Race vs. Class

Race2012: Issues - Race vs. Class

“When we look overall, if we’re still able to predict people’s life outcomes because of race, we see that white people are consistently more likely to own a home, have better health care, to be less punished at every level of the criminal justice system.”- Tehama Lopez, Asst. Prof., Political Science, Ohio Univ.

As the make-up of the country becomes increasingly “majority-minority,” where racial and ethnic minorities make up the majority of the population, it’s difficult to predict what social system may emerge.

The discussion about race in America may in fact be a cover for and a distraction from deep issues related to class divisions that conveniently split the masses and create obstacles to cooperation among those who most recently refer to themselves as the 99 percent.

Race vs. ClassThe possibility that with the growth and integration of so many minorities, the advantages of whiteness will dissipate and allow alternative formations of identity, for instance class would be a difficult sell for whites, suggests Vincent Hutchings, Prof., Political Science, Univ. of Michigan. “White Americans have more of the privileges, more of the resources and more of the rights than other Americans have, and that has been true from the beginning.” And so long as the disproportionate allocation of resources resoundingly favors whites, it’s unlikely this relationship will be abandoned.

Race vs. ClassBut alternatively what happens if white privilege is dismantled by recession, government regulations, and a diminishing perception that whiteness no longer holds the advantages it once did? Chris Zepeda-Millan, Asst. Prof., Political Science, Loyola Marymount Univ. explains that race and class are in fact just too strongly and intimately intertwined to separate. “The reason why racial and ethnic minorities continue to struggle and have formed social movements is specifically because they’ve been marginalized not only as a group, but also as a class, they’ve been forced to take the worst, to participate in the lowest segments of the labor economy….so the issue of race is class. It can’t be untangled with regards to American politics and American history.”

Yet, there is a sense among whites that old institutions are dying, and perhaps this is an indication of new ones that will rise to replace them. However the speed of change may ultimately depend on the systemic pressures induced by the rise and fall of our economic system. As Debra Dickerson, author, The End of Blackness,  explains, “…had the one percent not taken absolutely everything away from me I would probably be cautioning, ‘Slow down, be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”


  • To what extent is race a smokescreen that prevents Americans from addressing entrenched class-based problems?
  • Will working class Americans of all races join together in a class-based movement that expresses their common interests?
  • Will race continue to trump class in the struggle and debate for a more equitable distribution of wealth?