At one time I thought that racialized advantages accruing to white workers would dissolve in the face of the unifying imperatives of class struggle, class unity, and class ideology. But I was wrong.
First, racialized advantages accruing to white working people date back to the earliest days of white settler colonialism in the 17th century. During the long formation of the United States as a continental and world power in the centuries that followed, they became more embedded and pervasive. Today, they remain “facts on the ground.”
Second, white skin advantages (or privileges if you prefer) assume different forms as one racial order evolved and gave way to another in the course of contested and fierce struggles.
Third, they serve as stabilizers of the dominant political blocs and parties across time, not to mention play an essential role in deepening the exploitation of working people and the super exploitation of workers of color.
Fourth, the advantages that accrue to white workers are structured into the workplace, the neighborhood, the school, the health care and criminal justice system, and more. Conversely, the structural counterpart to white skin advantage is systematic and systemic discrimination, inequality, and disadvantage imposed on workers of color in the same social spaces.
Fifth, white working people perceive the material advantages accruing to them as natural, expected, and earned, while the subordinate and unequal status of people of color is understood by them as the result of their inferiority, indolence, and moral laxity. That their status might be the consequence of the racialized force of law, politics, economics, and legal and extra legal violence doesn’t figure in their thinking anymore than their advantages might not be the consequence of their own doing, industry, and intelligence.
Finally, the willingness of white workers to give up their racialized group advantages is neither automatic nor structurally determined by their place in the system of social production. Even in the face of a faltering economy that threatens the livelihood of all workers, there may not be such a disposition. In fact, in moments of economic and social crisis when their advantages appear to be at risk, white workers can as easily assume a defensive and self-protective posture. And in such circumstances become easy prey to right wing, racist zealots, such as Trump. This is especially so when progressive and left activists have a negligible presence in the labor movement and working class life.