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Racism And The Cruelty Of Affluence With Tim Wise (VIDEO)

In the latest episode of The Laura Flanders Show, a great interview with author Tim Wise about his newest book, “Under The Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America”:

How does race and racism affect your life? Anti-racist activist and writer Tim Wise is the author of six books, most notably his highly acclaimed memoir, “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.” His latest book, “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America” is out this month.

Also, New Orleans youth discuss how racism affects their lives. All that and a few words from Laura on security forces that stink.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, from Wise’s homepage:

That the United States has long had a less complete system of social safety nets than most other industrialized nations is by now well established. Despite a brief period of substantial government intervention on behalf of the poor and unemployed from the 1930s through the 1960s, for the past forty-five years there has been a steady retrenchment in these efforts, fueled by a persistent and increasingly hostile rhetoric aimed at such programs and those whom they serve.

While the fact of less adequate safety nets is evident, a clear understanding of why the U.S. has been so much stingier than others in our provision for those in need is less clearly appreciated. Among the most prominent explanations, especially offered up by liberals and those of the political left, is the historical weakness of the labor movement and the lack of a labor-based party in the U.S. Stronger labor movements in Europe have been able to wrest concessions from the owners of capital and political elites that have been harder to come by here: more complete unemployment compensation, and better health care and educational guarantees most prominently. It’s an argument with significant historical resonance, but it still begs the question: why? Why has it been so much harder for labor unions to gain strength in the United States? Why has there been no effective labor party to develop in America, even as they have been quite common elsewhere? Why have working class consciousness and the political movements that typically flow from that consciousness been generally weaker here than in other nations?

Although there are likely several answers to these questions, there can be no doubt that among the biggest is the role of racism in dividing working class folks along lines of racial and ethnic identity. The development of the class structure in the United States has been, from the beginning, interwoven with the development of white supremacy. Indeed, a fair reading of those dual histories suggests that white supremacy and the elevation of whites as whites above persons of color, even when both shared similar class positions, has been critical in the shoring up of class division. Race, in other words, has been a weapon with which elites have divided working people from one another and prevented white working folks from developing a strong identification with their counterparts of color. Unless we address racial inequity and racism—and especially as lynchpins to the maintenance of economic inequity and class division—it will be impossible to solve these latter issues. Sadly, most Americans appear not to comprehend this truism. So, for instance, in a recent survey, while eighty percent claimed the government should focus “a lot” or “great deal” of effort on addressing economic inequality, only twenty-six percent said the same about the issue of racism and racial inequity, suggesting that the connections between the two are not well understood.

Read more on TimWise.org.

Do you agree with Wise’s theory that systemic racism in America contributed to the devastating cuts to social safety net we’ve seen in the last few decades? See also: Dan Wright’s look at the 1996 welfare form law.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.