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Race, Class And Ralph Nader


For those so interested, Ralph Nader's candidacy for president has provided a vehicle inside the Black community for a badly needed discussion regarding the relationship between race and class. The confusion, tension and misunderstanding among Black political leaders, civil rights leaders, intellectuals, economists and progressives is rarely more evident than when these groups discuss and debate the concepts of race and class and their connection to the history of Blacks in the Western Hemisphere.

Ralph Nader's candidacy has renewed this debate, particularly among Black intellectuals who hold different views on Nader's campaign - some Black intellectuals support his efforts while others see it as a waste of time. Some feel his campaign holds great promise for the end of class and racial divisions while others believe that Nader's campaign represents the latest page in the chapter of liberal white progressives speaking to power but ignoring the unique plight of Blacks in this country.

Now the debate over Nader's candidacy and its relevancy to Black America has begun to spread outside of intellectual circles and into the streets, so to speak, as more and more Black grassroots organizations and their leadership contemplate the possibility of endorsing Al Gore or Ralph Nader.

At present, Nader faces an uphill battle in his efforts to win their support for several reasons, not the least of which is the impression, held by many, that Ralph Nader is uncomfortable discussing racial issues. While many Blacks agree with Nader on several issues that he champions, many feel that Nader prefers to aim his message at all-white liberal audiences who in many ways are removed from the day-to-day reality of the struggle that Nader claims to represent.

Some Blacks have expressed their disappointment in not having seen Nader campaign in front of Black audiences in the inner-city and, in their view, his apparent failure to marry a critique of race relations in this country with his customary attacks on excessive corporate power and influence.

Some feel that Nader has been slow to do so because he does not value the Black vote as he does other voting blocs and others simply believe that Nader doesn't understand what moves the Black Electorate, arguing that a pure class argument will not and has never brought Blacks out to the polling booth.

Last week one of our most loyal viewers, Gregory Muhammad, Publisher of NOIMilwaukee.com had the opportunity to question Ralph Nader about his intentions by the Black Electorate in campaign 2000 and walked away disappointed, feeling that Ralph Nader was unresponsive to his line of questioning. The exchange between Mr. Muhammad and Nader made some in attendance question Nader's commitment to winning a significant percentage of the Black vote and again, raised the suspicion that if he can avoid it, Nader would much rather not talk about race. To compound matters, the event in Wisconsin was billed as Ralph Nader's first major address dealing with race issues. You can read Mr. Muhammad's account of what happened as well as his opinion of Nader here.

Interestingly, on that same day, Ralph Nader's website, for the first time, made available Ralph Nader's position on a wide variety of race-related issues. The new racism section at the Nader website will give many their first ever look at Nader's take on the racial divide and what can be done about it.

Yesterday, at the National Press Club I had the opportunity to speak with Ralph Nader and his most vocal Black supporter Randall Robinson. Tomorrow we will run their responses to my questions regarding the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Black Electorate.

Their answers were very interesting and a sign that the historic dichotomy between race and class in the critique of the Black experience in America may be coming to an end.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

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