Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dr. Charles W. Mills on the Political Dynamics of Race and Class in the United States in the 21st Century and the Fight Against Trump's Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions


Race and Ethnicity
The Left
That’s Debatable

What Is the Left Without Identity Politics?

Four writers consider the question dividing the Democratic Party
by Walter Benn Michaels, Charles W. Mills, Linda Hirshman and Carla Murphy

Whose Identity Politics?
by Charles W. Mills
December 16, 2016
The Nation

(b. January 3, 1951)

The causes of Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory will be debated for years: FBI director James Comey’s October 28 letter about Clinton’s e-mails, her “basket of deplorables” comment, the Democratic campaign’s neglect of the Rust Belt states, and so on. But the pernicious and enduring role of identity politics was crucial.

I refer, of course, to the white racial identity politics that has shaped the United States from its birth.

Needless to say, this is neither the standard narrative nor the usual framing. For the orthodox white left, now claiming a cheerless we-told-you-so vindication, identity politics is their politics—particularistic, pandering to special interests, balkanizing; ours, of course, are supposedly very different—universalist, general-interest, unifying. Not “recognition,” but redistribution; not “identity” but material inequality; not “race,” but class. The proletariat, Karl Marx informs us, is the universal class, subject to no racial or gendered categorizations, whose emancipation is going to free everybody. In a somewhat diluted non-revolutionary form (social-democratic redistributivist capitalism), this vision still informs white mainstream left-liberal thought today.

But if it was wrong even in Marx’s time and Marx’s world, it is even more mistaken in the United States of the 21st century. American capitalism (white supremacist from the start) created heterogeneous structures of subordination that had different effects on white workers than on black and brown workers. White working-class identity politics—even as a junior shareholder in the overarching system of white supremacy—would pay off for its subscribers in multiple ways: not just in terms of greater political input and civic/social recognition than their non-white counterparts, but also in the form of material access to better jobs, better (segregated) neighborhoods, a better education for their children, and far greater wealth (through racially discriminatory mortgages and state transfer payments, the racialized implementation of the GI Bill, and so forth). The so-called identity politics of people of color has always been reactive, recognizing whiteness as an illicit set of entitlements to these political and economic advantages.

White working-class identity politics is a junior shareholder in the overarching system of white supremacy.
Doesn’t the white working class have legitimate grievances? Of course it does. But these must be separated from illegitimate grievances about diminished white privilege, both identitarian and economic. After all, the non-white poor and working class are hurting worse, and (for the most part) they didn’t vote for Trump. Achieving a genuine universalism responsive to the interests of both the white and the non-white disadvantaged will require an admission of whites’ differential historic positioning in the political economy, and how the prism of race has always refracted their perception of their group interests. As plutocracy and the New Gilded Age of inequality consolidate themselves, the white left needs to ask itself whose identity politics brought us to this point in the first place.


Charles W. Mills is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. He is the author of numerous books on race and political theory, including The Racial Contract (1997), Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race (1998), and the forthcoming Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism (2017).

Dear MoveOn member,

Senator Jeff Sessions' spokesperson lashed out at MoveOn today after nearly 200,000 MoveOn members signed a petition supporting the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and national NAACP leaders in their peaceful sit-in at Sen. Sessions' office in Mobile to protest against his nomination for attorney general.1

Sen. Sessions' bizarre attack against MoveOn and the NAACP is only the latest in his history of attacks—over his career, he's attacked voting rights and immigrants, women, LTBTQ Americans, and so much more.

Take a minute to watch this video MoveOn just released featuring civil rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and other advocacy leaders talking about the danger Sen. Sessions poses as Trump's attorney general pick.

Stop Jeff Sessions

Americans from all walks of life are speaking out against Sen. Sessions, and it is for the same reasons the Senate rejected his nomination to the federal judiciary decades ago: his track record of racism, his avid opposition to civil rights and human rights, and his false claims about his own history of civil rights work to try to deflect criticism.2

As attorney general, Sen. Sessions would be a threat to us all. Please take a moment to watch this video and share it with your friends and family so they know what's at stake.
Thanks for all you do.

—Jamiah, Justin, Maria, Alex, and the rest of the team
P.S. If you haven't yet signed the petition from the Alabama State Conference president of the NAACP, calling on Congress to reject Sessions' nomination, you can add your name here.


1. "NAACP protest of Sessions 'a fundraising gimmick,'" Washington Examiner, January 5, 2017

2. "Jeff Sessions says he handled these civil rights cases. He barely touched them." The Washington Post, January 3, 2017…

Want to support our work? The MoveOn community will work every moment, day by day and year by year, to resist Trump's agenda, contain the damage, defeat hate with love, and begin the process of swinging the nation's pendulum back toward sanity, decency, and the kind of future that we must never give up on. And to do it we need your ongoing support, now more than ever. Will you stand with us?


NAACP arrested in sit-in of Trump AG Jeff Sessions’ office amid rising opposition:

Six members of the NAACP were arrested during a sit-in at the Mobile, Alabama, office of Senator Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General. The organization’s president, Cornell Brooks, who wrote a statement in November objecting to Sessions’ opposition to the Voting Rights Act, was among those arrested. Meanwhile, 1,100 law school professors sent a letter urging Congress to reject the nomination. To discuss this, ‘News With Ed’ is joined by Larry Cohen, chair of the Democracy Initiative and a critic of Sessions.

Over 155 civil and human rights organizations led by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and joined by leaders from the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, National LGBTQ Task Force, The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Transformative Justice Coalition—raise their collective voices against the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general. These organizations advocate for the rights of immigrants, LGBTQi, women and people of color—they are deeply entrenched in the battle for voting rights and criminal justice reform. Sessions' voting record demonstrates a clear disregard for the civil and human rights of all Americans. Share this video, call your senators today to voice your opposition, and sign this petition: #NoSessions