Some of my commenters have informed me that I haven’t been clear enough about just why I got so incensed over Nancy DiTomaso’s recent op-ed “How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployment.” I apologize if in my disdain for white liberal obfuscation I have not been explicit enough about just why this particular instance of obfuscation is so deeply and regretfully pernicious. Let me try to be as precise as I can.
Clearly, DiTomaso was trying to be a good, well-meaning, white liberal and justify affirmative action. My concern is with how she goes about doing it. I don’t really care whether she intended to be misleading or not–her argument is deeply misleading and as I see it fundamentally counterproductive. I’m not a mindreader and I feel like judging the goodness of someone’s intentions is overrated as a moral category generally speaking. I cannot call her mendacious, for the facts that she reports are indeed true. As I say, I’m sure that social networks do indeed function in an often racially exclusive way. However, it seems clear to me that this observable phenomenon is better situated as an effect of racial injustice rather than as a cause. The problem I have with treating it as a cause is that doing so offers a set of solutions that are either mysterious or inadequate.
Here’s how the implied argument behind DiTomaso’s piece seems to go: People are people. They like to socialize with people who they see as like them. Unsurprisingly, they like to give jobs to people they socialize with. Therefore: white supremacy is no one’s fault! It’s just human nature! (And to say that this is only implied is even being generous: the subtitle of her book is “racial inequality without racism”).
First of all, that’s just bullshit. White supremacy takes violence and the segregation found in social networks is a result of violence. If we’re serious about redressing white supremacy let’s redress the racial violence that pervades our society before we start worrying about how to fix people’s social lives to make them more politically correct. DiTomaso would agree with that point I suspect, as the fact that people aren’t politically correct in their social lives is what leads her to argue that we need affirmative action to redress this fact. If the segregation of social networks wasn’t largely a result of more fundamental socioeconomic violence, I might agree. When I said DiTomaso’s work was a missed opportunity what I meant was: The point about how under the present conditions, white supremacy can not only function but flourish without the need for individuals to think of themselves as racially biased is indeed an important one, but only when we look at it in a larger context.
Apart from my belief that there are indeed deeper causes of black unemployment than the exclusivity of social networks alone, the practical problems with trying to redress the exclusivity of social networks through affirmative action are immense. 1, we would need much, much stronger affirmative action policies to move the unemployment disparity even at all; 2, this would be fighting against the grain of an economy that no longer feels that workers are terribly necessary; 3, the bulk of the benefits of affirmative action policies benefit the small percentage of black and brown folk who are already well-connected. As far as the last point, there is something to be said for AA, in that any diversity in white institutions does improve them (even if in better accomplishing their white supremacist aims). However, as a policy it does nothing for the people who need the state and the cops and the corporations off their back the most! It does nothing for the young black and brown men in prison. It does nothing for black and brown single mothers hustling to raise kids and working minimum wage jobs. It does more or less nothing for the black and brown kids who the educational system failed.
In conclusion, if DiTomaso actually wanted to do something about black unemployment she NEEDS to talk about mass incarceration, the drug war, the injustices of our educational system, the fact that the economy is stacked against poor people in general, and the fact that we need a MUCH stronger social safety net. I am an advocate for a guaranteed wage paid to everyone; if capitalism can get by without workers, then why should not having a job preclude you from being able to survive? In short: If we fix the violence, the social networks will fix themselves.