Race and Class in America: the Era of Unwritten Rules

There’s no rule that says prisons must be disproportionately filled with blacks, or that blacks must be poor, nor that stop-and-frisk must target them, nor that they must be deprioritized during job openings, or that insurance prices are higher in ghettos,  or that you can shoot a black person and get away with it (especially if you’re a cop). There’s no formal rule that says these things, and yet, these ARE the rules.

The greatest difficulty of the Era of Unwritten Rules is the constant denial that we are in it. There is no Legal Segregation to attack, no open denial of voting rights (except in a few cases). White people can bumble about having no idea that we live in this Era, because it does not exist formally or legally, only empirically and statistically — it is based on real lived experience and actual practices, not something publicly declared, and the authorities take great pains to make sure it is not publicly declared.  Even blacks have difficulty talking about this Era because all they have are their own experience, their own anecdotes — they tend not to have social science degrees.  Anecdotal discussion invites the counterargument that “you’re just some whining black person” and “everyone has it rough,” arguments which are horrible but are, in truth, equally non-statistical to black people’s anecdotal-yet-heartfelt complaints about their reality.  The Era of Unwritten Rules can only be proven in aggregate, quantitatively, with numbers.

The race situation in the US, therefore, has something closely in common with the class situation.  The class situation, too, is based on Unwritten Rules.  There is no rule that says a CEO must make 200 times what their employees make, and yet it is what happens.  The disparity in American net worth is not an open law.  There is no law that says “we must have one group of ridiculously fucking rich people, and another group of worker-slaves.”  No, that’s the horrific beauty of capitalism: it hides its true nature.  “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”

The Fight for $15 struggle, for these reasons, presents itself to me as both a class struggle and a struggle against racial oppression.  Because the oppression of blacks is based on real material conditions and not open discriminatory laws, what benefits the working class disproportionately (and rightfully!) benefits black people.  This is not to say we should not protest police brutality or shut down the prisons, of course we should, but I will say this: the only type of political event where I have seen whites and blacks in the same space in roughly equal numbers was at union events.  (But that is, I suppose, only my unscientific anecdotal experience.)

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