A view of the diverse half of Seattle.
A view of the diverse half of Seattle. Charles Mudede

The Globalist post "Time to shed the ‘progressive mystique’ and confront racism in Seattle" by Sharon H. Chang says something that many people of color say day after day: that Seattle is not as progressive as it thinks itself to be, that it has a serious and worsening race problem, that the city's wealth is distributed strongly along racial lines. Though there's a great amount of realism in this picture of the situation, we, as people of color, seem to accept this racism as a matter of course. White people are racist even when they vote for brown/gay/female politicians who promote greater cultural tolerance. But we must ask this question: How is this possible? Why do so many white people in Seattle speak with forked tongues? One that promotes cultural diversity, and the other that supports a system that oppresses blacks, Asian Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans? This is strange, no? My thinking is that the source of the problem, and the strange forked tongue thing, must be found in the very structure of our social environment, which, in one way, can be seen as being defined by a long-growing separation between culture and economics, the superstructure and the base.

This separation began as a solution to the cultural movements of the '60s—the feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the black power movement, and so on. All of these represented a powerful challenge to capital, which at that time had maintained a 30-year truce with working-class white males (labor unions, high wages). The solution? End this truce with white males, which is one of the reasons why wages in general have been flat or stagnant, and grant rights of recognition to minority groups and women as a whole.

However, there was no real redistribution or restructuring of wealth and its processes of accumulation. All that happened is that they were synchronically detached or separated from culture. In a sense, the system that responded to the social critique (honest wages, job stability) of a part of the working class was completely abandoned and replaced by one that enthusiastically responded to cultural critiques of capitalist society—which began (but did not end) with a Hegelian demand for recognition: "I Am a Man!" The reproduction of social power in its dominant form of monetized relations did not intrinsically change, and cultural tolerance, recognition of differences, was normalized and, for legitimacy, codified by law. This is the Seattle we have today: a gay mayor, an Indian-born socialist in the council, two female senators, and so on (progressive), combined with an economic system (regressive) that, though detached from culture, continues to have racial consequences because cultural empowerment was never linked with economic empowerment—a move that would have added a diachronic solution to the main demands of the black power movement of the '60s.

You can vote for Obama or Norm Rice or, in the future, a black lesbian, and yet do everything in your power to keep your white child out of a school with lots of black kids. This is not irrational. This is indeed your social environment speaking with two tongues. What must never stop worrying us is that capital will give us all the cultural tolerance we ever wanted.