But don't go out of your way to inject race into race-neutral policy arguments
I think most people are way more sincere in their worldview than others who disagree with them give them credit for. Race-forward advocates have as a core belief that racial disparities ARE racism, discrimination or no discrimination, and that this is our country's greatest moral failing. It is not enough to chip away at disparities unless it also comes with a moral conversion of the masses. I think a lot of us are far more attached to our underexamined core beliefs than we're willing to admit (this comic is so true: https://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe). The backlash to this conversation is a defense mechanism to defend the core belief that the moral rot of racism is a whites-over-blacks hierarchical thing and not a bias-and-stereotypes-about-people-based-on-race thing. By shifting the focus to class, a few uncomfortable dissonances come up for race-first thinkers. Perhaps minority elites have more in common with white elites than they do with low income minorities? Perhaps low income whites are equally worthy of empathy even if they are skeptical of racial justice issues? Perhaps the laws in our system that perpetuate disparities are really a direct function of class and only an indirect function of race? If this group acknowledges that elite minorities and their white allies have a significant amount of power as individuals and as a sub-group, it erases the idea that it's not possible for them to be "racist" about white people. That is a level of moral reckoning that group is not ready for. So studies like this touch a nerve.
I haven't read The Sum Of Us. I understand she is trying to make the "Race-Class Narrative" argument. The NYT article on this (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/28/opinion/biden-democrats-race-class.html) argued that a "race-class" message was a specific approach different than race, class, or the study's "class+race" approach. An example of extremely effective "race-class" messaging was this:
"No matter where we come from or what our color, most of us work hard for our families. But today, certain politicians and their greedy lobbyists hurt everyone by handing kickbacks to the rich, defunding our schools, and threatening our seniors with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Then they turn around and point the finger for our hard times at poor families, Black people, and new immigrants. We need to join together with people from all walks of life to fight for our future, just like we won better wages, safer workplaces, and civil rights in our past."
It is obvious why messaging like this is effective. It is INCLUSIVE and inspiring. It makes "politicians and lobbyists" (who *everyone* hates) the bad guy, not white or middle-upper class people in general. Most people actually do want to help the less fortunate, they're just not all convinced the government is the most effective method to do so. And most Republicans are allergic to the idea that all Black people are dramatically "less fortunate" solely by nature of their race. They find that framing to be--wait for it--racist!
Advocates need to decide what is more important--making a material difference in people's lives or winning an ideological battle. They have assumed the battle must be won first, but the objective reality is that the battle is causing us to lose the war.
“But it’s much more important to actually help people than to avoid discomfort.” I’m genuinely afraid that this is simply not true among so-called woke, white, college-educated liberal progressives. I think that maybe being right, and being able to scold people, is what motivates them in many cases. I don’t think this is an intentional choice, or that they realize what’s going on, but when I call them (my friends) on stuff like this, the results aren’t pretty.
Racial frames allow white professionals and executives to virtue signal about equality while still benefitting from inequality. Anti-racism need not eliminate or even reduce inequality, it can “succeed” by distributing privilege more evenly across different racial groups. Creating a black professional class launders the privilege of the white professional class and isn’t much of a risk to white professionals with established careers. Having black CEOs makes obscene CEO pay less odious. Conversely, increasing the taxes on higher incomes, eliminating zoning, creating a broad wealth tax and encouraging skilled immigration would all hit white elites and professionals where it hurts. It’s hardly mysterious why anti racism has become de rigeur for Ivy-educated white professionals.
"I don’t want to be a tedious bore on this subject, but I really do think it’s important to try to drill down..."
I'm trying to avoid boring, but boring is important, says Mr. Slow Boring.
Either you're just trolling us now, or we need to task Marc to edit your metaphors, too.
I agree with 90% of what you wrote, but I don't think you've done justice to the race-class critique. I think their argument is that you start with the class narrative, but when Republicans step in racist rebuttals, like labelling the ACA reparations, you lean into pointing out that they're to sow racial discord to turn people against policies that are beneficial to them.
They claim to have empirical evidence that is more effective than a purely class narrative.
This discussion (very helpful I think, thanks Matt) reminds me of the very peculiar way that NASA has chosen to frame its Artemis program, which plans to send people back to the moon. The first sentence describing the mission on their main website says "During the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon." When that happens, I will be as supportive as anybody else, but it does strike me as a very strange way to advertise human space travel. Is the race and gender of the astronauts our main goal here? I don't think so. Why not just describe the mission for what it will be, which is a really awesome technical achievement and expansion of the human presence in the Solar System?
The Artemis website: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/
I swear I’m going to be pissed off if Democrats screw up Student Loan forgiveness by racializing the issue.
We maxed out my daughters student loans this year as a hedge.
In all seriousness, the biggest issue with racializing these issues is it sucks up the bandwidth to communicate the issues.
Most people are only superficially aware of the issues. They basically see the headlines and some FB commentary. If the headlines are about race, there are many people who really won’t realize that the policy helps them as well.
I think we as boring commenters forget this... or perhaps your social circle is disproportionately engaged.
Of all the people I work with, maybe 5-10% have any in-depth accurate knowledge of any given policy.
My wife never watches the news. Either do our kids.
I had a hell of a time convincing them that vaccines were safe because the only thing that broke through the bubble was those “xxx people died after being vaccinated” stories.
This is in some ways a collective action problem. No one will listen to a boring politician talk about how a higher minimum wage increases educational investment. But if a politician can say it is a racial justice issue they personally will get funding, clicks, attention etc. however, they need to know they are reducing support from 80% popular to 45% popular policy.
If progressives fully embrace the class narrative, they'll find themselves supporting the unpalatable, unsophisticated white underclass--many of whom voted for Trump. It's easier to march alongside a biracial Ivy League classmate, whom you can actually relate to, and call it social justice.
Bernie had one thing right--he wasn't scared of including poor white people in his movement. I met more than a few people who were on the fence between Bernie and Trump, crazy as that sounds.
Oh, is Hispanic a race now? Or only at Yale?
This is a good article. But you personally Matt, have a motte and bailey problem.
I’ve been reading you for close to 20 years and you’re the only Substack I ever even considered buying, so this little heel turn, which is tough to ignore since I’ m a black dude, legit makes me sad. I largely grok your reasonable, though imperfect argument about the downsides of racialized marketing of policies, even if the policies have significantly disparate racial impacts. But you have an increasingly visible hostility to / rejection of other concerns many black folks have that is entirely separate and apart from your issue with essentially policy marketing. It’s the difference between “That’s a counterproductive way to solve the problem” and “I don’t believe you when you say this is a problem” And when you get called on the latter, you jump in the motte of the former. Not asking you to think differently or anything, just pointing it out.
Frankly, the results of this study don't loom very strong and most people should ignore it. Confidence intervals are really wide in most spots and magnitude of effect looks tiny (.1 ish on 7 pt scale). From a bayesian viewpoint, people disregarding this study are being rational if they have even a moderate prior that framing these kinds issues by race is persuasive. It should take much stronger evidence to unseat current beliefs.
Not to say we should be p-value obsessed, if we had absolutely no preconception of what was correct then it's reasonable to go with a low powered study. But if you have some idea of what's right and an empirical study with very little power says something else you basically should ignore it.
We need to market smart, broadly appealing policy in the most winning way. It’s that simple folks. You can’t win every battle by charging to the front, waving the flag and swinging the saber wildly. It’s is an annoying facet of democracy but one we cannot ignore or we will lose on the politics and eventually lose our democracy.
I really appreciated your inclusion of the bullet points. In so much of what I read the author seems to equate racism with using the wrong words. That’s not the problem. It’s teachers, cops and hiring managers believing, in many cases subconsciously, the things you mentioned.
Another way of framing this is about equalizing opportunity versus equalizing outcomes, either based on racial or class categories. Making up for past racial discrimination is equalizing outcomes in reparation for that. Universal economic programs have the primary purpose of equalizing opportunity for everyone who today is economically disadvantaged, regardless of race, but won't create equal opportunity for all unless racial discrimination also stops.
This is a good post, but I think Heather McGhee and the race-class narrative deserve more than the brief nod that is here. Hopefully in a future post?