A World Designed

In her piece “A World Intended to Break Us,” contributor Monjula Ray illustrated the complicity of, not just ideological opponents on the right, but also those who are ostensibly ideological allies on the left, in the marginalization of people of color and women.  It was quite powerful but there was something about the choice of the word “intended” that stuck with me.

For a while, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  After reading it a few times, however, I realized that it was simply because her word applied perfectly to the issue to which she spoke, but there was a different (though intimately) related issue that her piece also evoked in me to which perhaps a different word could apply better.  I think that word is “designed.”

To be clearer still, there is intent on the white progressive left.  There are those who explicitly intend to push the voices of women and people of color from their forum.  Often for simple differences of opinion.  Often dishonestly, rudely, dismissively, aggressively, and (though they think they know better) self-destructively.  

Their power, however, often lies in identity-neutral strategies that are – absent their broader context – broadly defensible, though cynically motivated.  An excellent example is the push Monjula cites for open primaries and caucuses in the 2020 Democratic Primary.  

Open primaries are perhaps the more defensible of the two as a means of bringing left-leaning independents into the primary process.  In practice, however, this process dilutes the vote of minority voters with deeper ties to the Democratic organization, and empowers those who are less likely to have organized and supported the party’s agenda.  

Among self-identified Democrats, 60% are white, 22% black, 13% hispanic, and 2% asian.  Among self-identified independents those numbers are 70%, 8%, 16%, and 3% respectively.  Not to mention that, in non-competitive Republican primaries those voters, who are overwhelmingly white (89%), can cross the aisle to vote strategically in a Democratic primary.  Closed primaries, for their shortcomings, ensure a primary electorate that is as diverse as each state’s Democratic Party.

Far less defensible but still superficially color-blind is the favoring of caucuses over primaries.  Caucuses are notoriously anti-democratic and exceedingly difficult to attend for working people.  Anyone who cannot spare a night off to attend a caucus meeting loses their voice.  This may weed out fair-weather voters, but it also overwhelmingly penalizes the poor and, by extension, black and latino voters who are over-represented among the poor and reliably Democratic general election voters.

It’s worth noting that these changes are indifferent to the motivations of those who advance them.  Pushed by a cynical chauvinistic labor socialist, they will drastically reduce the power of people of color and working women in the Democratic Party.  Supported by a jolly casual progressive without a malicious bone in his body, they will drastically reduce the power of people of color and working women in the Democratic Party.  The result is the same.

The point is not to quibble with Monjula over semantics (for I have no quibble).  The point is most certainly not to imply that the the progressive left is lacking in misogyny or without its own thinly veiled racism.  The point is simply to turn her mirror on others who may assume from the title that they could never be complicit in the phenomenon she illustrates.  Those people would be wrong.  Racist (sexist, etc) outcomes are often animated by, but do not require racist intent.  They require only designs that produce systematically skewed outcomes.