The Work of “People of Color” and Other Abstractions

However useful for electoral strategies and mind control the construct “people of color” (“POC”) is sociologically absurd. As John McWhorter wondered on a recent episode of the Glenn Show, how does the experience of a black American put him in the same category as that of the Bangladeshi immigrant? Moreover, how is his experience like that of an American Indian? For that matter, how is his experience the same as another black American—or all other black Americans? The newer construct “black and indigenous people of color” (“BIPOC”) is not much better. At least it doesn’t try to suck every nonwhite majority and minority into a fantastic abstract mass. But it still lumps people of disparate backgrounds in a way in an invalid way.

Illustration by Franz Draws

Consider a black CEO of a major corporation. How does his experience compare to that of a black man living in a ghetto? The most important social fact of all, namely social class (defined as relative position with respect to the means of production), means their life chances and trajectories are highly dissimilar. The CEO lives in a gated community. He is unlikely to be the victim of a drive-by or a home invasion. If he gets sick, he can afford a doctor. If he runs afoul of the law, he can afford an attorney—and the time and resources the attorney needs to properly represent him. The CEO enjoys a better diet. And so on. Reckoned in material terms, everything about his life is better, and that generally translates to better emotional, psychological, and relational quality of life.

If your response is to say both the black CEO in his gated neighborhood and the poor black man are more likely to be pulled over by the cops on their way to work, if we accept this claim as true, is the same true for the Bangladeshi immigrant? Or a Chinese man? They’re “people of color.” Is the greater likelihood of a black man being stopped by the cops compared to a Chinese man the fact that erases all other facts so as to make a homogeneous group out of the more than forty million Americans? What happens to “people of color” as a meaningful category if the Chinese man does not share the black experience? All they have in common is that they are not white. And if a Chinese man is more likely to be assaulted by a black man than a white man, what does this say about the common oppressor? (See The Rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes. Trump-inspired? Not Quite.)

Even if we admit that, out of racial bias, cops are more likely to pull over a black man compared to other racial groups, how does that fact sustain the broader claim that white supremacy is the common experience that validly groups blacks? If white supremacy were such a problem, how did that black man become a CEO? His social class may not matter to a cop, but it matters to just about everybody and everything else. And, as I have shown, the claim that the criminal justice is racist is mythical (see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters; The Myth of Racist Criminal Justice Persists—at the Denial of Human Agency (and Logic); Debunking Mythologies Surrounding the American Criminal Justice System; Again, The Myth of the Racist Criminal Justice System).

How are black bankers, business owners, doctors, executives, lawyers, managers, professors, and so on even possible if we live in Ibram X Kendi’s world? Kendi’s world, he told a fawning crew at CBS News, is one where not teaching children about white supremacy guarantees that they will be absorbed into and perpetuate it. This is why, he argues, we must raise up a generation of “antiracist kids.” According to Brookings Institution, in February 2020 more than 60 percent of black families were middle class. To be sure, the middle class is reckoned here not in Marxist terms, but as incomes between $22,000 and $125,000. However, speaking in Marxist terms, how does one find in a society where white supremacy permeates everything a black capitalist exploiting the labor of a white worker?

Folks need to see the work these constructs are doing. The function of “POC,” if not its intent, is to lump everybody who is not white (or not European or East Asian, in the case of BIPOC) and treat the majority of people on the planet as the collective victims of the white oppressor. Europe, North America, and South American hold less than a quarter of the world’s population, and these are the most diverse regions on the planet; if Hispanics are excluded, the proportion of the world’s population comprised by white people is maybe around fifteen percent. Of course, Chinese and other Asian groups are increasingly identified as “white adjacent.” Indeed, one suspects “BIPOC”is a way to exclude successful minorities from the POC category to save the argument that inequality is the work of racism (and not classism). Nonetheless, white people, as defined by progressives, remain a distinct minority of the world’s population. Touting the victimhood of an abstract mass composed of those who are not white is a contrived act of majoritarianism with political intent.

I want to note before moving on that, according to the standard racial theory, Arabs are white. According to its guidelines, those of Middle Eastern and North African descent are to enter the US Census as white. Some Arabs are rejecting their whiteness and there is a discussion about elaborating the racial and ethnic categories of the census. Central and most South Asians are also considered white. (See my essay Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and the Problem of Conceptual Conflation and Inflation.) I raise this issue because those behind the construct “people of color” do not see Arabs, Central, and South Asians as white (it is unclear whether they see Jews as white, but there is some chatter to that effect). You can understand why. If Asian Indians are white, the narrative becomes complicated: one white population (Great Britain) colonized another white population (Indians). This is as problematic as black Africans owning and selling as slaves other black Africans. Also, if Arabs and Indians are white there are lot of white people in the world and most of them do not live in the West.

(There is an interesting history here with respect to Asian Indians. Briefly, in US v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court ruled that Asian Indians were ineligible for citizenship because federal law specified that only free whites could become naturalized citizens. Following the anthropology of the day, which held Asian Indians and white Europeans to be the same race, Asian Indians were declared caucasian, but significant subracial differences prevented them from being legally recognized as white. In other words, according to the Supreme Court not all caucasians are white. In 1946, Congress passed a law that allowed Indians to become naturalized citizens, but I trust you get my point. Race is malleable. Racial designations change to sustain the antiracist doctrine.)

However conceptualized, centering race polarizes the world in a false way. Peddling lies, antiracism substitutes itself for class struggle; it negates class struggle by obscuring the capitalist imperative and the material relations it necessitates (see The Ruling Ideas and the Faux-Left). By blaming systemic social facts on a mythological etiology, namely that the West operates on the logic of white supremacy, antiracism serves as an ideological obscurantism that defies sound explanations for inequality (see They Do You This Way; What Explains—and Doesn’t Explain—Inequality and Explaining Demographic Disparities Requires a Multifactorial Approach). Antiracism divides the world between whites and their fellow travelers, on one side, and everybody else on the other. On one side is the oppressor—the white man. On the other, the oppressed (see Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; The Wages of Victimism: Leftwing Trauma Production for Political Ends; The New Left’s War on Imaginary Structures of Oppression in Order to Hide the Real Ones).

As progressives would have it, it’s not a world dividing up into capitalist versus proletariat as Marx and Engels describe in the Communist Manifesto, but a world founded upon the division between whites (and white adjacent) and people of color. The increasingly shrill James Lindsey decries critical race theory as “race Marxism,” but by centering race the politics of woke progressive are anti-Marxist. (The title of Lindsay’s book tells you that its premise is absurd. Marxism is a materialist praxis. If anything, critical race theory is neo-Hegelian—it makes people out of abstractions. CRT, like gender theory, is a form of idealism.) Whites are not a monolithic group any more than any other racial group. There are white CEOs and there are whites homeless on the streets, with a vast working class between these extremes—the same as it is for blacks. Indeed, the working class is multiracial. Their common experience is a proletarian one, not a racial one.

“People of color” is a construct that appears designed to disrupt class consciousness and disorganize the proletarian movement (see The Elite Obsession with Race Reveals a Project to Divide the Working Class and Dismantle the American Republic). It is advanced by the corporate state, its operatives exploiting the work Third Worldists performed in undermining the socialist struggle for economic justice by substituting race for class (see The Mao Zedong Thought Shift from the Class-Analytical to Race-Ideological). This is preparing those living in the periphery for incorporation into the transnational capitalist system.

“POC” is not a valid concept; it commits the fallacy of reification, i.e., it misplaces concreteness by treating abstractions as actual persons, as well as commits the ecological fallacy (see Equity and Social Justice: Rationalizing Unjust Enrichment; Critical Race Theory: A New Racism; What Critical Race Theory Is and Isn’t. Spoiler Alert: It’s Racist and Not Marxist; Committing the Crime it Condemns; God is Everywhere—On the Ontology of Systemic Racism and the Faith-Belief of the Progressive). If one operates from the standpoint of scientific socialism, then these constructs are understood to be a counterproductive absurdity. “People of color” is an ideology of class paralysis. And this is why it has become part of the normative language of corporate governance.

This tweet sums up the matter quite well

* * *

Horrified by the shooting of school children in Texas, a person asked me why people kill people they don’t know and who never wronged them. I answered that humans do this all the time in war. The wartime mentality escapes the confines of the battlefield. At least the battlefield as traditionally defined. A lot of these mass killers—armed with guns or driving trucks—are at war. They have causes. They have grievances. These are not “senseless” acts (as politicians mindlessly say right before asking for prayers for the victims). They are the actions of profoundly alienated individuals swimming in social currents that have dehumanized populations.

In a world that personifies abstractions, any child can stand in for the one a young man believed bullied him when he was a kid. Any and every white person has privilege and is an oppressor (see Against White Privilege: Clarifying the Critique of a Problematic Term). And so on. When any individual of this or that imaginary community becomes a stand-in for any other “member” of the community imagined, those with grievances feel licensed to take out those grievances against strangers. They can even rationalize that, with their actions, they’re doing justice for others. Social justice. This is the consequence of identitarian thinking. It’s one of the reasons why what I have written in this blog matters.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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