I wrote before about the conflict between two liberal schools, “social justice” and “socialism,” and how the former usually triumphs over the latter these days. This is especially evident with today’s college progressivism, where social justice, aka social liberalism, is taken to the extreme but socialism, aka economic liberalism, is all but ignored. How many young people call themselves “socially liberal but economically conservative” these days? Or a better question is, how many don’t?
The main exception these days is the “Fight for $15” movement, which harkens back to the old-school leftism of the ’30s. Economic justice was the original focus of us comsymp pinkos, after all… workers of the world unite, and all that. But Salon writer Joan Walsh has a column up taking $15’ers such as Bernie Sanders and Bill de Blasio to task specifically for the crime of focusing more on labor than race.
Walsh decides to use the 1950s as an example. The era’s unrivalled equal playing field, narrow inequalities and labor-friendly environment ushered in what is unquestionably America’s Golden Era from 1946 to 1963, before being ended by the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, and the Boomers. But, like most conventional liberals these days, she uses the sledgehammer of race to beat down any talk of appreciation of the era. Because it was racist, after all. Jim Crow. How dare you?
This is incredibly unfair. Of course the era was more racist than ours, but that is not the right way to look at it. Rather: what direction were they moving in? Was the country more, or less, racist in 1963 than it was in 1946? Were they working to improve things for minorities, or were they making it worse?
The answer is pretty obvious. The oh-so-benighted Fifties era (again, more accurately seen as ’46-’63) ushered in the desegregation of the armed forces; Brown v. Board of Topeka and school desegregation, sometimes enforced by the military; increasingly favorable jurisprudence, such as liberal use of the 14th Amendment to quash Jim Crow; the rise of the Civil Rights movement; and the Civil Rights Bill which originated with JFK. Simply declaring any era before ours invalid if it is more racist than ours means you must erase all of world history before the 1980s or thereabout.
Would Walsh like pundits from the year 2100 to dismiss everything about our era because it will have been more racist than theirs?
And besides, how is it not true that economic liberalism benefits minorities more than whites? I’m pretty sure most black people around where I work would far prefer a bump in their wage to a bunch of Twitter hashtags from some white liberals trying to make themselves feel better.
Even Cesar Chavez, often considered the Latino MLK, was more about economic justice for Hispanic workers than what we would now call “social justice.” He believed in a living wage for migrant workers as the key to their good life, and even founded a labor union for farm workers. I’m pretty sure I know what he would think about hashtag activism.
This is not to say that there is no need for social reform. The constant barrage of unarmed black people shot by white cops is all the proof we need, as is the woman-hating rage of the MRAs and Gamergaters. (Of course, women’s rights always seems to get sent to the back of the line behind every other liberal cause, but that’s for another post.)
But Walsh’s blasting of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for daring to focus on the economic side of things is myopic at best. In this era of exploding inequality and of blatant Republican efforts to make the rich even richer and the poor poorer via the flat tax and the elimination of the heiress tax, you cannot truly improve the situation of black Americans if you ignore their financial straits. #BlackLivesMatter tweets simply don’t pay the rent.
(Update: here is an amusing roundup of social-justice types convinced that someone, somewhere is being oppressed by Caitlyn Jenner’s big Vanity Fair splash… they just can’t agree on precisely who.)