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Race Versus Class

Distinguished professor of political science, Adolph Reed, joins Ralph to talk about the problem with emphasizing race over class in building effective, long-term coalitions.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a professor of political science at University of Pennsylvania. He is a volunteer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and a co-organizer of Higher Ed for Bernie. He is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with race and class in American society and writes regularly for The New Republic as well as The Nation. He was recently featured in a New York Times article about the cancellation of his speech.

“I don’t understand how as an organizing principle we’re supposed to build the solidarities, the popular base that we need to change the society, to overcome the corrupt institutions, to undermine corporate and capitalist class dominance, if we are to start out from affirmation of all the many ways we might differ. It seems to me it makes more sense to get to where we’re trying to get to, if we start out trying to stress what we have in common.”

Adolph Reed Jr., Political Science Professor at University of Pennsylvania


“Jane McAlevey, longtime organizer and now a sociologist also, makes a crucial distinction between what she calls ‘mobilizing’ and ‘organizing.’ Mobilizing comes down to marshaling the constituency that you have to do stuff. And the focus of organizing is on creating the constituency that you need through deep connections with people. Our work with the Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute in South Carolina… is focused on the premise that we don’t have the base that we need to make the change that we want. We can’t count on a sympathetic ear from the governing elites of whatever party. So, one of the objectives has to be to take the approach of connecting with people who don’t already agree with us to try to broaden the base to make the challenge.”

Adolph Reed Jr., Political Science Professor at University of Pennsylvania


“Bernie was attacked from the nominal left by people who contended that his programs were not race-first enough, but somehow a corporate shill like Hillary Clinton and now even Joe Biden are considered preferable.”

Adolph Reed Jr., Political Science Professor at University of Pennsylvania


“One of my concerns about Biden is that while we need to get Trump out of office, a Biden administration that limps through four more years of the same sort of wan, neoliberal crap that we had from Clinton and Obama could just pave the way for a more competent version of Trump, which is obviously more dangerous.”

Adolph Reed Jr., Political Science Professor at University of Pennsylvania

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 340 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. Mark Hughes says:

    Great guest. I’ve heard Reed on several interviews, always enlightening.

    On the reasons why the movements and protests of the 1960s worked, another is that, simply put, the wealth gap wasn’t so wide. The people were “closer” to the elite in some ways. Workers had far more power, real wages were much higher than they are now, whole host of things. Of course that largely applied to whites; blacks were willfully and deliberately excluded from the New Deal so they were incredibly powerless during those times. The facts that so many of them were murdered and no justice was exacted pretty much scream that. Nevertheless, the reason again that the ruling class has no sympathetic ear is because of the incredibly wide wealth gap. For a long while I have strongly believed that protests do not work anymore, and Reed articulated the reasons very well. You can build all the guillotines in front of Jeff Bezos’ house all you want, but until you actually stick his head in the stock you’re not going to scare him. It’s not about making the elites sympathetic to you, it’s about making them scared of you.

    Interesting discussion as to why Black Christians don’t vote Republican, considering that (white political) Christians are on that side of the spectrum. Glad David got Reed on that topic. Only thing I can add is that the Southern Black Christian didn’t arise from the same “church” as their white counterparts. Not at all. White Southern Christians sprung, perhaps at its most furious point, from the Southern Baptist denomination, which was created in the 1840s (the awful Antebellum period) when Southern Baptists split from their Northern counterparts over slavery. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone which side of slavery the Southern Baptist Convention was on. My only guess is that, as a race, blacks are still not going to politically side with their white counterparts, at least not in the South. The SBC issued an official ‘apology’ in 1995 for its role in slavery and racism, and has since condemned the Confederate rag and the alt-right, but it’s too little, too late. Thanks y’all, welcome to the party. The damage has long been done, and Blacks still live with it, just in a different form.

    • Karen Bednarek says:

      Love brilliant Professor Reed- so delighted to have opportunity to listen to this most important conversation.
      Thanks for always having the best guests who help to make sense of this insane world.
      Most grateful also for your tributes to recent loss of such important world Justice leaders, Zeese and the
      Person who coined the 1% concept for Occupy, David Graeber. Too young, too tragic !

      • Tom Over says:

        Nader, Reed, Cornell West and others would agree that race reductionism is a neoliberal tool which unintentionally feeds white nationalism.

        All due respect, Nader and Reed neglected nuances that are relevant to anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-colonialist organizing.

        Thank for this show. Even when I disagree with some of your stances, the insights associated with them are very useful.

        We spoke inperson briefly in Columbus Ohio in Aug of 2008. You told me to “find time” to get politically involved. Thank you

    • Tom Over says:

      So, Reed declines a debate and Mr Rader refers to it as an example of “cancel culture”?

      We are to unite the left by sidelining anti-racism?

      Anti-racism and anti-classism are inextricable.

      Meet people where they are. For many black folk, racism is the fire at their feet. Or maybe we should tell them they are sillly and should “get over it”?

      The beauty of meeting people where they are is that genuine anti-racism requires addressing the economic system and thereby leads to anti-classism.

      In turn, anti-classism necessarily involves anti-racism.

      Anti-racism, per se, is not what damages coalition building. Instead it’s the Democratic Party and corporatist, classist liberals pointing their fingers at low-income and working class whites.

      Corporate media and the two party system divide the country, manipulating people by playing racism and classism off one another.

  2. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    Great guest this week! If you like Reed’s thoughts here, you should definitely check out his collection of essays called Class Notes. Reed is a treasure trove of articulate arguments against the menace of divisive identity politics.

  3. Bruce K. says:

    Brilliant, great show, excellent choice of guest.

    David Graeber, the author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”, passed away? Just recently on Sept. 2nd, way too young, what a shame.

    I have to wonder what drives “the Left” as described by Adolph Reed Jr. I agree with his opinion, which I will generalize, that “the Left” always goes straight to the thing that divides the Left the most in the greatest number of factions. I have to wonder how and why this occurs. Could it be somehow orchestrated by the Right, and if so how hard it will be to fight the very structures in society that bring us together to the extent we even are together.

    “The first name of Media is Corporate” …. brilliant, true and funny.

    Adolph Reed is an important voice I had never heard of, thank you, great show. No wonder people are programmed to lose interest in the Left when it is “seemingly” manipulated like puppets to do everything to undercut itself. What are the actual mechanics of how these things happen? Why are the Left’s movement’s names so divisive and the Left’s policies so poorly messaged, Black Lives Matter, Defund the Police, or the group that caused Mr. Reed

    But also, in the media, whenever the class issues come up, the race issue is always hinted at by seeing all these TV shows like COPS or even the “man in the streets” interview with illiterate and stupid minorities, or even in the Left on shows I listen to where they start these bleeding heart interviews with immigrants from Mexico, single mothers who work for minimum wage who have large numbers of children. When we start to have an interest in justice and fairness for everyone, somehow all over the Left we start to see the people that would alienate and divide us the most and programs floated that would only respond to those people. I’ve seen this first hand defeat any nub of the good intentions the mainstream middle class voters I know have, and how it makes them distrust anything from the Left. Another thing I noticed is that on Facebook I see videos recommended to me that show Police or Bounty hunters always coming into contact with a lot of very ugly and badly behaved mostly black people, like the show COPS. That scares a lot of people.

    Another wedge issue is anti-Semitism, to which Ralph, ( sorry to be critical of Mr. Nader ) who knowingly or unknowingly seems to contribute with his injection of hatred of Israel at every juncture when it has virtually nothing to do with the Left or improving life and political unity in the US.

    I am sad to say this, but I have to take issue with the praise given to Bernie Sanders at this point in the evolution of the Left. I was a huge fan of Bernie’s in the 2016 election and before, but I realized that despite espousing most of the beliefs I had that agreed with Bernie, Bernie was essentially incompetent as a candidate. Though initially refreshing to see someone who had the image of incorruptible, after a point he lost supporters when he failed to advance either his thinking or his campaign after 4 years of loss since 2016. He stuck to his talking points except for his main interview where he veered off into talking about prisoner rights to vote. Whatever anyone’s feelings on the matter, that is not a winning or sensible strategy, and was more about Bernie’s image than doing the needful, practical to get elected. Why did Bernie not join the Democratic Party, and then label himself and talk about FDR’s Second Bill of Rights?

    I think a lot of Americans are familiar enough for FDR to be very much energized by that, and it would have been a better “sell” than always playing into the Republican’s attacks on Socialism.

    I believe Elizabeth Warren was the better candidate and especially after Bernie’s heart attack, he should have pulled the hell out which would have combined the Progressive vote to be something much more than it turned out to be and fizzled out. At this point I will never look at Bernie the same way, not have any interest in following him or his movement – at least so far.

    The establishment Left exists at the pleasure of the Right-wing. They are paid to lose, and now the light-bulb is starting to go on for people … I hope.

    • John Puma says:

      Re: ““the Left” always goes straight to the thing that divides the Left the most in the greatest number of factions. I have to wonder how and why this occurs. Could it be somehow orchestrated by the Right … ?”

      The Right doesn’t have to bother because it’s done for them by the DNC … and its controllers.

      • Bruce K. says:

        OK, but I say there’s two Rights, as there are two Republican Parties right now.

        The militant fascist faction led by Trump and FOX News against America, and the Conservative moderates. Radical Libertarian Super Rich that intend to establish a new kinder gentler fascist order that will probably not stay kinder and gentler for very long. The money has been going to the militant fascists for a long time now.

        Similar thing with the Democrats, there are the FDR New Deal Democrats, thinking educated American citizens, pejoratively called socialists, and then there are the establishment Democrats, political puppets. The money has been going to the Establishment Democrats to play the Charlie Brown football kicking graceful losers, offering hope and saying we’ll do better next time, which they have no intention of doing because they need the money from the people they would be taxing to actually govern.

        The only possible solution that avoids a 200 year backlash of history is for the people to wake up and take back and rally the Democratic Party. I think the chances are bleak.

  4. Donald Klepack says:

    A great show as always. The one question I would of asked is why Bernie Sanders dropped out so early from the primary race when he has a mathematical chance of winning. I feel a Biden win would be the end of the fight for Medicare for All, possibility off more wars in the middle east and a diminished role of strict Corporate Oversight. My other personal belief is Bernie Sanders would have a better chance of beating Trump.

    • Sean Atkinson says:

      Bernie 2020 was like Bernie 2016: a sheep dog. I mean, it’s right in front of your face, what more evidence do you need.

  5. David Faubion says:

    I enjoyed hearing Adolph Reed speak with the eloquent confidence in which he likely understands thoroughly the issue about whether we need more focus on class oppression rather than the oppression of Blacks and by extension Latinx, women, Indigenous Americans and LGBTQ as so-called races, quite arguably as real class severings. I just wish that the now ambiguous “phrase politically correct/incorrect” be used exclusively to reveal Nixon, Reagan, the Bushs, the Cheneys, the McConnells, the Gingrichs, Trumps, Mahers, the libertarians and the neoliberals on both aisles. It’s too bad that human language suffers from such exploitative misusage. Yet I do concede that PC is at times taken too far; however, at its heart, the phrase is the essence of what political science meant 1600 years ago in Greece and for other ancients e.g. Confucius. PC deserves a comprehensive examination to reveal where it is indispensable and where it muddies the waters as false. Let us not fall prey to being postmodern abusers of ideas and ideals via our language. PC is akin to our vital need for a more succinct use of language. Long live the pantomime and other body languages in conjunction with a strong, coherent voice.

    • David Faubion says:

      On the other hand, life and death are two classes that transcend class and defy the morbid pseudo-science of multiple races. So if you have a life, you are secure and less afraid of your being killed extra-judicially; you thus are in the class that is given life without too much doubt. Death and life are the ultimate economic classes; hence the need to focus first on wrongful, incorrect death, and the so-called life that takes and allows it to be taken. Some reductio ad absurdum theories follow:
      “They are runaway slaves; they can be shot, hanged, or reenslaved. We did so since when the war that set ’em free.”
      “Those natives didn’t get the memo: we want them off our land, so now we’ll neglect and ignore them off our dirt.”
      “Low wage workers who come here ought to work as the wage slaves we need; they ought to leave when we tell them to go and when we tell them to stop coming. We’ll detain them in a fate worse than death with a preview of it by separating their kids from them; so then they’ll die and feel lucky.”
      “Women naturally die during childbirth; so what’s the diff with some domestic violence dead and “the I wish I were dead,” and the high rate femicide in say Turkey or Mexico as a matter of fact.”
      “The LGBTQIA are soft targets of our cult of killing, our economy of death. So were third-world folks during and after the cold war.”

      However, the economy that is triage in the eradication of the most virulent economic diseases—i.e. vigilante and police executioners—favors keeping alive, protecting those threatened with sudden violent death. Even the freaking COVID 19 virus in the USA is a death tool that the pirates now foment in their killing our decency and our dignity as one human race.

      Lastly, let us remove the adjective political from PC. Return political to its status as a first-class noun: the polis: the community: common unity of the cities in old Greece. Positions, policies, practices, names, etc. are correct or incorrect. There is the apolitical or antipolitical ________ if you need an adjective.

      While I’m at it, religion was not theology, not doctrinal belief nor dogmatic imperative. In classical Greece, RELIGIO was a verb that served as social science, an active tool for folk to COME TOGETHER right now over you: me us: and “them” too. Religio had its basis in comprehensive ethics, the code of, for, and by our sustainable behavior.

  6. Sean Atkinson says:

    Dear Ralph
    Hello there. Long time listener (and voter 🙂 ) first time writer. Your comments almost got to the heart of things. Almost. I can tell your intuition, and the evidence, is telling you the truth, yet you resist coming out and saying it plainly. I mean, you say it, but not completely clearly. Please come out with it already: Democrats are not incompetent (as you also unfortunately frequently allege). They are paid, handsomely, to lose. They rather lose with the rich than win with the people. Please make this your thesis, not you offhand remark. The implication of that is severe. It means the rich have bought out the ability of the rest of us to effect policy. You mention this too, but too often you leave space for the reason to be other than what it is: They are being paid, well, to throw the fight. And they are doing their job well. We have not had a democracy, really, since Carter, and maybe even since Truman got shoved in, instead of Wallace (also, by money). It is not the Electoral College, it’s not “comfort”. It takes work to lose like this, and they are putting in the hours to keep the veneer. That way, the worst critics can say is that they are incompetent. They are not incompetent. They have been keeping the illusion of democracy since the 1940’s. Barring a few exceptions due to effective protests and the fear of the electorate, they have done a very good job of bringing the country back to 1910. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer are being paid to throw the political game just as clearly as the IOC were paid to choose Olympic hosts, or as “Chick” Gandil of the Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series in 1919. The Democratic Party “leadership” takes money from the aristocratic class, and promises one thing: “We will never win an election”. And they deliver.

  7. Wendy D. says:

    Mr. Reed, Ralph and others, what a great show, with amazing insights into what matters in organizing and a good critique of the shallow rhetoric we are all witnessing. Indeed, people are hurting badly and emotions matter, but are we organizing just to feel our emotions, or to win? When the hippies and hard hats fought over lifestyle choices in the streets in the seventies, the hard hat construction workers voted for Nixon – he won.

    Maligning white men is not a strategy, however terrifying their guns and rhetoric are. I see them organizing into militias within a few months, why can’t we be the ones organizing them? Or, are we only organizing ourselves and the people who agree with us? IF so, is that even organizing?

    Race and gender have always been categories for the exploitation of labor in capitalism. Rather than loving Bill Gates and corporate heads who smile nicely, why not take them on for their hyper-exploitation and their wealth. Find Anand Giridharadas on Youtube whose book – Winner Take All: the Elite Charade of Charity – which demystifies the ruling class’s seemingly nice exploiters who have won the hearts of liberals. Going back to basics, locating the root of the problem is how to build a movement.

  8. Gabe says:

    I have no idea who reads posts, but I have posted before, and will again – the dialogue deeply needs to shift, and even more so in the face of a culture of peer pressure and censorship. From one side of the spectrum, all one increasingly hears is racial and racialist content, and from the other side, conspiracy theories frequently tied to the deep state. Though both have elements of truth and valor, I rarely if ever sense any actual policy positions from either camp that hold water. Suggestions like affirmative action, criminal justice reform, and immigration reform are all ideas I could easily get behind – though for example, even a topic like immigration becomes troubling in an environment in which we cannot take care of citizens already present, in spite of massively ballooning and out of control deficit spending! All this confusion and distraction when the issues are increasingly and dramatically crystal clear, and Ralph Nader and Adolph Reed seem to understand this. Climate and environment, insane and growing wealth and income disparity, media hegemony, tremendous and frightening state and corporate power, in both local and global spheres…
    To put the counter-intuitive nature of the landscape in relief, Thomas Piketty in his new book does a good job at highlighting just the extent to which wealth and politics has flipped over the last 30 years, with the majority of left leaning voters now being wealthy, and right leaning voters working class – a worldwide phenomenon. I did briefly check out the Movement for a People’s Party, and could not get clear on whether it was part of the solution, part of the problem, or essentially a non-entity. I think it would make a good show topic. Many people get it, but much of the dialogue and rhetoric, I at times cannot help but imagine intentionally, fundamentally creates confusion, anxiety, paranoia, guilt, victimization and discord – partly by emphasizing “narrative” at the expense of genuine communication, discussion or connecting. This at a time when we apparently cannot afford but to unite for the common good if not the future of all humanity, hopefully while at the same time maintaining our independence and indeed, interdependence.

  9. Ryan Gordon says:

    The only criticism I can level at the show was its duration! I wanted another hour for sure. Wonderful, wonderful…Please have Professor Reed back, and consider his son, Toure Reed, as well, as he is equally brilliant. This was truly the marquee discussion of the year for me, thank you! I requested this some years ago, but the only Ralph interview I have left on my bucket list is with Marilynne Robinson on education, religion, and family. Would you please pass the message along to him? I would donate $100 to Public Citizen as a quid pro quo! See what I did there? 🙂

  10. P=ter Herreshoff says:

    There is no doubt that cancel culture is a thing – particularly related to the cancelation of advocates of Palestinian rights and no doubt emulated by a few on the left as well. But it seems to me that Adolph Reed was not a victim of cancel culture (The New York Times not withstanding) – that he cancelled himself from the announced DSA forum, as he freely admitted when he explained to Ralph Nader that the organizers of the DSA event wanted to continue with it.

    If I am not mistaken, the moderator of a zoom conference exercises ultimate control over who speaks and for how long. Given the format, it seems highly unlikely that Reed could have been shouted down or otherwise silenced in that forum, whatever the intention of his critics. Its much much more likely that he simply did not chose to engage with people who he perceived were prepared to engage critically and hostilely with some of his ideas. That is too bad, since the “truth” is not the exclusive possession of either side of the race vs class debate. In fact racial and class oppression are thoroughly interlaced….

  11. Al Markowtz says:

    Reed’s analysis is right on. We, as a class need to unite around what we have in common. An ascendance of progressives, of the actual left, will address racism and sexism. Class conscious solidarity is the only thing tat can save our country and world from the deadly onslaught of myopic greed and cultivated division by profiteering gangsters. That is the necessary foundation of our struggle for social and economic justice, climate sanity and authentic democracy.

    Culture is vital in this. The fascist right has tapped into the culture of racism and anti-social hyper-individualism. We must revive our culture of communtiity based on our common experience, The Blue Collar Review is an example of this cultural approach to building class-conscious militant unity.