Rethinking Race and Class

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katrina refugee

The first bus of refugees arrives in Houston on August 31 [© 2005Katya Horner, all rights reserved]

Come the storm, it’s poor, aged, dependent and mostly black people who turn up in the catch basin of the Superdome. Forty years after the Voting Rights Act and Lyndon Johnson’s assault on poverty, we are shocked — shocked! — at the evidence of black powerlessness. But we must be ready for a new conversation on these old themes, with a fresh cast of thinkers. We will start our own Open Source conversation next week with, among others, the independent African-American economist Marcellus Andrews, who wrote to us provocatively the other day:

A real conservative government is a necessarily constructive enterprise that seeks to bind the past to the future in ways that preserve culture and institutions that are essential for dignified human being not a rapacious gang that encourages the stripping of the human and natural environment in search of profit and power with no heed for tomorrow or the social ties and rituals that binds us all together.

This is not a Hobbesian leviathan brooding over an unruly mob, using force to keep order while making sure the everyone can pursue their lives with a decent degree of security but a mafia lying to one group (genuinely conservative, frightened white Christians) while abusing another (gays, blacks, enemies of one sort or another) all the while stealing everything.

I worry that an America awakened briefly to race will either fall asleep again or even let its attention to the race/class nexus blind it to the bigger game in town: the fact that a pirate army has seized public power and is plundering all institutions and all resources because it has no concern at all with the needs of the American nation, much less the rest of the world.

Marcellus Andrews

Who are the most provocative analysts weve never heard of on the race-class nexus after Katrina?

Update, 9/19 1:13 pm

Good minds — or pehaps people who read and listen to similar newpapers and radio shows — think alike. Leon Wynter will be joining us in our Boston studio, so tune in, Cassandra, and thank you.

Marcellus Andrews

Economist, New America Foundation

Author, The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America

[In a studio in New York City]

Leon Wynter

Assistant professor of journalism at Emerson College

Author, American Skin

[In our Boston studio]
Update, 9/19 4:55 pm

We got an email this afternoon from Echidne, who writes at Echidne of the Snakes.

I think a lot could be learned by relaxing the U.S. centered view on the problem and by asking what happens to the poor in other parts of the world in similar situations. This helps to see the similarities and the differences between the Katrina disaster and others, and also reminds us that the U.S. experience may not be that different in all respects from what happens in general when race and class interact…

Leon Wynter

Leon Wynter (left) and Chris [Brendan Greeley]

Update, 9/19 7:41 pm

Leon Wynter just recommended a book by Thomas Shapiro, The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality

Update, 9/19 7:56 pm

Chris just brought up a book by Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools


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