Book Review: The Sum of Us- What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee.

By Karyn Pomerantz, 3-4-2021

In The Sum of Us (2021), Heather McGhee refutes the pervasive idea that racism, specifically white supremacy, benefits white workers. She contradicts the paradigm of a “zero-sum game” in which gains for black workers diminish the economic and social status of white workers. Instead, she advocates for “social solidarity” that would create a “solidarity dividend” that enriches the lives of all workers.

McGhee is another liberal capitalist author who has stong antiracist arguments but a weak analysis of the role of capitalism that requires racism to create profit and enforce divisions among workers. Liberal reformers, such as Sanders, the Ford Foundation, and unions, try to preserve capitalism by making it more equitable. McGhee was president of Demos, a liberal think tank for economic reforms. Her book reflects the insights she gained there.

McGhee opens the book with an excellent analysis of the early colonial days when the rich landowners decided to enslave African people and divide black, indigenous, and white residents. Before this, there were marriages and friendships among these groups. Fearing that unity could decrease the huge profits made from cotton and tobacco, the planters outlawed socializing and marrying, brutalizing whites who resisted, killing native people, and forcing black workers into enslaved, free labor.

Beyond this violence, the early ruling class members used ideology to reinforce segregation and justify slavery. They classified Africans as subhuman, intellectually inferior people who could withstand hard physical labor while extolling whites as superior. Northern and southern “founding fathers” who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights classified their property as 3/5ths of a person in order to give southern states more representation, indicating that they didn’t consider African-descended people fully human, an attitude that persists today .

They sealed this pact by paying whites a meager wage and allowed them to farm small plots of land with the assurances that they would not be treated as harshly as black workers. Planters hired them as overseers and the first police forces to control enslaved workers. Yet slaveowners did not invest in the well-being of poor white southerners. While northern states provided hundreds of public schools and libraries, southern states lagged far behind. There were 782 public schools in Mississippi compared to 2,381 in New Hampshire. White workers eventually accepted the bribe of superiority that still haunts the world. As the poet Melvin Tolson wrote centuries later, “throw scraps of hate to the white folks…”

In 1860, enslaved people were together worth $3 billion. While southern elites earned large profits, northern businesses enthusiastically benefited from the slave trade. Slavery was a huge industry. It required ships to transport people, ports to receive them and ship cotton across the Atlantic, insurance companies, such as Aetna and NY Life, to protect their investments, textile mills to process southern cotton, and banks that accepted enslaved people as collateral for loans. This review describes how equality benefits the entire working class and critiques some of the book’s premises and solutions. Overall, it is recommended for its clarity, originality, and insightfulness about the racist ideology in the past and today, and criticized for its support of capitalist reforms.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Sum of Us- What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee.”

Fighting for Our Lives: Tenant Defense in a Pandemic

Organizers mobilize for outreach to tenants in Mt. Rainier, MD

by Karyn Pomerantz and Linda Green, 3-1-2021

Over 30 million people face evictions from their homes during the deadly Covid 19 outbreak.  Losing housing is nothing new. As neighborhoods gentrify, public housing deteriorates, and people lose jobs, more people have no or unstable homes. The US lost four million affordable housing units and seven million apartments for low-income residents over the last decade.  Before the pandemic, 25% of renters spent 50% or more of their income on rent, and 25% of people under the poverty line spent 70%  (Aspen Institute)! This serves the financial interests of the developers and banks who build and finance luxury, high priced apartments and houses, adding to the oppression of the entire working class. Since black, Latin, and indigenous people earn less and face higher rates of unemployment, this situation exacerbates the racism fundamental to capitalism. Larger proportions of families of color, including Asian families, expect to apply for assistance. Families with children have higher eviction rates, causing long-term trauma and other health problems.

The pandemic has worsened housing security. What kind of society kicks people out of their homes during a public health crisis!? Obviously, the drive to profit off of workers’ lives has no limits. The moratoriums on evictions only postpone pay-up day. Despite the federal moratorium and financial assistance to landlords, property owners apply laws that allow them to evict, such as requesting evictions for people who stay in their homes past their leases. As of March 1, 2020, a judge has ruled that the moratorium is illegal, throwing millions of people into limbo.

Continue reading “Fighting for Our Lives: Tenant Defense in a Pandemic”

I’ve Been Working in the Hospital: Racist Medical Care Before and During Covid-19

By Maurice Chikiar, February 4, 2021 

Introduction 

Racist healthcare rationing is nothing new under capitalism. Enabling enough people to work and produce profit is the major imperative. There is no need for universal health care unless the economy is threatened as we see with the Covid-19 pandemic. Wealthy people can always buy themselves the care they need, whether it’s meds for Covid-19 or HIV drugs. As Cuba, China, the USSR, and Partners in Health in Peru and Haiti (Netflix’s Bending the Arc) proved, public health workers can take health promotion and treatment to millions of poor people through prioritizing health as a social good and organizing community members to deliver care and prevention. Unfortunately, without workers holding power, these improvements can be defunded and eliminated. 

The article below describes the life-threatening situation when hospital administrators ration vital supplies and staff in a respiratory therapy unit in Chicago and how workers opposed these practices. It is part of our series on organizing at work and in the community. 

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California Burning-An Ongoing Capitalist Horror Story

by Ellen Isaacs

January, 2021

            The surge of wild fires in the state of California — the ravages of climate change, the greed and incompetence of utility companies, the corruption of politicians, the ongoing power shutoffs, the suffering of millions of workers who lose power, money, food, health and safety – no tale better illustrates the death-dealing heartlessness and dysfunctionality of capitalism, even in one of its most “progressive” outposts.

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Attacking the Capitol: Building Fascism, It’s Not Just Trump

by Karyn Pomerantz, 1-7-2021, revised 1-9-2021

Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 to stop Congress from validating Biden’s and Harris’ win, and to warn people fighting to reform or overthrow capitalism that they would face violent retaliation. This was an action to terrorize activists demanding antiracist equity and related changes. The response highlighted the extreme differences between the violent attack by Trump supporters and the uprisings against police murders, the ongoing hunger strike by 140 immigrants held in New Jersey detention centers, the union campaign by Google workers, demands for Covid-19 protections and universal healthcare, and demonstrations for jobs, housing, and debt relief. The likely collusion between the police and the Trump mob, the ease with which the mob entered the Capitol, and the ability to recruit thousands will embolden right wing groups, leading to their growth and confidence. 

On the other side, the medical and economic repercussions of the pandemic, the wider visibility of police violence, and the acknowledgement of centuries of racist oppression have inspired large uprisings across the US and other countries of multi-generational, and multiracial and multiethnic groups of workers and students. The movement against police murders of black men and women sparked by the killing of Trayvon Martin expanded with the execution of George Floyd with thousands taking to the streets. The diversity of the rebels alarms the people who control the economy and government (the ruling class).  At this point, antiracist leaders call for abolition of the police, prisons, and other oppressive conditions, trusting that abolition is possible when we have no power. Their hesitancy to call for and build revolutionary change weakens our fight and obstructs the possibility of a better future. 

The potential of a growing, more militant movement threatens US capitalism, which leads to the ruling class building and supporting fascist organizations to terrorize and repress us. We have a tremendous opportunity to unite millions of black, white, Asian, indigenous, and immigrant workers over these common problems around the world. We can build a movement to demand radical changes and to seize power. We have a long way to go but must prepare now

Continue reading “Attacking the Capitol: Building Fascism, It’s Not Just Trump”

American Pipeline: Immigration-Imprisonment-Infection

by Ellen Isaacs

January 6, 2020

As I write this, thousands of racist proto-fascists are storming the US Capitol while over 140 immigrant detainees at Essex County and Hudson County, NJ ICE detention centers are on hunger strike, the third wave of such strikes at NJ facilities in 2020. While protesting inmates are being threatened and coerced, masses of rioting white people are being gently removed from the Capitol, only 13 arrested (that number may grow) after breaching the legislative chambers and causing death and injury. The chasm between the treatment of those who struggle against hatred and oppression, who have fled from violence and poverty, who sicken and die disproportionately from disease, and between those who have been won to hatred and racist violence is gaping and widening.

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“Back to the Future:” Biden’s Domestic Policy

Introduction

Millions of voters in the US look to Biden for righting the wrongs of the Trump Administration by ushering in a more democratic civil society and addressing racism and the Covid19 pandemic, participating in global organizations, restraining state violence, mitigating climate disasters, and restoring jobs and housing.  Regardless of his gentler rhetoric, Biden, like Obama, will impose policies to maintain US hegemony (control) and serve the super rich.

This article reviews some of Biden’s appointments for domestic policy offices as a reflection of his Administration’s political positions. As one writer said, it’s “back to the future” as he renews the participation of many Obama officials whose presidency increased deportations, warfare, and inaction against racist murders while maintaining a liberal anti racist veneer. Many activists who voted and organized for Biden, Bernie, and the Green Party want to humanize capitalism, counting on elections, regulations, and defunding carceral institutions to transform society. They believe that the abolition of racism and inequities can occur without workers taking power. We can’t allow this illusion to continue.  

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Book Review: The Tragedy of American Science by Clifford Conner

A Review by Nayvin Gordon, M.D., November 24, 2020

I highly recommend this short book, The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump, by Clifford D. Conner, 2020. This is an easy to read, concise and well documented analysis of how U.S. science has been affected by the capitalist economy since World War Two. The author does not hold back from placing the origin of the tragedy at the feet of U.S. imperialism. This is a must read for everyone starting with students. The book is broken into three major sections.

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Abolition Politics Gain Support Nationally and Locally

  by Karyn Pomerantz, 11-17-2020

Public attention to issues of incarceration and policing have grown in recent years. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow revealed stark inequities in US prisons and jails, building on the long-time work of abolitionists, such as Angela Davis and Ruth Gilmore Wilson of Critical Resistance, Mariame Kaba of Project Nia, and many others. The horrifying murders of black people, the impact of Covid-19 in jails and prisons, and the persistent organizing by public health activists pushed the American Public Health Association (APHA) in October 2020 to approve a policy to abolish prisons, release imprisoned people for health and humane reasons, and reallocate funds for community mental health, jobs, and housing. To surprised supporters, the governing body passed Advancing Public Health Interventions to Address the Harms of the Carceral System with a 92% vote after a hearing where more than 50 people lined up virtually to speak on it. This vote followed the 2018 policy affirming law enforcement violence as a public health crisis that took three years to overcome opposition.  The persistent and dedicated authors of the End Police Violence Collective wrote and steered both resolutions to passage (see https://endingpoliceviolence.org). Many national and local organizations have applied its action steps in campaigns across the US.

On the local level, public health and education activists in Prince George’s County, MD organized a campaign to abolish police presence in the schools by removing School Resource Officers (SROs), armed police funded by the Police Department, from the schools to prevent physical and psychological abuse, arrests, and contact with police.

These policies are labeled as abolitionist, a strategy to eliminate repressive and typically racist practices, like policing, to create a more just and equitable world. Citing abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the APHA resolution defines abolition as “a process of changing the social and economic conditions that lead to harm and of ensuring that people have what they need to thrive and be well, thereby eliminating the need for jails, prisons, detention centers, and policing.”

This article discusses the APHA policy and SRO removal campaign to fight racist carceral policies at the national and local levels, the potential for abolition under capitalism, and the replacement of punishment with restorative justice.

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HOMELESSNESS: Deprivation and Demonization in the US

by Ellen Isaacs

November 7, 2020

Anti-racists welcome their new homeless neighbors

We should celebrate a victory in New York City (NYC), even though it is a temporary and limited one in a war that we should never need to fight.

Until Covid -19, single homeless adults in NYC were housed in up to 100 bed dormitories where crime and drug use were rampant. Many homeless people preferred to sleep on the street or the subways rather than in these facilities. However, the Covid-19 epidemic forced the City to use vacant hotels –even upscale ones – for shelter in the face of the highly contagious virus. One such move of over 700 single adults to four hotels in the prosperous and “liberal” Upper West Side of Manhattan resulted in a battle between wealthy racist property owners, who used racist slurs to castigate their new neighbors and demand their removal, and local anti-racists who fought back. The anti-racists not only organized petitions and demonstrations to pressure the feckless Mayor de Blasio into reversing his removal order, but they are providing aid and services to the homeless. The once-empty hotels are still home to the needy – for now.

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