Class, race, tea
Can common ground be reached with tea partiers?
Whites in the tea party movements bash the federal government for unfair taxation, and therefore share common ground with other nonpartiers of the same and different hues. I actually agree with the tea partiers on the unjustness of the current tax system. Is there a bigger waste of our national resources than funding what GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower termed the “military-industrial complex,” leaving fewer greenbacks to improve lives here?
A search for common ground requires an open and honest discussion of our differences and similarities. Tea partiers and folks who don’t like the tax system but aren’t “partiers” must all have paid employment to get by. This seems like a no-brainer: working-class politics waiting to be born.
Yet, sometimes, what is most obvious is a bit hard to see—this has to do with the nature of our class society which tends to make folks misread their actual place in the social order. We know the “have-mores” as the big banks and companies “too big to fail.” But that’s not the half of it for the rest of us who are right-sized for failure, short of cash and having to borrow it for food, health care and shelter before the Great Recession and upper-class bailouts.
Tea partiers and other working folks deal with economic inequality every day. Consider this: The United States gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services bought and sold, tripled from 1970 to 2003. During this time, the “top 13,000 tax-paying households … saw its wages and salaries increase fifteen-fold,” economist Michael Perelman writes, while for the bottom 99 percent of Americans, average income remained basically unchanged. The overwhelming majority has been and is treading water, as a tiny minority has reaped income gains that boggle one’s mind.
This brings us to race. Yes, there is only one, the human race. But this is America. The nation began with the theft of black labor and American Indian lands. Crucially, arriving immigrants who figured in these events were neither black nor American Indian. Further, the new arrivals were not all white, i.e., citizens, as we know the term now.
Noel Ignatiev examines Irish immigrants’ journey from American outcasts to white citizens in How the Irish Became White. Karen Brodkin details some of this white ethnic and racial history in How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says About Race in America.
Meanwhile, the U.S. population of whites falls as nonwhites rises. Why? Think trade policy. The North American Free Trade Agreement has caused millions of desperate Mexicans to flee to the United States for work.
“The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line,” wrote black scholar W.E.B. DuBois of the American nation more than a century ago. Tea partiers who slam President Barack Obama for being black instead of for expanding foreign wars and backing corporate America weaken mutual support between working people.
Common ground between tea partiers and others is out there. But to nurture it, we need to unpack the structures of class and race openly and honestly. This is easy to say and less so to do. The task is urgent.