this article at the Common Dreams website on the so-called “white working class”, a phrase that is being peddled by the media and the political pundits on the right. They provide little definition of what they mean by “white working class.”. Nor do they provide any evidence that the actual work experiences of white and black working people are significantly different no matter how the class is defined. Working people as a whole (defined as the 85 percent of us who are production and non-supervisory employees) have seen their real wages fall since the late 1970s ― all shades, all colors. Most of the new jobs created are low-wage, part-time service sector jobs ― jobs that often pay poverty wages. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, “More than 40% of the jobs added in just the past year have come in generally lower-paying fields such as food service, retail, and temporary help.” So getting the lion’s share of these jobs is not a pathway to prosperity. Also, finally, rural America is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5 percent of rural and small town America.
We invent the white working class, we whitewash an increasingly diverse manufacturing workforce. Take the workforce at Carrier, which is in the news because of Trump’s effort to prevent its jobs from moving to Mexico. Isn’t it a perfect example of a beleaguered and declining white working class in Indiana, looking to Trump for help? No, the Carrier workforce is 50 percent African-American. Half of the assembly line workers are women. Burmese immigrants make up 10 percent of the employees.
These media reports create an image in our minds of a coherent white working class, hunkered down in the declining manufacturing sector ― white rural workers who have needs and interests different from black and brown urban workers. In doing so, this image feeds into a long history of white working class creationism that divides working people by race.
Class is real and is a unifying force in which the vast majority of us have common interests and experiences. Only consciousness of our shared class interests and a sense of class solidarity can overcome all the divisions the corporate oligarchy can use to divide us. Not talking about it, is class collaboration with the 1%.
In 1911, the U.S. Immigration Commission published its Dictionary of Races or Peoples, that listed 29 separate races. The Southern Italian race, for example, is described as “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative...having little adaptability to highly organized society.” Race science defined “white” as a narrow category that excluded virtually everyone who didn’t come from northern Europe. By the First World War, U.S. immigration policy was informed by early IQ tests given to immigrants on Ellis Island that supposedly showed that “87% of Russians, 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, and 79% of Italians were feeble-minded.” This “science” provided the rationale for dividing the workforce by ethnic group which had the added virtue of weakening worker solidarity and keeping unions at bay. This became particularly acute after 4 million workers went on strike at the end of WWI. The largest strike involved 350,000 steel workers that finally collapsed after 14 weeks of pitched battles. The rise of American industrial unionism successfully organized “unskilled” immigrant workers, blacks and Hispanics into broad-based unions.
Race is always a social construction, a human invention used to create a hierarchy of power. It is not genetics. It is not biology. And in the case of the “white working class” it’s not even accurate sociology.
Every effort to construct a black or white race through genetics has failed. No one yet has found a gene that signals a separate race. Eighty-five percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person.
Biologically speaking the old cliché is true: There is only one race ― the human race.