In the "The White People Problem" (Citizen, Jan. 6), Bob Geary says, "Progressives need to convince poor whites to vote in their own self-interest." This line of argument circulates in progressive circles: that poor whites are bewilderingly irrational, uneducated about their own situation and/or misinformed about their "economic self-interest." This reenacts painful classism—haven't Appalachians and West Virginians had enough of being showcased for poverty and ignorance by liberals? And, this scapegoating obscures how racism and capitalism operate on a systemic level. It is primarily white, owning-class people who hold the power to pass racist policies at the Capitol, implement racist hiring practices, incarcerate black, brown and poor white people, and train police to shoot to kill. Clearly, racism is not just a poor-white-people problem.
And, suppose that poor white people were motivated mainly by their own economic interest: What would it take politically to end poverty? Historically, capitalism and neoliberalism have run rampant across the country under the leadership of both parties, squeezing every last cent of productive value out of the working class. Are owning- and professional-class progressives ready to give up class prejudices and share power with working-class people—of all races—in order to create systemic change?
Furthermore, the theory that human beings are primarily or only motivated by economic self-interest is false. People are moved all the time by many different needs—dignity, stability, family, faith and belonging, as well as by economic considerations. People are not economic machines, nor should we be. Progressives would do well to keep this in mind if they hope to build a movement for real change.
Laurin Penland, Noah Rubin-Blose and Kriti Sharma, Hillsborough