Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 10, 2018

Chris Hedges, Glen Ford and the “diversity” question

Filed under: racism,sexism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

As a follow-up to his February 5, 2018 assault on “identity” politics titled “The Bankrupcy of the American Left”, Chris Hedges now takes aim at “diversity” with Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford as an all-too-willing accomplice. The July 8th Truthdig article titled “The Con of Diversity” allows the two to defend what they see as a class-based politics against the liberal Democrats using “identity”, “diversity”, “multiculturalism” and other tricks to sidetrack the necessary fight against the capitalist system.

Diversity in the hands of the white power elites—political and corporate—is an advertising gimmick. A new face, a brand, gets pushed out front, accompanied by the lavish financial rewards that come with serving the white power structure, as long as the game is played. There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.

To his credit, Glen Ford emphasizes the need for affirmative action even though for some on the left, starting with Walter Benn Michaels, it is just as much of a con game. However, he complains that somewhere along the line it mutated into diversity and as such no longer served the needs of the Black community. “Stripped of its core, affirmative action morphed into ‘diversity,’ a vessel for various aggrieved groups that was politically versatile (and especially useful to the emerging Black deal makers of electoral and corporate politics), but no longer rooted in Black realities.”

The one thing that surprises me in this put-down of diversity is how tone-deaf it is when it comes to the most urgent issue of the past year or so, namely the #metoo movement that is taking on the sexual assault culture that exists in some of the key sectors of the American economy from the film industry to restaurants and the media.

As a film critic, I have been paying closer attention to the abuses that have been around since the 1920s through the “casting couch”. For the past 90 years Hollywood management has been male-dominated in a way that other industries have not been. Unlike finance, for example, Hollywood producers can rely on an “old boys network” that would not be allowed in banking or the brokerage business after the 1970s forced human resource departments to act on complaints by women being treated as sex objects and denied opportunities. All you need to do is look at the statistics for 2016. Women accounted for only 17 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films. Blacks did not fare much better. Across the 100 top movies of 2017, only 6 directors were Black while 92 percent of all top executives are white.

What this means is that it is easier for a bastard like Harvey Weinstein to force himself on women trying to work in film and for the top studios to put obstacles in the way of Black directors and actors. As must be understood, film is one of the most powerful ways in which mass consciousness is shaped in the USA. For every Ava DuVernay, there are a dozen hack Caucasian directors who feel no particular need to address the racism that has brought us Donald Trump. Obviously, having women, Blacks and Latinos in powerful management positions in the film industry will not lead to socialism but on the other hand if it has some mitigating influence on the sexism and racism of this empire in decline, why treat their presence as if it were an insidious plot to preserve the status quo?

A lot of the reasoning embodied in the Hedges/Ford collaboration is reminiscent of what I heard around the time proposals were being made to allow gays in the military. If you are for allowing gays in the military, this must mean that you are a supporter of American imperialism. This absurd argument did not engage with the reality that many people join the armed services because they had no other employment options. Gay teens in some isolated rural village were not likely to read some advanced revolutionary thinker before going down to the recruitment station on a main street filled with empty stores, after all. And even if they did, the revolutionary rhetoric would not put food on their table.

Once inside the military, they had a right not to be killed by homophobic soldiers as was the case with Private Barry Winchell who had begun dating a transgender showgirl in 1999. When he was sleeping, another soldier crept up next to his bed and smashed his skull with a baseball bat. All this happened during Bill Clinton’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. What was needed then and what is needed now is the kind of diversity and diversity training that makes such acts impermissible. If homophobic soldiers cannot be educated to respect their gay comrades, they can at least understand that a gay captain or a gay general might have the power to put their ass in the stockade for a few months for stepping out of line. This would have been the kind of thing The Weinstein Company needed or Mario Batali’s restaurant empire as well.

If there’s anything that cries out more for some diversity, it the underrepresentation of Muslims across the board in American society. It is especially egregious in the military where Muslims have to put up with treatment that is even crueler than what gays and Blacks have put up with on occasion.

Two years ago Raheel Siddiqui, a Marine recruit of Pakistani origin, committed suicide after putting up with months of harassment from a drill instructor who forced him into a dryer multiple times. The drill instructor ended up being sentenced to a long prison term but why submit any soldier to this kind of abuse even if there are stiff punishments associated with it? The presence of Muslim captains and generals can go a long way in preventing such behavior even if risks being denounced as a capitalist trick in Truthdig.

Until we have a new society based on respect for every human being, there are measures that can be taken to uphold such respect even if they are being meted out by managers or by judicial writ as is the case with affirmative action. When a Hollywood studio, a media company or a restaurant empire decides to carry out preferential hiring and promotion practices to help ensure that the upper ranks reflects the ethnic, racial and gender make-up of the lower ranks, we have no business opposing that. Such “diversity” policies are in their own way a reflection of the same social forces that produced affirmative action. In a perfect world, working people would have the good sense not to mistreat their fellow workers but in country like the U.S. that has been built upon racism, colonialism, and the secondary status of women, a little force is advisable whether by statutes or by managers intent on punishing wrong-doers.

Let’s never forget what happened in Cuba after the revolution triumphed. Fidel Castro declared that refusing to cut an Afro-Cuban’s hair was now a crime. That, much more than stirring speeches about racial equality, helped to elevate the status of Black people in Cuba even though racism continues to this day. Racism took hundreds of years to take root in Cuba and even a revolutionary government cannot uproot it overnight.

17 Comments »

  1. I love your post. You are so dead on about racism being played in the political arena. It is such a breath of fresh air to read your perspective on affirmative action, gays in the military and women rights. Racism is something that our country was built on. It will have to take a new and understanding generation to change it. I often fear at times that, that may not be enough.
    How do you think that we can improve on race relations here in America?

    Comment by svh1 — July 10, 2018 @ 10:05 pm

  2. svh1, Are you asking Louis how we can improve race relations or are you asking ayn one and every one?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — July 10, 2018 @ 11:01 pm

  3. Corporate Democrats and the mass media talk a lot about “diversity”, but not so much about “equality”. This is because they are very much okay with inequality, and diversity, which sounds nice and progressive, is easily conflated with “equality” so long as one doesn’t actually parse these terms and define them. Politicians and their media supporters also love vague references to “fighting racism” as it helps create a link in the public’s imagination between “antiracism” and “diversity”. Why do you think the capitalist class and their media are so fond of identity politics? Are they all broken up about racial discrimination and sexism and just want to live in a just and fair society that protects citizens from powerful and disturbed predators who wish to take advantage of them?

    Sure they do, because treating people fairly and with respect is what capitalism is all about. Or maybe it’s a big smokescreen that lets powerful people sound very moral and righteous while they carry on with business as usual. They all love diversity, but what does it actually mean? Very simply it means having more women and people from “minority” backgrounds represented in the capitalist class. Don’t worry about poverty and worker exploitation, what we really need is a more diverse group of elites who can then plunder the working class knowing they did their bit for diversity. Kind of like having the first Black president did wonders for racial and economic justice in America, right?

    Identity politics not only keeps people divided and alienated from their peers, it essentializes those divisions and prevents any kind of solidarity from emerging. Kind of ironic, given this is what ideological racists were known for.

    And now of course the “alt-right” has joined the fray and resurrected a virulent white identity politics. This is wonderful news for the ruling class which can sit back and watch the left divide and splinter itself and spend its energy infighting and squabbling with the identitarians of the right. And poverty, exploitation and discrimination? Oh that will magically disappear when we have full “diversity”. (And I have a lovely piece of prime real estate in the Florida Everglades I am willing to sell for a great price!)

    PS – Adolph Reed’s criticism of identity politics is much more developed and nuanced than Ford’s and Hedges’. Worth checking out if this subject interest’s you.

    Comment by Eric Blair — July 11, 2018 @ 2:42 am

  4. Corporate Democrats and the mass media talk a lot about “diversity”, but not so much about “equality”.

    You are missing my point. Diversity is largely focused on making ELITES less white and male, not making ELITE salaries closer to those of the people they manage. When women and Blacks are excluded from ELITE positions in film, the restaurant business, etc., it has a rippling effect on the ranks of the industry like Black cooks not getting jobs as head chefs or Hollywood excluding Black actors from all except the usual roles as cops or criminals. When Fidel and Che took power, they made a concerted effort to bring Blacks into leadership positions in the military, the police, the arts, etc. That is entirely progressive.

    Here’s an Atlantic article illustrating the problem:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/diversity-jobs-professions-america/396632/

    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2018 @ 3:01 am

  5. @Eric Blair

    You actually think ‘white identity politics’ has been resurrected? Lol. White identity politics never went away, not in any form. It is the default system, no one has to come out in support of it during times when it’s not being challenged as it doesn’t need effort to maintain. It’s just there. Now that you get some push back, and someone else wants a small and insignificant piece of a pie it seems it’s also a suture point from which a good quotient of radicals can have something to blame. See the ridiculous WSWS on a group who’s bitten into this, and now won’t shut up about anything else. If you think idpol is the nexus of all this petty squabbling, you really were born yesterday. It’s just an excuse. Just look around at the atomization and endless party splitting and tell me that’s a modern invention.

    Comment by Dr. Pagoda (@OLDDEADWHITEMEN) — July 11, 2018 @ 6:37 am

  6. My observations of “diversity” at my job in a big government defense-weapons-energy lab, especially during 1990-1993 when I spent some time as an Affirmative Action Coordinator are:

    1. The lab/business had always been a good old white boys club (GOWBC), and remains so. Any management attention to affirmative action, and PR activity labeled as “diversity,” was purely in response to USG mandates (because the USG provided the lush and continuing subsidy).

    2. Low level people who did the grunt work to implement and promote AA (and diversity) were usually quite sincere (about “equal opportunity” and “merit”) and were good-hearted people.

    3. Management was concerned to diversify its own ranks in order to make PR points with both the public and, most importantly, with its USG patrons (administrative and congressional).

    4. To accomplish #3, management was keen to find people equivalent to those described this way: “There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.” The number one requirement for real promotion (into management) was 100% fealty and reliability to the GOWBC (like a Colin Powell squelching investigations of the My Lai massacre – war crimes – to cover his bosses asses, and getting all his medals and ribbons afterwards). Promotions are the administration of GOWBC patronage.

    5. Diversity training for the workers was mainly to try to prevent the occurrence of conflicts and disputes between individuals (an administrative hassle however it was handled), and also to try to minimize the occurrence of negative publicity (always a high priority, especially in a subsidy-based business).

    6. When management discovered that the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC) gave them the same amount of credit for the promotion of white women as for any black/brown/non-white/“exotic”-ethnic then there was a rush of pay raises and promotions for white women into the GOWBC (and also upward at lower levels).

    7. Almost all the “black/brown/non-white/“exotic”-ethnic” people avoided the pro-union group like it was plague ridden, because they saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to jeopardize their infinitesimal chances for advancement by supporting the one group actually contending with management to substantively improve the workers’ situations. The pro-union group was almost entirely white guys because they had the “privilege” of presuming they could take a union stand and not be overtly discriminated against because of it. This was most vividly seen during the defense of Wen Ho Lee (1999-2000), when the official minority groups (within the labs) were silent and publicly absent from that movement.

    8. Malcolm X’s “field slave” versus “house slave” sermon/speech is right on point about all this.

    9. The timorous, afraid-of-unionizing “house slave” type of minority individuals and associations see the whole AA and diversity operation in their employment site as a zero-sum game. They are competing against all the other minorities and non-white “races” for the few available “success” slots awaiting the next crop of comprador and house slave recruits. “Divide et impera.”

    So, I view Louis as absolutely correct that there remains a great need for authentic AA and diversity remedies in American society; and I see Chris Hedges take-down of “diversity” to be a reaction to the Potemkin Village type of AA and diversity that GOWBCs of all kinds engage in to whitewash the real nature of their operations (and bigotry) in the eyes of the public.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — July 11, 2018 @ 8:52 am

  7. Louis is dead right about the important things here, I feel–nevertheless I agree with Garcia that when someone like HIllary Clinton wambles on about diversity or when corporations (can’t name the one I have in mind) get all dewey-trousered and liberal about this, there’s a fox in the henhouse and it’s important to recognize the fact. You run across this every day in the world I work in. Ignore this, and the next thing you know you’re defending Barack Obama’s non-existent “legacy” or (with a tremor) “discovering” libertarianism.

    Nothing makes me sicker than the neoliberal vision of a freemarket world filled with entrepreneurs of every color and vibe. “Oh look–it’s a RAINBOW!!!” Of course this is linked with the individualist (in the U.S., transcendentalist and sometimes libertarian) ideal of self-fulfilment. Need one continue? Does anyone need to look at the latest explosion of racism from Glenn Greenwald’s idol Ron Paul to see where that comes from in some cases, or where it can lead?

    It’s the American illusion of really existing radical individuality, whether cloaked in the colors of the rainbow or not, that is the ideological enemy here–it’s the means by which people in this country are inoculated against class awareness, and has both “liberal” and “conservative” phases–is in fact protean and many-headed.

    Enough said. Others I am sure are far clearer on this than I.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 11, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

  8. While liberals embrace a diversity that in no way challenges capital, there is no doubt at all that labor unions and most other working class organizations badly need affirmative actions. Adolph Reed seldom discusses this and has a tendency to dismiss any focus on race as misguided at best and neoliberal at worst.

    Comment by Michael Yates — July 11, 2018 @ 5:44 pm

  9. They fail to mention Me Too, but also Black Lives Matter.

    If railing against diversity like this is going to bring back class-based politics, then the revolution is just around the corner.

    Comment by aaron hawley — July 11, 2018 @ 9:36 pm

  10. View story at Medium.com

    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2018 @ 11:28 pm

  11. I agree that affirmative action is necessary. Neoliberalism in all its forms–“rainbow ” or otherwise–IMHO tends to regard that as a bad thing or an unnecessary thing or a distasteful thing. It’s important to understand that the Emetic Party’s embrace of “diversity” is in fact a step away from affirmative action. Probably the bastards want to have a “conversation” about that with their best friend, the “intelligent conservative.”

    We shall see in any case what the new Supreme Court does and whether it is possible to fight them within the framework of the so-called constitution. I fear I lack the courage not to be here to see that.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 12, 2018 @ 12:08 pm

  12. The argument that whatever the liberal political class talks about should be shunned is a false argument. If we follow this line of logic, as socialists we should also be against a whole bunch of things like social security, healthcare rights, women’s rights, etc.

    The fact of the American history (and much of European history) is that class politics are partially imposed THROUGH class divisions to do with race, gender, etc. So, the argument that talking about affirmative action prevents class solidarity rests on a false view of what class solidarity should look like. It basically tells the African-Americans and women to shut up about equal rights and just talk about class. But, it is precisely by talking about equal rights that we can sharpen the internal contradictions of capital accumulation in the U.S.

    In this country, true class solidarity must take into account the history of racism and misogyny. These divisions within the working classes are imposed by the ruling classes because these divisions have two important effects: 1) divide the working classes, and 2) by having different tiers of income (based on race and gender, for example) we end up having a lowered floor for the average earnings of the working classes, thereby raising the average profitability of capital.

    Comment by Reza — July 12, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

  13. Here is another angle: liberals bring *their* solutions to social problems we face. That should not stop socialists from presenting their own solutions. To say that a certain topic of interest to the Democrats (who just want to get the electoral votes) is not worthy of socialists’ attention is to yield that field of political actions to the liberals. That’s not good politics.

    I am not one to get his political lessons from comedians, but I’d say Chris Rock has a much clearer understanding of where affirmative action is rooted, compared to Chris Hedges:
    https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-mozilla-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=mozilla&p=chris+rock+on+affirmative+action#id=1&vid=06b25133f41b3bba81af5f498b536c6c&action=click

    Comment by Reza — July 12, 2018 @ 5:51 pm

  14. Chris Hedges trying to “get” Marxism via “David North,” or weighing in obtusely about the evils of identity politics, reminds me of the Steve Martin character in The Jerk getting rhythm.

    He wants it so much; he thinks he’s got it; and in the end that white boy (in Hedges’ case Presbyterian) legacy just snatches it all away

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 12, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

  15. I don’t disagree with you, but it is important to note the original purpose of affirmative action. Nixon and Reagan (during his time as California governor), adopted affirmative action policies as an urgent means of trying to persuade POC that their grievances were being addressed when the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground and, a little later, the Black Liberation Army, were still around. Without the violent radicalism of the late 1960s, I doubt that affirmative action would have ever seen the light of day.

    Given that this threat receded years ago, pressure has built over the decades to eliminate it. But this doesn’t mean that the left should be complicit in this effort. Rather, it suggests that affirmative action policies, which can be limited to serve the purpose of integrating a neoliberal elite (perhaps, the intention of Nixon and Reagan from the start), are just the beginning of what is required to bring about racial and economic equality in the US.

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 13, 2018 @ 6:03 am

  16. To Richard’s (correct) point:

    If affirmative action policies were good for the ruling class in this country, why are the Republicans so bent on repealing them? The same with a woman’s right to abortion; why are they so intent on getting rid of it?

    Chris Hedges is definitely on the wrong track.

    Comment by Reza — July 13, 2018 @ 2:58 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: