The Left needs to stop agreeing with the Right that Society is a zero-sum game.
I have watched the statuses of my friends following the election of Donald Trump with something approaching despair. Some people seem to be saying that we’ve neglected the needs of the white working class and must now focus on them. Others that the white working class has implicitly accepted racism and misogyny by voting for Trump/Brexit and that to “pander” to them is to do the same regardless of electoral tactical considerations.
My concern with both of those positions is that they are complicit in the idea that society is a zero sum game — that we have to choose to either talk about and act on race and gender OR on white working class insecurity. All that does is reinforce the Right’s notion of “them or us”.
It seems to me that if we on the left accept the parameters of the Right that its an either/or choice, a them and us, then we’ve already lost. We need to talk about race and gender AND class. There is an argument to be made to the white working class in the small towns and suburbs of both the UK and America that they should be allying themselves with the BAME working class in inner city ghettos because they’re both facing similar problems.
We need to argue to the white working class that fighting racism and sexism leads to more employment and a better, fairer economy, which in turn leads to greater demands for things grown and produced in both the cities and the countryside and brings jobs. Equally we need to reassure BAME communities that expressions of white working class culture are not necessarily inherently racist, and can happen alongside expressions of BAME identity without tensions or conflict — look at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony which celebrated the industrial working class AND the Suffragette movement AND the arrival of the Windrush all in one joyful pageant. And we need to remind ourselves that issues like problems in healthcare and education cut across both white working class and BAME working class communities alike.
At the end of the day telling an unemployed white man on the breadline that he’s more privileged than an unemployed black woman on the breadline so he needs to accept that we’re only going to help the black lady or he’s a racist and sexist stops us from saying she’s being held back by racism and sexism and that is YOUR problem too! It stops us from telling them both that because your both unemployed and both on the breadline and we need to get you both into a job, and we can best do that by working together. Equally telling a BAME person who is receiving racist abuse in the street that to prevent a Trump winning here we need to ignore their issues and focus on the white working class for a while will make those communities feel abandoned and insecure, and likely to feed the sense of “them and us” the Right is pushing.
The central tenet of our belief on the Left is that we achieve more by our common endeavour than we achieve alone. That insight is correct. That’s why the Right uses these divide and rule tactics. It would be nice if we could stop bickering long enough to remember that, and to then get out of this Right-wing trap we’ve marched straight headlong into, belting out our witty chants and pithy placards waving. If we don’t, the Right will keep on winning until we do.