Thursday, March 30, 2006

They Don't See

I've been out of commission for a little bit, but here are a couple of links related to class.

First, jane's brilliant evisceration of this New York Times article about the French labor battles.
• The current issue does not concern some abstracted feeling that one is secure in one's job, a vague sensation that makes the cherries taste sweeter. Everyone (including the Times) admits that it is exactly and specifically the protection from unfair termination that allows workers to have any say in their own labor conditions — both now and in the future. The CPE (the law against which the current strikes are set) is part of an explicit removal of this protection, and thus a crippling blow to the possibility of any postive changes for laborers.

• The current unrest is part of a larger historical moment, which includes last autumn's riots in France no more more [sic] than the current debate about immigration and "guest-workers" in the United States — a moment in which the terms of the relationships between the enfranchised and the disenfranchised are being restructured. Each seemingly individual and local skirmish takes its place within an increasingly global confrontation; the rendering of any given struggle as irrelevant or insubstantial serves particular ends.


We are not suggesting these events are the beginnings of a revolution; likely, they will turn out to have been a systemic adjustment of labor relations as late capitalism seeks out a sleeker body to march across continents. But we remember well that no overturning comes from a single moment of athletic heroism. If the histories of the 1760s in the American colonies, the 1780s in France, the 1940s in India, or the 1980s in the Soviet bloc teach us anything, it is that — even as onlookers inevitably remark on their pointlessness — there must be quite a bit of calisthenics in the public square before any great weights are lifted, or thrown down.

And, a nice interview at Dollars & Sense with Lani Guinier on "meritocracy", which includes this little history lesson:
In Arkansas in 1957 whites rioted as Central High School in Little Rock was desegregated by nine carefully-chosen middle-class black students. The rage and hate on people's faces was broadcast on national television and President Eisenhower had to send in the National Guard to ensure that blacks could get an education. What most people don't know is that at same time as the leaders of city of Little Rock planned the desegregation of Central High, they built and opened a new high school located in area where the sons and daughters of the doctors and lawyers lived.

Blacks were coming in at the same time that upper class whites were exiting and this was part of what provoked the intense backlash; there was the sense among the working class whites who remained that their chances for upward mobility were lost because they could no longer fraternize with the middle and upper class. Previously, there were only two high schools in Little Rock, one white and one black. So Central High was segregated by race and integrated by class. Now Central was integrated by race and segregated by class.

Beth Roy did interviews with white graduates of Central High thirty years later [for her book Bitters in the Honey] and determined that many of them still blame blacks for the failure of themselves and their children to gain a secure toehold in a middle class lifestyle. They think that the American Dream owed them individual opportunity through its promise that if you work hard and play by the rules you will succeed. The problem with the American Dream is that it offers no explanation for failure other than that you deserve your lot in life and that if you fail there must be something wrong with you. Many people are perfectly willing to believe that success is individual but don't want to think about failure as individual and no one wants to believe that they deserve to fail. So they find a scapegoat and blacks were an easy scapegoat in this case. Even thirty years later, the white graduates of Central High claimed that blacks stole the American Dream.

While the integration of Central was hyper-visible, the building of Hall High was kept under wraps--most people still don't know about it. Wealthier whites were able to get away with building Hall High because blacks were used as a scapegoat.
Link via Bitch PhD, via BlackFeminism.

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