On the Uses of Confrontation
Last week, I talked about the politics of resentment, and some of the commenters criticized what I wrote on the grounds that I was telling people what is better for them. This is not true.
It's not about false consciousness it's about confronting people and finding out what they really believe.
Sometimes people want something other than economic success. How can we fault that when we see people give up great wealth to work for the common good? Or choose not to sell out by taking a shiny big law firm job, and instead toil in relative anonymity at legal aid?
Several commenters asserted, as best I can tell, that some lower class whites hold onto their privilege because it is all they have, and that somehow this means that someone without their class background cannot criticize their behavior, otherwise it is condescending. I am having a hard time understanding how that is also not condescending, since it is essentially saying "they don't have money so they cling to their whiteness." In the cases where this is true, from a political perspective I don't see much to win in engaging people like this. Let me explain.
Some people may value the feeling of superiority they have that they derive from being white, and from living in a system that systematically oppresses ethnic minorities. If that is actually the case then it is futile to talk to the person about the economic benefits that they would sustain under a more left of center economic policy. Essentially these people are idealists who value their white supremacist ideology more than their own financial success. In that way, they are the same as people who value their ideology of, say, environmentalism over working for a remunerative oil tar sands project.
However, confronting people with how their personally bigoted beliefs, and politics of resentment (derived from the fantasy of limitless individual power) hurt their economic well being and the well being of the American nation, forces them to choose. Some people may simply not be aware of the implications of their politics. Others may actually suffer from feelings of worthlessness from their inability to live up to an unrealistic standard of individual agency. These people, when confronted with the truth, have the ability to make a decision to abandon beliefs that directly injure their economic well being and that of millions of Americans, and can become our allies.
On the other hand, hardcore white supremacist idealists are not going to be our allies under any circumstances. As the political-economic conditions in the United States continue to deteriorate, we on the left will need allies if we want to accomplish our goals. Those who, upon confrontation come to see our point of view are our allies. The others make their choices and line up to fight for the white supremacist ideology that guides their lives. They're not our friends and never will be. Confronting people with a choice in beliefs lets us find out who our friends really are.