From the first number of Race Traitor, in which we wrote that the only alternative to the white race is the human race, critics have said we oversimplify the race problem. The U.S., they have pointed out, is not constructed on a bipolar model but is multi- racial.
In spite of the critics, we hold to our original view. We are aware that there are people in America who partake of some of the privileges of the white skin while experiencing some of the social restrictions imposed on black people. But we think that those who argue that these people constitute intermediate "races" misunder- stand how race operates.
From the start it is necessary to distinguish between race and ethnicity. They do not occupy the same analytic space and do not exist on a continuum. Ethnicity deals, at least symbolically, with culture; race is an assigned status. The distinction can perhaps be best illustrated by pointing out that black people and tradi- tional southern "whites" share a common speech, religion, music, cuisine, and even ancestry, and probably resemble each other culturally more than any other two groups in the country; ethnical- ly they are one, yet they are divided along "race" lines. At the same time two of the most distinctive ethnic groups in the country are the Hasidic Jews of New York and the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; yet in neither case has their insistence on maintain- ing their unique cultures prevented them from enjoying all the rights and immunities of "whites."
The U.S. is a capitalist society. As in any capitalist society the population consists largely of two classes, the masters and the slaves. In this country, unfortunately, many of the slaves think they are masters because they enjoy the privileges of the white skin.
The privileges of whiteness extend to the lowest members of the white race, who enjoy a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it. Not long ago there was an incident in Boston in which a well-dressed black man hailed a taxi and directed the driver to take him to his home in Roxbury, a black district. The cab driver, a white woman, refused, and when the man insisted she take him or call someone who would, as the law provided, she called her boyfriend, also a cabdriver, who showed up, dragged the man out of the cab and called him a "nigger." The black man turned out to be a city councilman. The case was unusual only in that it made the papers. Either America is a very democratic country, where cabdrivers beat up city councilmen with impunity, or the privileges of whiteness reach far down into the ranks of the laboring class.
The white-skin privilege system does not require that all whites be treated the same; everyone knows that ethnic groups vary in wealth and status. It demands only that enough people identify their interests with those of the "white race" to prevent effective proletarian class solidarity. It thus polarizes the country into two "races": those who enjoy the privileges of whiteness, and those who do not. Just as a "mixed" neighborhood has traditionally meant the interval between the first black person moving in and the last white moving out, so the intermediate position of various groups reflects a moment when their racial status is being determined.
In the history of this country, racial status has proven quite flexible: before the Civil War, the "white" population consisted largely of those of Protestant English descent; with the arrival of large numbers of Scandinavians, Germans, and Catholic Irish, the "white race" was broadened to include all those of northern Europe- an stock; later on, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were incorporated into it, making "white" roughly synonymous with European. For most of U.S. history, people from Asia, Africa, the islands of the sea, and countries in the western hemisphere south of the Rio Grande were the victims of what looked very much like racial oppresson, treated as inferiors in a caste system that gave meaning to the term "people of color."
A lot of this has changed. Children of Chinese, Ethiopian, and Haitian immigrants now grow up in America with the same advice Irish, Polish, and Italian parents gave their children in past generations: the way to succeed in the new country is to keep away from the black Americans. (The children don't always listen, but that is another story.) The "white race" is being recomposed, just as in the nineteenth century, and just as at that time boundaries are not always clear and there are regional variations.
Various programs faciliate the recomposition. ESL programs, one of the chief vehicles for allowing immigrants to leap over black Americans, are not restricted to Europeans. Other mechanisms function through the "private" sector. The New York Times of March 11, 1996 carries an op-ed piece by Roger Waldinger detailing some of the ways immigrants win out over black Americans in the job search. It identifies personal reference networks, which bypass the open market, as the key. The result, for example, is that less than three percent of all workers in New York City's garment industry are black Americans.
In this country, existing social relations are compatible with democratic forms only so long as the privileges of race embrace most of the population. Without majority support, the regime would rest predominantly on naked force -- like South Africa under apart- heid or the South before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960's -- a precarious situation for those who govern. The periodic transformation of people from racially oppressed to ethnics is vital to the recomposition of a "white" majority. For years people have been predicting, some with glee, others with alarm, that by such-and-such year California (or some other state) will have a "non-white" majority. Both the proponents and opponents of this future can relax: the day California has a non- white majority is the day the present basis of rule collapses, because the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992 will become general and sustained.
A great deal of the quarrel about "intermediate" or "other" races has to do with determining who will be socially white in the twenty-first century. Of course there are problems with the term "white": many of the new immigrants, while demanding the rights traditionally reserved for whites, do not want the term applied to them; they are "Latin" or "Asian," and proud of it. So the language of racial oppression needs to be modified in order to preserve its content. Confusion on this point leads some to describe our project as abolishing the concept of whiteness. Perhaps they think they are helping us by "clarifying" what we mean, but their description is wrong: we want to abolish the white race, whatever name it goes under. For similar reasons, we are not interested in the "deconstruction" of whiteness; outside of the academy, the opposite of "construct" is not "deconstruct" but destroy.
The situation is still in flux, and it is not yet clear which groups will be admitted to the privileges of the favored race and which will be excluded; the greatest actual beneficiaries of the new ethnic upsurge may be those who have traditionally enjoyed the privileges of whiteness. Italian-Americans are a protected group for purposes of affirmative action at the City University of New York, and we have had exchanges with Irish-Americans who reject the "white" label while claiming that Irish are under-represented in universities and calling for minimum Irish admissions quotas. They seek to change the name to play the game. (How will they determine who is Irish? Will they count Shaquille O'Neal?) As Jimmy Durante used to say, "Everybody wants to get into the act."
Part of the outcome depends on the attitude adopted by members of each group: if they do not learn to act as whites, they will not be treated as whites. And no one should forget that the process is reversible: if Tom Metzger or someone like him came to power, it is likely that the new immigrants would find themselves the victims of classical American racial oppression, or worse.
Nothing we have said should suggest that the new immigrants are all "middle class" (whatever that means). There are plenty of Chinese proletarians in garment factories. We cannot make the point too often: race privilege is for those who have nothing else; its function is not to exempt people from exploitation but to reconcile them to it.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, during the height of anti-Chinese hysteria, one of the finest of all revolutionary organizations in U.S. history, the Industrial Workers of the World, stood at the dock in San Francisco greeting incoming Chinese workers with a huge banner. The banner read, in English and Chinese, "Chinese workers, welcome. Join the One Big Union of the Working Class." We stand in that tradition, and call upon all proletarians who pass through these doors to reject the poison bait of race privilege held out by the master class that despises them. As they say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there: you'll either be a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.
from Race Traitor no. 6 (Winter 1996)