The White Working Class or Black Lives Matter?

Donald Trump’s election last November was a catalyst for many things. One of those things was a civil war within the Democratic party. Of late there has been much debate over the direction in which in the party should go. From there we are presented with what appear to be two options; a) the Democrats try to re-establish the New Deal coalition and become the party of the white working class, or b) the Democrats push issues that pertain to blacks and hispanics specifically and become the party of minorities.

The problem with this narrow minded, one dimensional, false choice narrative, is that it assumes there is no overlap between working class people, and people of colour. Speaking at Netroots Nation this past weekend, Elizabeth Warren stated what should be the obvious; that the Democratic party can be a home to working class people AND to people of colour and that leftist policies benefit everyone, not just whites, but people of colour as well. For example, medicare for all is just that, for all.

A lot of people say that the Democrats need to decide whether we’re the party of the ‘white working class’ or the party of ‘black lives matter.’ Well I say we can care about a dad who is worried that his kid will have to move away from their factory town to find decent work, and we can care about a mom who’s worried that her kid will get shot during a traffic stop. The way I see it, those two parents have something deep down in common; the system is rigged against both of them, and their kid. ~Sen. Elizabeth Warren

The reality is that more often than not, the family who is worried that their kid will get shot during a traffic stop is also worried that their kid will have to leave their factory town to find work. The same people who are worried about police brutality and a draconian criminal justice system that disproportionately locks up black people, also are more likely to not have healthcare or access to higher education. There is deep overlap between poor white people and poor people of colour. (Perhaps tongue in cheek, but brilliant nonetheless in demonstrating what these groups have in common is the SNL skit, ‘Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks.’)

According to an Economic Policy Institute study from June, not only are people of colour a huge portion of the working class, but in just fifteen years they will be the majority of the working class.

The report summary by Valerie Wilson clearly lays out how economic equality and economic justice are integral parts of racial equality and justice.

In 2032, people of color will become a majority of the American working class, defined as people without a college degree. Since nearly two-thirds of the U.S. labor force is working class, policies aimed at raising working class living standards are critical to tackling wage stagnation and economic inequality. Working people from diverse groups must recognize that they share more in common than not, and work together to achieve a higher minimum wage, universal high-quality child care, criminal justice reform, and other overlapping goals.

Even now, close to 40% of the working class is made up of people of colour; blacks, hispanics, asians etc. The reality is, the term ‘white working class’ while perhaps well intentioned, actually ignores and erases the millions of people of colour who are also in the working class. The issues white working class individuals face are often some of the same issues that brown and black working class people face. As people of colour grow in population and eventually become the majority of the working class, helping the working class and helping people of colour will become one in the same.

Minorities are still far more likely than whites to be without health insurance. Minorities still attend college at lesser rates than whites and still lag behind in graduation rates. Wage stagnation remains one of the most pressing issues facing the working class. Wages for working class men have fallen since 1978 with hispanic men suffering the worst loss. Though wages for working class women have increased, again white women have seen the biggest increase, while black and hispanic women lag behind. Wealth inequality is also a prime factor for racial inequality. According to an EPI study from February, the median wealth for white households is $134,230, while the median wealth for black households is just $11,030.

As long as people of colour lag behind in such important areas like healthcare, education, wages, and wealth, while simultaneously being unjustly incarcerated at a higher rate, racial justice will never truly happen. One cannot promote racial justice by ignoring economic justice. Today close to 40% of the working class are people of colour and in 2032, over 50% of the working class will be people of colour. Focusing on the working class is focusing on people of colour.

Thus the choice between being the party of the working class or the party of people of colour is a false choice because people of colour are the working class. The irony is, the same centrist, rightwing, corporate Democrats who dismiss the leftist movement (which is also largely made up of people of colour) for not paying attention to minority issues, are the same people who then turn around and promote the ‘Panera Bread strategy;’ to appeal to rich, white, subrubanites who are ‘fiscally conservative and socially liberal.’ So who’s really on the side of people of colour, and who just wants to line their pockets and keep things the way they are?