Class and race

I just came across this video, Neoliberalism As Water Balloon from Tim McCaskell

Class structure
McCaskell sex structures
Gender and class
McCaskell sexual orientation structures
Queer folk and class
Race and class

It’s concise and well done, and makes some good arguments about how our economy is currently functioning to the benefit of those who are the top income earners and/or own corporations. As a side point to the main argument about neoliberalism, and I think as an attempt to have a more intersectional analysis, McCaskell makes a comparison between race, sex (by which I think he actually means gender), sexual orientation, disability and class. He argues that class is different than the others because in order to change it, we must change the structural shape of our society. Whereas the other social dynamics can be solved by fighting discrimination.

The visual metaphor that he uses is that if we imagine that society is currently in the shape of a triangle, economic class structures the triangle horizontally, while disability, sex, sexual orientation and race give varying degrees of vertical structure to the triangle – cutting across class lines.

It’s a compelling metaphor. And strategically used to highlight economic class, which is the central focus of the experiment and the short film.

However, there are three potential implications of this comparison that I find a little worrying. First, I think that it implicitly makes class more important than other forms of social structuring. This makes sense in the particular context of the film, because his main point is about class. However, I don’t think that a focus on class needs to come through a simplification of race, sex (gender), disability and sexual orientation. And I think we need to practice understanding how class, race, gender, disabilty, and sexuality have been, and continue to be, mutually generative and reinforcing.

Second, I think this portrayal runs the risk of diminishing the differences between race, sex (gender), sexual orientation and disability.

And lastly, based on McCaskell’s claim that in order to change the structures of sex, disability, race or sexual orientation we need to fight discrimination, whereas to change class we need to change the shape of our society, I think the implication is that class is structural, while race, sex (gender), disability and sexual orientation are just about the ideas that humans have. While it is not the only conclusion that one could come to, I think this argument leaves open the possibility of concluding that class is more real (i.e. less socially constructed) than race, gender, disability or sexuality.

This is precisely the tendency that David Roediger (1991) talks about in “The Wages of Whiteness”. He says that in many analyses of class, particularly in the tradition of historical materialism, there is a tendency to see class as more ‘real’ than race (p. 7). He attributes this, in part, to the academic argument that race cannot be seen as a biological fact (which has been revolutionary in the study of race and racism). In the context of an economic analysis that argues that class is not wholly socially constructed (but has real world evidence and effects), this has sometime allowed for people to come to the conclusion that class is more real than race.

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