Race is a biological fiction, but it is a social fact. The white race consists of those who enjoy the privileges of the white skin—freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the inside track for jobs and careers, not having to fear for their lives every time they leave the home, expecting […] that the state will protect them from strangers. Its most downtrodden members enjoy a social status above any person defined as “non-white.”
From the standpoint of the working class, the white race is an attempt by some workers to cut a separate deal with capital, at the expense of the class of which they are a part. From the standpoint of capital, it is a cheap way of buying some people’s loyalty to a social system that exploits them.
The cops provide an example of how the white race is held together: the natural attitude of the police toward the exploited is hostility. All over the world cops beat up poor people, and it has nothing to do with color. What is unusual and has to be accounted for is not why they beat up black people but why they don’t normally beat up propertyless whites.
The cops look at a person and decide on the basis of color whether that person is loyal to, or an enemy of, the system they are sworn to serve and protect. They don’t stop to think if the black person whose head they are whipping is an enemy; they just assume it. It does not matter if the victim goes to work every day, pays his taxes and crosses only on the green.
On the other hand, the cops don’t know for sure if the white person to whom they give a break is loyal to them. They assume it. The non-beating of whites is time off for good behavior and an assurance of future cooperation. White workers’ color exempts them to some degree from the criminal class—which is how the entire working class was defined before the invention of race, and is still treated in those parts of the world where race does not exist as a social category.
But what if the police couldn’t tell a loyal person just by color? What if there were enough people around who looked white but were really enemies of the state so that the cops couldn’t tell whom to beat and whom to let off? What would they do then? They would begin to “enforce the law impartially,” as the liberals say. But, as Anatole France noted, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
The standard that governs police behavior all over the world (except where race exists) is wealth and its external manifestations: dress, speech, etc. At the present time, the class bias of the law is partially repressed by racial considerations; the removal of those considerations would give it free rein. White poor would find themselves on the receiving end of police justice as black people now do. The effect on their consciousness and behavior is predictable.
The abolitionists consider it a useless project to try to win the majority of whites, or even the majority of working class whites, to “anti-racism.” They seek instead to compel capital to turn millions of “whites” against it, by rendering the white skin useless as a predictor of attitudes. How many would it take to rob the white skin of its predictive value? No one can say.
How much counterfeit money has to circulate in order to destroy the value of the official stuff? The answer is, nowhere near a majority: in the past, five to ten percent fake has proven enough to undermine public faith in the other. Whiteness is the currency of this society; to destroy it would take only enough counterfeit whites to undermine the confidence of the police, etc. in their ability to differentiate between friends and enemies by color.
The abolitionist strategy depends on the coming together of a minority determined to break up the white race. What would the determined minority have to do to plant doubt about the reliability of the white skin? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to make it impossible to maintain the myth of white unanimity. Such actions would jeopardize their own ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness.
Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, race is not the work of racists. On the contrary, it is reproduced by the principal institutions of society. Therefore, the main target of those who seek to eradicate it should be the institutions and behaviors that maintain it: the schools (which define “excellence”), the unions and employers (which define “employment”), the justice system (which defines “crime”), the welfare system (which defines “poverty”), and the family (which defines “kinship”).
Fascism and white supremacy will only be defeated by a movement aimed at building a new world. It is not enough to declare this commitment abstractly, by waving the red or black flag; it must be expressed in the content and forms of the struggle itself. How to do that is no easy question. But it is the question of the hour.