By Ryan Williams-Virden
Original post: ryanwilliamsvirden.com
Growing up, Saturday nights were spent watching a movie, eating a frozen pizza and waiting for my Mom to come home from her shift at Gasthofs. My Pops would take us to the movie spot where we would find a movie in the .99 cent section, stop by the .25 cent Shasta pop machine that was outside the grocery store, and then pick up a Tony’s pizza (if we were really balling we got a Tombstone). When my Mom got home we would pause the movie, and I would go count her tips with her. I have vivid memories of seeing the thick knot and thinking we were rich. She was always quick to say “they are all ones sweat pea.”
I grew up much more conscious of class than I ever was of race. I knew who the system protected, and who it didn’t. Who it benefited, and who it screwed. When I was doing work study to supplement the financial aid my parents got from my private high school, I knew it. When I walked on my college campus, I knew it. When I filled out my private student loan promissory note, I knew it.
What took me a little longer was understanding how that system, which I knew intimately through class, leveraged race as a way to fundamentally maintain itself.
The dance between race and class is a complex one. Sometimes class leads, but at others race is running the show.Without understanding how both are weaved into the fabric of our society’s systems of domination it will be impossible to build an effective movement for justice, let alone establish alternative systems rooted in justice. There is no clearer example of how crucial this intersectional worldview is than what took place in Minneapolis this last week.
Minneapolis has a certain reputation. It is solidly Democrat, and embraces its liberal identity. Last year The Atlantic published an article called “The Miracle of Minneapolis” which sings Minneapolis’ praises. Sadly, this utopian vision of Minneapolis doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. With only a Google search you find that Minneapolis is a much different place for people of color which The Washington Post and The Atlantic detail. The reality is that the chasms between whites and people of color that exist in Minneapolis are the largest in the country.
In the face of this overwhelming white supremacy Minneapolis rolled out its One Minneapolis plan. The overwhelmingly white lawmakers adopted racial justice language and ostensibly began to do the serious work of building “One” reality.
Between then and now organizations and individuals have been organizing and building power in order to hold the city accountable. Unfortunately, there is nothing better for maintaining white supremacy than class interests.
Maybe the most visible manifestations of this accountability came in the form of the $15 Dollar Now and Insure the police campaigns. Organizers across the city worked tirelessly to collect the necessary signatures to put the issues on the ballot, to give the people a voice. Sadly, when presented with the signatures, the City Council sided with lawyers representing the city and voted against placing the issues on the ballot. Many so called “progressives,” in true liberal fashion, hid behind the legality of adapting the city charter.Only two members of the council, Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon, voted to prioritize the people (Cano cast the only vote to insure the police). And this is what we mean when we talk about systemic oppression.
By citing legality the City Council did what good liberals always do: count on the system to maintain their own privileges. This is how systems work. Systems ignore the fact that the law has always been a tool of the powerful. They forget that at one point, not so long ago, it was legal to own another human being. Another, shamefully recent, period of our history embraced legal segregation and system of apartheid. The idea that legality and morality are one in the same simply does not carry water. The City Council knows this. However, by stating, as Council Member Andrew Johnson did (he wasn’t the only one), that they are all for the $15 dollar wage but that it wasn’t appropriate for the city charter they deflect the reality of oppression while maintaining the veneer of a racial justice advocate.
The reality is they are scared. Justice is scary to oppressors. Their class and racial allegiances prohibit their ever actually becoming even a portion of the people they want us to believe they are. The $15 Now campaign, while still below a livable wage, is a threat to the material wealth of the middle and upper classes. White liberals are fine with racial justice until it means actually redistributing wealth and power. They know this. They know they need to protect their positions, and those serving to protect them: the police. Even in the light of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile middle class liberals side with the foot soldiers protecting the status quo. They know that voting to insure the police will be seen by the Union and larger law enforcement community as a sign of disrespect, and they can’t afford to send that message. They are invested in this system regardless of what they tell the newspapers and cameras.
I’m still mesmerized by my mother. She lets nothing get in her way. She ain’t the only one. Last night I saw hundreds of people celebrating the historic victory of Ilhan Omar over Phyllis Khan. Fue Lee also won his primary, unseating Joe Mullery. There is a shift happening. Folks are beginning to understand the need for systemic change. Working class white folks, like my family, are beginning to understand the need for a paradigm shift. We are rejecting the social order and building something new. There is power in that. And, there is hope in that power.