My hour on stage concluded with a plea for outraged UVA employees to make four commitments: (1) this university will confront its historical and present-day racism, (2) this university will not graduate racists, (3) alumni of this university will not be sustainers of racial inequity in our society, and (4) white faculty members and administrators will play a major role in fighting white supremacy. To begin the process of enacting these commitments, I suggested the university must design a high-accountability process of racializing its curriculum, develop a cohesive series of race-focused out-of-class learning experiences for students and engage in departmental and campuswide conversations about race. Given the racial composition of the UVA faculty and staff , I emphasized this work cannot be left to the handful of people of color -- whites must be meaningfully engaged.
For those who come out of a Marxist tradition, and who insist that the working class has false consciousness, which leads them to ignore or misunderstand their true interests — and that this consciousness has been instilled in them largely by capitalists — what is often ignored is the way that white privilege, relative to people of color, has served as the transmission belt of false consciousness. By investing white workers with a sense of their whiteness as property — albeit an inadequate form of property, relative to real material well-being — white privilege and racism provide to whites an alternative sense of their own self-interest. As such, the ability of working people to form effective cross-racial coalitions (which would be needed in order to fundamentally challenge or alter the current class arrangements in the .) is itself made less likely precisely because of white racism and institutional racial inequity and privilege. To the extent whiteness confers certain relative advantages to whites, it makes it less likely that those whites will join with people of color to alter the class system or even push for reforms that would benefit all working people (universal health care, more equitable distribution of wealth, greater investment in education, job creation, etc). So if anything, the equation put forward by those who say “the real issue is class, and we need to end capitalism before we can end racism,” may be exactly the inverse of reality. It may be, instead, that before any substantial alteration in the class system can become possible, we will have to attack white racism and substantially diminish it.
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