Academic journal article Social Justice

Building from Marx: Reflections on Class and Race

Academic journal article Social Justice

Building from Marx: Reflections on Class and Race

Article excerpt

I know I am not alone. There must be hundreds of other women, maybe thousands, who feel as I do. There may be hundreds of men who want the same drastic things to happen. But how do you hook up with them? How can you interlink your own struggle and goals with these myriad, hypothetical people who are hidden entirely or else concealed by stereotypes and/or generalities of "platform" such as any movement seems to spawn? I don't know. I don't like it, this being alone when it is clear that there will have to be multitudes working together, around the world, if radical and positive change can be forced upon the heinous status quo I despise in all its overwhelming power.--June Jordan, "Declaration of an Independence I Would Just as Soon Not Have," in Moving Towards Home: Political Essays (1989)

Introduction

IT IS CONVENTIONAL IN ACADEMIC AND POLITICAL CIRCLES BY NOW TO SPEAK OF "RACE" in the same breath with gender and class. It is more or less recognized that race can be combined with other social relations of power and that they can mediate and intensify each other. (1) This combination of "race," gender, and class is often expressed through the concept of "intersectionality," in which three particular strands of social relations and ideological practices of difference and power are seen as arising in their own specific social terrain, and then crisscrossing each other "intersectionally" or aggregatively. (2) It is a coming together of social issues to create a moment of social experience.

Yet, speaking of experience, nonwhite and white people living in Canada and the West know that this social experience is not, as lived, a matter of intersectionality. Their sense of being in the world, textured through myriad social relations and cultural forms, is lived or felt or perceived as being all together and all at once. A working-class nonwhite woman's (Black, South Asian, Chinese, etc.) presence in the usual racialized environment is not divisible separately and serially. The fact of her blackness, her sex, and gender-neutral personhood of being working class blend into something of an identity simultaneously and instantaneously. (3) This identification is in the eye of the beholder and in her own sense of social presence captured by this gaze. The same goes for a white woman, yet when confronted with this question of "being" and experience, we are hard put to theorize them in terms of a social ontology. What accounts for this inadequacy of conceptualization, which fails to capture such formative experientiality? If it is lived, then how can it be thought, and how can we overcome our conceptual shortcomings? My intent here is to suggest a possible theorization that can address these questions, or at least to grasp the reasons why we need to ask them in the first place. This is not a matter of simply responding to a theoretical challenge, but is also a political matter. It is a basic piece of the puzzle for the making of social democracy.

For democracy to be more than a mere form consisting of political rituals that only serve to entrench the rule of capital and sprinkle holy water on existing social inequalities, it must have a popular and actually participatory content. That content should be social and cultural demands concentrated in social movements and organizations that work through political processes aimed at popular entitlement at all levels. Such politics needs a social understanding that conceives social formations as a set of complex, contradictory, and inclusive phenomena of social interactions. A simple arithmetical exercise of adding or intersecting "race," gender, and class in a stratificatory mode would not do. Neither can it posit "race" as a cultural phenomenon and gender and class as social and economic. It must overcome the segmentation of the overall social into such elementary aspects of its composition. For example, a trade union cannot properly be said to be an organization for class struggle if it only thinks of class in economic terms, without broadening the concept of class to include "race" and gender in its intrinsic formative definition. …

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