facts have been established based on Scientific Method; which is about proving a positive, not a negative.

        The uneducated do not understand this distinction. Thus the common refrain, “where is your proof that XYZ doesn’t exist?”. They don’t understand that the Scientific Method is about proving one thing, that only through a process of elimination disproves other things.

        Unfortunately, a common trap that practitioners of the Scientific Method can fall into is the trap of not being able to distinguish between:

        When there is science that proves one thing, that through a process of elimination disproves certain assumptions about other things,

        When data simply does not exist [yet].

        I have far too many experiences with the later.

        For example, based on my other comments, do you have data that represents working class hiring practices as correlated to the race of the person doing the hiring? If so, I would love to see that data, so that through a process of elimination I can disprove my anecdotal observations.

      2. I think much more highly of working class people than you do apparently. Some of the smartest people I know belong to the so-called working class. One’s class status has nothing to do with one’s ability to think critically, analytically, or scientifically. With all due respect, if you would like to pay me to conduct that research for me, we can work something out. But you obviously have access to the internet: you are more than capable of finding that data yourself. If it turns out I am wrong and there is evidence that black managers systematically work to fire their white underlings and replace them with other black people, I encourage you to publicize your findings and share them with me.

        There are people whose primary field of research is studying the questions you ask. They are a google search away. Best of luck to you.

      3. what you also missed in my response is that, since the data does not show that what you claimed to have experienced, happens on a large scale, it literally is not possible that a significant number whites have had the same experience you did therefore meaning this cannot in any way help to explain anyone’s voting patterns. And if a significant number of white people do think this is happening at their work places they are, as you said in your first comment, perceiving reality in accordance with their own biases.

  32. I enjoyed your post, thank you for writing it. The part that drew me in was the claim of there being no such thing as white working class. Originally, I started reading it thinking, well what the hell am I? I wondered if my own background was going to be negated (I’ve been working for twenty of my 35 years) but when the context was revealed I understood what was being said. I understand the position taken in this article. What this post reinforces for me though, is the knee jerk reaction to something we read that some of us can then engage with and come away with a learning experience and those who just see the single line and insinuate that this is whole story. Done. Finished. The end. It’s never that simple. So thank you Katie for this post. I feel I’ve learnt more about American politics and about myself. I mean that sincerely.

  33. I have a non-scientific observation that I believe could benefit from “real” research…

    I lived in Atlanta for seven years, and a trend that I perceived among working class sectors jobs, is that when a PoC was promoted to a manager position responsible for direct hiring/firing, be that a store manager, department head, etc., within a month the clear majority of workers under them are of the same race as the new manager. This does not apply to the startup phase, when the manager making hiring decisions is under more scrutiny by upper management (aka Corporate). Instead my observation applies to the operational period when the manager is under less scrutiny by upper management. While this trend was most visible in the retail sector, it applied to other sectors where I had visibly such as government, HR departments, etc.

    I did not observe the same pattern when a hiring manager was white. I will admit that may be observational bias since I am white, but I tried to test my observation by noting diversity ratios when a retail store opened vs. the diversity ratio after about six months of operation. After about six months of operation, when the hiring manager was not a PoC, the ratio of diversity was the same.

    If I make this observation as an outsider (I am not working class, with no skin in the game [pun intended]), then this observation must not only be visible to members of the working class, since it impacts them directly, the observation is probably amplified to the point of becoming deterministic?

    It is my belief that much of the frustration of working class whites spawns from this; where diversity hiring is initially the standard, but quickly gives way to clear race biased hiring/firing/performance-evaluation practices.

    The part where scientific scrutiny needs to be applied is to determine if this observation is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that working class whites will seek positions where the manager responsible for hiring/firing/evaluation is also white, and likewise will leave if a PoC is later promoted to that position.

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    If these data were available, I believe we would see some fascinating patterns emerge, but since one possible outcome of having these data, goes since a narrative championed by corporate hiring policies and the politics of diversity, would such data ever be made public? I believe this concern is another frustration of whites in general, that data/trends that do not fit a given narrative are being left out of the discussion. If that IS happening, I think as progressives it is our greatest blind spot, because these become the very fodder of less scientific, anecdotal studies/editorials which feeds right back into the loop of determinism.

    1. Your anecdotal experience is not reflective of larger patterns. People of color, especially blacks and latino/as, remain underrepresented in pretty much every higher status rank and job in the country. Check the data. Also white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action including what you call diversity hiring.

  34. This entire article is absolutely fallacious. Nobody is trying to separate the white working class from the rest of the working class, people are trying to point out that a massive number percentage of whites live in the same multi-generational poverty and suffer from the same class-based discrimination and disadvantage as Black and Latinx Americans, a fact that many progressives do not wish to acknowledge. We’re not trying to distinguish ourselves from those voters, in fact many of us live alongside and identify closely with those voters, and they identify closely with us.

      1. OK, that was not my point. I’m not talking about the racial politics involved in “management” hiring practices, I’m specifically talking about the working class people that report to those management position.

        Also, when I used the term diversity I was specially implying racial diversity in corporate policy, politics. Sorry if that wasn’t clear since you are correct, diversity hiring also includes non-racial factors.

        So again, after a PoC is escalated to a position of management, I have anecdotally observed that their hiring/firing/evaluation practices are skewed towards their own race for non-management (aka “working class”) roles.

        If you have data that shows this not to be the case, I would love to see it. In no way am I saying my observation is “correct”, just that it needs to be measured, because I believe even if flawed this observation is still shared by many and feeds back into the sense of “anti-discrimination”.

  35. Just a simple comment: Thank you for this article. I always felt this was about a large number of people mourning the loss of their white privilege and advantages attained by steady, decent wage jobs that only required a high school education.

    1. also: black people are only 12% of the population. Given the nature of racial segregation, most white people live in communities that are much less black than that. Ultimately, there literally are not enough black people as a proportion for them to exclude white people from employment in the way that you suggest EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO.

    1. at the top of the second page of this article it explicitly says that blacks do not exhibit quit bias you are talking about. it also says that whites have the most quit bias. that is they are most likely to quit when their boss is non-white.

      on the bottom of pg 41 it says that whites do not suffer from a dismissal bias…in fact whites are 5% more likely to be fired when they have a white boss than when they have a non-white boss. in other words, non-white bosses treat white employees better than white bosses do.

      on pg 42 it also says the blacks are the most likely of any racial group to be dismissed…

      so this literally proves the exact opposite of what you claim to be true.

  36. The “white working class” issue is partly a problem of racism, but it’s also a failure of “progressives.” I’m a daughter of the white working class, and for years in multiple US cities I’ve seen snobbery and cluelessness among professional class liberals. They’ll bend over backwards to talk about the economic struggles of people of color (sometimes showing their own racism by assuming that brown skin = poor) but never acknowledge whites in the same position. They will use “white” as a stand-in term for “middle class.” I’ve had lots of people assume I’m from the same middle-upper middle class background they are over and over again, I’ve gotten comments like “how can you be a progressive if you’re from [blue collar part of town]?”. I’ve had people tell me things like they were surprised to learn that I’ve ever lived in poverty because “no one could tell that by looking at you.” I was once told by a group of young women working on reproductive rights that my help wasn’t needed in advertising their event in because women in my part of town aren’t interested in those issues. And the sheer amount of misguided b.s. I hear from these people about “economic justice” — it often bears no relation to anything I’ve experienced.

    1. My progressive theologian friends are highly passionate about exposing and resisting all forms of oppression and injustice, including economic. That is why most of us accord Catholic Social Teaching a prominent place in our teaching and scholarship.

      you might want to check out the work of my colleague Gerald Beyer who uses Catholic Social Teaching to advocate for the rights of workers to unionize.

      So too with my colleague Meghan Clark who is similarly passionate and knowledgeable about economic justice. I could go on and on.

      I am really sorry people have made faulty assumptions about you (i know first hand as you can see from these comments that it’s not fun for people to make stereotypical assumptions about you, especially when they are unkind.) I do hope that you will not let the bad behavior of other white people deter you from fighting for racial injustice.

      And please don’t forget that Clinton won the under 50k vote and Trump won both the over 50k vote and the college educated white vote. So other “working class” people do not express their frustrations by voting Republican.

      1. I wonder if the 50K vote tally was filtered for students, though. It also matters which state she won those votes in, not just in total. The Electoral College returns had a lot to do with Trump winning, and I think the data shows that 1) the states that Bernie won in primaries, the Dems won in the general election, and 2) the states that Clinton won in the primaries, the Republicans won in the general election. I think we should parse the data some more and try to find out what’s really happening.

      2. I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that Clinton way outperformed Bernie in the black vote and that much of the black vote is in states with aggressively Republican white voters (see the deep south). In other words, I’m not sure there’s much of a lesson in the stat you highlight but I could be wrong about that and am open to hearing other interpretations of that fact.

      3. I’m not sure the lesson either, but the point I was getting at is that turnout among black voters was light and didn’t help her in the traditionally Democratic states. Additionally, Trump pulled in a huge percentage of Hispanic votes from the West, adding to the confusion and intrigue. I’m just trying to point out that Clinton winning in the under 50k vote nationwide doesn’t prove anything unless we know how that breaks down per state, etc. She didn’t win in West Virginia, and almost the entire state is in that category. In fact, she may have won all of those under 50k votes in urban areas or in the north.

        I still think we need to get better at separating economic and racial issues, so I’m not saying anything in opposition to that. I’m just playing with the data.

      4. hello everyone (I´ve been fascinated by reading all of these comments, it´s been quite an education) with all due respect, could it be that voting republican might not express the working class´ frustration immediately, but it just might alleviate their frustration in the long run? it´s one thing to have your complaint heard/expressed/talked about and quite another to actually do something about your complaint. i think this might explain a shift toward conservative policy.

        Also (i´m no scholar on race, and i´m sure i´ll probably say something wrong by accident, but…) i think different races/nationalities, etc are beautiful, to say there is no such thing as race is deeply saddening to me. my husband is Native-American/Mexican/Spanish born in Mexico and I am Swiss-German American born in America, we come from completely different racial and social backgrounds and to say that we are not different or that our difference don´t impact how we behave, respond, screw up, see the world, etc is laughable (especially in marriage).

        Surely Theology deals also in what it means to be human (as created in God´s image yet fallen with hope of redemption) and it seems that, though deeply flawed in different ways, God loves every tongue and every nation. It seems these great issues, anchored truly in a biblical worldview, become simple enough for a child to understand. I also believe there-in lies the solution.

        I´m glad my husband is different from me, right down to the color of his skin.

        Forgive my ignorance, but I wonder what would happen if we began to celebrate these differences (in race, gender, politics etc) instead of trying desperately to mute them…

    2. I’ve faced these same kinds of issues. I’m a white progressive from a working-poor region of Vermont. Most of the other folks I encounter come at both economics and race from a top-down perspective. I think classism and racism are distinct issues that collude and mingle and empower each other at the urging of a power class from outside both the poor and people of color. It keeps the disenfranchised people in general from organizing. At the risk of exercising privilege, I agree with the author, but believe that we have to find a way to undo this damage without putting a fear of further disenfranchisement into play. I’m not sure how to do that, but struggle with it daily.

  37. the fact that you called your post “there is no such thing as a white working class” and then PS d it “this post doesn’t deny the existence of poor white people” makes me think that you solely wrote this post for attention. you are clearly thirsty for some internet buzz on your shitty little wordpress. the sad thing is you’re actually dividing up ppl u better get beind bernie im getting rly tired of this shit. last night he was talking abt native american rights in front of the white house so please explain to me again how he isn’t here for poc. bye (white) girl

    1. but i actually think the concept of “working class” already has been implicitly racialized as white so it would actually be cognitively difficult for most people to speak about the “black working class” in the way they do the white. So rather than affirming the bad conceptual habits the phrase “white working class” enables, I am looking for language that outs these habits and assumptions and disrupts them. Does that make more sense?

  38. Hi, I’m trying to work something out here, because a part of me feels like what you’re saying makes sense, but I just can’t get at an accurate paraphrasing of what you’re saying in a way that makes sense to me. Your substitution of “working-class whiteness” for “white working class” is obviously not one-to-one, because you can’t use it to describe a group of people. It seems like you’re saying that we shouldn’t talk about the “white working class” as a group because the only thing that separates them from the rest of the working class is race, but if race causes them to behave differently than the rest of the “working class”, isn’t that justification for considering them to be a different group? Are you saying, then, that we shouldn’t consider “working class” to be a group at all? But the problem with that, then, is, as others have mentioned, that “working class whites” tend to think and behave differently than other white people. So, then, would it or would it not be accurate to say that you think we should change our conception from categories of class, within which there are subcategories of race, to categories of race, within which there are subcategories of class? Please let me know if I’m on the right track, or if I’m misinterpreting you.

    1. i would also say that this phrase would not be as problematic if people referred to the black or asian american working classes as often as they do the white working class. it’s like only white people get to have a class.

  39. “What makes the “white” working class different from the black, or Native American, or Latino/a, or Asian-American working class?”

    Location. Because of the electoral college, a coalition of the Black, Native American, Latino/a, and Asian-American working class can exclude the white working class vote at their own peril.

    ” Indeed, if we believe that economic systems oppress people by sorting them into social classes, then how can an entity such as the white working class even exist? ”

    That school of thought has its answer to this question, sometimes called the “Wrong Address Theory” of nationalism by its detractors- just when the moment calls upon a population to become collectively conscious of class, they become collectively conscious of nationalism. Sort of a close cousin to Gmork’s discussion of fascism and the Nothing.

  40. Another thought I was just thinking. What does each of us mean when we say working class? What I heard on the campaign trail this year in reference to that was usually around jobs in manufacturing, or manual labor that ended up with a product or result. Is that what you all mean? When I think of working class, I tend to think of the service industry, too: retail (as mentioned above), contractors in the knowledge industry, mechanics, waitstaff, building maintenance, etc. I think, though, that my definition as a Vermonter of working class might be very different from someone who lives in New York City, San Francisco, or West Virginia.

    I also know that, first-world economies tend towards service industries as their population increases, pushing manufacturing and labor jobs to second-world economies, which is what we’ve done in the United States. So, I wonder if maybe “white working class” is code for “people who lost their jobs as part of capitalist progression and who don’t want to/can’t work in the service industry.” I say this because growing up in Vermont allowed me to witness white people in all KINDS of jobs from the worst to the best. When I lived in Massachusetts, however, I noticed that white people never had jobs in the service industry, except for retail. All the minimum wage labor jobs were held by Latino/as, Blacks, or Asians.

    So, in Vermont, economic issues are not race issues, they are prevalent across race. In places with larger populations, or that tend towards more racist views, I’ve observed that economic issues are forced on non-whites somehow. The quit factor mentioned above? The unwillingness of whites to work menial labor? Pure racism?

    I’m rambling a bit, but I think it’s important we define what we mean, because I suspect we all hold a slightly different model of what “working class” is.

  41. Maybe you’re misreading the critique of the Clinton campaign’s inability to reach to those who previously voted Democrat in impoverished and predominantly white areas. Maybe you don’t understand issues of class, some of which intersect with race and some which merely subdivide people further.

      1. When you are trying to figure out a way to reach out to the particular Trump voters who are both poor and white in an effort to shake racism and xenophobia from their worldviews, you need to talk about the experience of the white working clasd. It isn’t the same thing as dealing with white racists who have money and power because the way they exercise their racism is different. The way they express it is different. It isn’t the same thing as talking to working class people of color because of the goal–shaking underlying racism.

        It is important for some people, those of us who wish to try this type of outreach, to recognize that these individuals don’t understand privilege even if they participate in it. They don’t feel privileged. While I understand the nuance of white privilege and how important it is to unravel if we are to move forward and not backward as a nation, poor white people don’t see it that way. What privilege? I have heard, I work part time at Wal-Marr, I collect food stamps, I have 27 dollars in my checking account, etc. That is the reality of the situation for many white Americans and sometimes they scapegoat, which as far as I’m concerned,bis part of how we wound up in this wretched situation.

        Class is important to address. Whiteness is important to address. Privilege and the fallacious notions that fuel white supremacy are important to address. But you never get in the door unless you drop all of that higher level philosophy of race and jargon and speak to people where they are.

        You get nowhere and the next guy is worse than Trump.

      2. Am I going to, as an advocate to people in poor white areas, speak to them of their “working class whiteness?” It won’t make sense. The phrase white working class (or more appropriately white, working class) does make sense.

      3. It isn’t a matter of intelligence. When I think about strategies which have a hope of working in trying to disabuse people of their racism, using language that I believe confuses the issue, like academic language does not factor.

        A good deal of my family–almost all of it– is white and working class. Some of them are painfully poor. None of them lacks intelligence. But when I talk to them about race, which I have, I find that emotionally neutral, non-academic language is more effective because it is less off- putting.

      4. It is quite unclear to me how the phrase “white working class” is less “academic” than the phrase “working class whiteness.”

        Also: just because white people don’t like reality doesn’t make it less real.

      5. Considering that poor white people, or at least working class white people constitute 85% of my family, the older generation, I know they don’t lack intelligence. My grandfather was a dirt poor coal miner in rural Pennsylvania. He was brilliant.

        But none of them would be responsive to academic language. Despite, or perhaps because of their intelligence, they have a suspicion of liberal elites. Myself included.

        That’s why the denial of the white working class may be fine from the standpoint of an academic argument but it doesn’t really mean anything, not to white people who are poor, working class and are strongly entrenched in the anti-academic norms and values of the working class.

      6. “Anti academic norms and values of the working class.” With “friends” like these, the white working class surely does not need any enemies!

        I remain amazed at how many people in this comments section claim to be champions of white working class people yet say the most unflattering things about them! To make it even worse, many think these put downs are in fact great compliments.

        I will say it again: I don’t think white working class people are any less capable of grasping concepts, recognizing the value of higher education and scholarship, or being able to oppose racism than any other type of white person.

      7. Also working class white people need “emotionally neutral language. ” is that why over 60% of them voted for Trump, a man who ran the most emotional campaign in modern history?

        That is funny.

      8. Also I’m not sure how you think you are going to be able to speak about racism in “emotionally neutral language” when you have shown yourself to be completely incapable of such language here in your response to my post.

        Also why would one speak about racism in emotionally neutral language? If racism doesn’t make you feel strong emotions, you are morally malformed. Perhaps you meant to say that one should not use ad hominem attacks and should try to have compassion for people when speaking about racism and with that I would definitely agree.

        I hope you have a very happy thanksgiving and that you get to spend it with people you love. If you are able to develop a script that is proven successful at converting white people to the cause of racism, I do hope you put it in a form that the world can share and please do pass it on to me. I am always looking for ways to be a better communicator. All the best.

      9. I’m sorry. My WordPress app posted things then told me it didn’t so I tried to recreate my original post only to find it was posted. Very confusing and redundant, I’m sorry–unitentionally so.

        My philosophical studies were more focused on the social context of individuals and interpersonal ethics than it was on racial metaphysics. Even my philosophy of race class mainly disassembled notions of race as a real thing. We definitely didn’t talk about “whiteness” as an actual, metaphysical property, we talked about white privilege and white supremacy because those are a function of looking Caucasian. And if I’m misunderstanding your point there, I’m sorry.

        When I talk about the norms and values of the working class being anti-intellectual, that’s not just my opinion. The working class, historically, has tended to embrace pragmatism and eschew the things it deemed unnecessary including anything regarding liberal arts or social sciences. I am not calling them stupid, I’m saying that it wasn’t a priority.

        I DID mean to say that ad hominem attacks are not useful. You are right. They may be rhetorically satisfying, but they will never get through the defenses of someone who is already defensive (white fragility).

        And I don’t where you got the idea that I thought class was essential in some biological or metaphysical sense, except that WordPress was frustrating me and maybe I wrote something incorrectly. Neither race nor class are things that exist within a person, both are how a person is categorized culturally and societally.

        And, just in case I wasn’t clear, I do not prioritize the needs of white members of the working class over the needs of people of color, I merely think that if we are to reach forward, some degree of empathy, or as you said “compassion when speaking about racism” is necessary.

        That was kind of my whole point–I consider saying “there is no such thing as the white working class” a mechanism of further alienating people (since that IS how people identify) when I have decided that my fight as a white person is figuring out a way to talk to white people who have racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic views or who tacitly accepted them by voting in the election and using compassion to try to win hearts and minds.

        If I come up with a script for this, it won’t be on my own but I certainly will make sure it was as publicly available as possible.

      10. and i don’t see how anything I wrote was not compassionate to anyone. I also wasn’t actually critiquing poorer white people as much as I was the say politicians and journalists talk about them…two groups of people who, by definition, are not “the working class.”

        And I didn’t accuse working class whites of anything I don’t think all whites are guilty of. But being compassionate doesn’t mean coddling.

      11. Just one more thing and I’m out. When I said that the white working class does not value intellectualism, I meant it in relation to pragmatism. And of course, this doesn’t refer to all individuals, rather the norm of a subculture to which many subscribe. And maybe it’s partly personal
        because of my own family and the fact that I spent 14 years being a gentrifying factor within a neighborhood brimming with working class whiteness. There is also historical precedent if you examine labor movements and evangelical movements in this country.

      12. Ah yes, “working class whiteness.” It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

        As for me, I am a theological ethicist who is a Thomist. So I don’t necessarily follow Dewey or the specific philosophical methodology called “pragmatism,” but as a Thomist, I try to be highly inductive. A big part of that for me is thinking about how language functions, practically. So if you think I’m someone who thinks that “the intellectual life” can be divorced from what’s actually happening on the ground or how people actually think or how change actually happens, you are wrong. These questions in fact are at the center of my work.

      13. I can’t get past this. As a philosopher, I get the difference. I would never use it because it’s kind of frowned upon in academic philosophy to essentialize a characteristic and make it metaphysical. There is no difference in meaning between a white, working class person and their very own working class whiteness. Whiteness does not exist apart from the social, political and cultural structures of race and the individual’s own race (which is probably more than one). So to say a white person has whiteness is going to sound ludicrous to any person who is not an academic.

      14. It’s wrong to “essentialize” race (actually in identifying the existence of working class whiteness I am opening up greater space for us to recognize that whiteness is not uniform) but it’s fine to essentialize class (indeed in all of your comments you’ve been talking about poor and working class whites as a monolith. Strange philosophy indeed…

        And I know that that philosophy is a very diverse field but speaking of accidents and essences was good enough for Aristotle so I think my attempt to capture what is essential about whiteness actually has a very good pedigree in your field!

  42. You make some very incisive observations here. And I’m impressed by your patience in responding to all the comments. (A brief editorial note: In the parenthetical of your Update, I think you mean “second to last paragraph.”) I look forward to checking out more of your writing.

  43. Katie, the article was ok, understood your points, it more felt like you were working through your own thoughts and letting the keyboard do some meandering. Your engagement with all the comments was what got me, very appreciated. This election has been more about the glaring discrepancies between government and the people, imo. Both candidates represented what is hurting Americans; Trump capitalized on the hate rhetoric the GOP has used for decades to divide and conquer. Hillary represented how out of touch Democrats have become from being the champions of the working and middle classes. This isn’t anything new, what is new is that all of us, regular Americans are being forced to decide whether to continue this idiotic us vs them mentality or realize that what’s going on in Washington isn’t as much about race and class, but so much more about the power big businesses yield to create laws and policies without the American peoples consent or understanding of just wth they are really up too. … there’s my rambling 2 cents. Thanks for all you do.

  44. Intersectionality is a theoretical concept because it’s useful in analysis, and intersectionality is what’s attended to in discussions of the “white working class”—just as it is when discussing “poor women” or “white feminists.” Also, re: “one can reasonably separate the white poor from the non-white poor in theory only because they have separated themselves in reality.” Isn’t the aim of ANY theory and theoretical discussion itself to identify what is happening “in reality”?

  45. People should start here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1675422676102933/ and immediately download and study “Settlers” by J. Sakai. You don’t have to agree with all his conclusions (I don’t) to see that you can’t understand questions of white supremacy, privilege and whiteness without examining settler colonialism. The Democratic Party is an instrument of empire, or imperialism, capitalism and settler colonialism. Class isn’t a question of “identity,” it is a question of an irreconcilable contradiction between the exploiter and the exploited, the oppressor and the oppressed. But unfortunately, in the context of land theft, genocide and slavery, the imperial project in the US has been a cross class project, not merely one foisted on everyone else by the bourgeoisie. Nothing can be done to reform the Democratic Party, and the US electoral system is carefully designed to propagate and maintain white supremacy, capitalism, land theft, colonialism and empire. Talking about these questions without addressing the need for a total revolutionary transformation of the social, political and economic order in this society and state, arising from a thorough-going decolonization inside and outside the current borders of the US will lead nowhere.
    That said, privilege and bribery are universal methods of maintaining social control, right along with “divide and conquer.” So, white privilege is hardly the only form of privilege. White nationalism undergirds empire and US nationalism but they are not coterminous; there are plenty of “people of color” throughout different class strata in US society who identify with and want to uphold the imperial order. Wardens and prison guards use privilege to control prisoners (and not only white privilege or white prisoners). Teachers use privilege to control students, parents use privilege to control children, capitalists use privilege to control workers. That doesn’t make prisoners, students, children or workers stupid. It is an unfortunate reality that people often identify with their oppressor, and that the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class (a class not mentioned in most of the discussion I skimmed or in the original article).

  46. My disagreement with your piece is that I find it treats racism as though what happens politically and economically occurs in a vacuum outside of social relationships between people and institutions. Racism does not float freely in white people’s consciousness devoid from any connection to life. It is not an ‘ideal form’ but something that has developed and changed many times over hundreds of years. To me, any analytical tool to understand reality is only any good when tied to actual circumstance. First, references to WWC is really only short-hand for those workers who are white AND working class. I certainly don’t think any thoughtful commentator on the left would say otherwise. Perhaps a white nationalist would, but I don’t think your piece is addressed to them.To suggest that white workers are consciously voting in a racialized way, to protect their racial supremacy, and not based on their class interests, really requires some evidence. In the rust belt states where Trump won razor-thin majorities of the vote in Michigan (or so it seems) and Pennsylvania, he received the votes of workers in specific regions of the states experiencing job losses. Obama handily won these areas in 2008 and 2012. My point is that we always have to look at the context in which actors make their decisions. [It should also be noted that black workers did not turn out in large enough numbers in Detroit, Philadelphia or Milwaukee which if they had likely would have changed the results.] Economic reductionism is a charge often brought against people who lament the lack of economic class in analysis of inequality in the United States. It is a fair criticism if racism (or gender for that matter) is not treated as a critical constituent element of inequality, exploitation and state violence under capitalism. Unfortunately, though, class reductionism is often charged when class is employed as a way to analyze how power works. Race and class are not an either/or in a capitalist society and counter-posing them does a real injustice to ending race-based oppression. Race and class-based oppression and exploitation work together. You mention that Sanders lost the vote to Hillary Clinton in the primaries among black voters is evidence that class reductionism is not a winning strategy became the go-to explanation of liberal pundits. However, it ignores that black voters may simply have made a rational choice of not betting on a long shot, or the fact many simply did not know who he was or stood for yet (It is not an accident that people who run political campaigns spend so much energy on name recognition). The alternative strategy to an economic approach seems to be “denouncing racism”, but how does simply making a statement do anything to change the conditions of racial minorities? Philosopher Nancy Fraser has made the point that claims to “recognition” have displaced socioeconomic redistribution as the remedy for injustice and the goal of political struggle.This has played itself out whereby people like Bill and Hilary Clinton can recognize the injustice of racism and perhaps pledge to create more dialogue around race relations, while at the same time reducing welfare benefits or approving of so-called free trade deals that promote a race to the economic bottom. In the current neoliberal period, which will grow much darker under Trump, mainstream Democrats have been able to exploit the politics of recognition (HRC said, “Breaking up the bank won’t end racism”.) rhetorically while inequality has increased steadily and state violence against black men and women persists. It is not white workers who are to blame for the situation we are in. It is the fault of elites who prosper off of all workers’ backs.

  47. A bit late to the party, but Grimes is exactly right. Even a month after the election, the media stubbornly holds onto the falsehood that lacking a college education automatically makes one working class. Trump’s most fervernt support came from whites with only high-school educations who live in racially homogenous areas, usually rural ones. Some of these folks are blue collar for sure, but many others are relatively well-off business owners and veterans. It’s a group defined not by economics but by culture, specifically white male exceptionalism. The movement appears populist on the surface because it defines elites based on education and not on income, but their real objection is to urban intellectuals’ embrace of diversity and rejection of authoritarian values. Perhaps the media’s fixation on the “white working class,” its insistence that Trump’s victory was due to economit grievances, is its way of avoiding the ugly truth that millions of whites want to bring back the days when minorities and women “knew their place.”

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