Race-Based Democracy vs Social Democracy

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Adolph Reed:

"Even as a program for addressing racial disparities, antiracism is not much of a remedy for inequality. If the racial wealth gap were somehow eliminated up and down the distribution, 90 percent of black people would still have only 25 percent of total wealth, and the top 10 percent of blacks would still hold 75 percent. And this is only to be expected because in a society with sharp and increasing overall inequality, eliminating racial “gaps” in the distribution of advantages and disadvantages by definition does not affect the larger, and more fundamental, pattern of inequality.

That inadequacy becomes clearer when we consider the argumentative sleight-of-hand that drives disparity discourse. What we’re actually saying every time we insist that the basic inequality is between blacks and whites is that the only inequalities we care about are those produced by some form of discrimination—that inequality itself isn’t the problem, it’s only the inequalities produced by racism and sexism, etc. What disparity discourse tells us is that, if you have an economy that’s getting more and more unequal, that’s mainly generating jobs that don’t even pay a living wage, the problem we need to solve is not how to reduce that inequality and not how to make those jobs better but how to make sure that they aren’t disproportionately held by black and brown people.

It’s true, as political scientist Preston H. Smith II has shown, that in the form of what he calls “racial democracy,” some black people have championed the ideal of a hierarchical ladder on which blacks and other nonwhites would be represented on every rung in rough proportion to their representation in the general population.2 But the fact that some black people have desired it doesn’t make racial democracy desirable. As we have noted, separately, together, and repeatedly, the implication of proportionality as the metric of social justice is that the society would be just if 1 percent of the population controlled 90 percent of the resources so long as 13 percent of the 1 percent were black, 14 percent were Hispanic, half were women, etc.

Complaints about disproportionality are liberal math. And a politics centered on challenging disproportionality comes with the imprimatur of no less a Doctor of the Church of Left Neoliberalism than economist Paul Krugman, who asserted in his role as ideologist for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign that “horizontal” inequality, i.e., inequalities measured “between racially or culturally defined groups,” is what’s really important in America and dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ elaborate program for social-democratic redistribution as “a pipe dream.”3

It’s the fixation on disproportionality that tells us the increasing wealth of the one percent would be OK if only there more black, brown, and LGBTQIA+ billionaires. And the fact that antiracism and antidiscrimination of all kinds would validate rather than undermine the stratification of wealth in American society is completely visible to those who currently possess that wealth—all the rich people eager to embark on a course of moral purification (antiracist training) but with no interest whatsoever in a politics (social-democratic redistribution) that would alter the material conditions that make them rich.

By contrast, the strain in black politics that converged around what Smith calls the social- (rather than racial-)democratic ideal proceeded from the understanding that, because most black Americans are in the working class—and disproportionately so, partly because of the same effects of past and current racism we allude to above—black people would also benefit disproportionately from redistributive agendas that expand social wage policies and enhance the living standards and security of working people universally. The tension between those two ideals of social justice, as Smith indicates, was, and is, a tension arising from differences in perception and values rooted in different class positions.

Thus the fact that, over the last half century (as American society has reached new heights of inequality and as Democrats have done very little more than Republicans to combat it), the racial-democratic principle in black politics, and in the society in general, has displaced the social-democratic one, has been a victory for the class—black and white—that has supported it. In its insistence that proportionality is the only defensible norm and metric of social justice, antiracist politics rejects universal programs of social-democratic redistribution in favor of what is ultimately a racial trickle-down approach according to which making more black people rich and rich black people richer is a benefit to all black people." (https://nonsite.org/the-trouble-with-disparity/)