A Michigan perspective on the struggle against racism

A Michigan perspective on the struggle against racism


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

Capitalism’s existence depends on racism. Two important reasons: 1) capitalists use racism to divide workers, and 2) capital accumulation depends on the vilification of large sections of the working class to create conditions of super-exploitation.

White supremacy denies the humanity of people of color, and it is a core value of this country’s ruling class and its non-capitalist class collaborators.

The national question, the Communist Party’s way of understanding and explaining the complexities of race and racism, is dynamic. Demographic fluidity, migration across and within international borders, and changes in class composition drive how we see it develop over time. Further, specific experiences with racism vary across communities and locations. We offer a Michigan perspective to this discussion because local struggles against racism are not identical everywhere.

We need to analyze these factors concretely to better understand new and emerging regional particularities, class compositions, and trending concentrations of working-class and core forces.

For example, African Americans comprise about 15% of Michigan’s population (with the largest concentrations of Black folks in the eastern portion of the state in Wayne, Genesee, and Saginaw counties). Latino/a folks comprise about 6% of Michigan’s population (with the largest concentrations in the western counties of Kent, Allegan, Ottawa, and Van Buren-Cass).

Most, but not all, of these folks are working class. They suffer super-exploitation through racist wage gaps and oppression through unequal access to social institutions, targeted state violence, and other forms of cultural and social marginalization.

Racist wage gaps — a measure of super-exploitation — for Black, Latino, and Indigenous workers continue to be a source of harm to those communities and our class. Department of Labor data from 2020 showed that racist wage gaps for “Hispanic” and “Native” workers in Michigan were slightly higher than the national average, but lower than those of Black workers in the state. For Michigan’s Latina workers, the divide is radically lower.

Over the last thirty years, right-wing politicians targeted Black, working-class majority cities like Detroit, Flint, and Benton Harbor for privatization, outsider domination, racist name-calling, and resource cuts. Poisoned water, elimination of public services, gentrification, and deepened crises of health care, poverty, and criminalization were the result. William Patterson would’ve charged genocide.

Asian people, many of whom are refugees and migrants from countries subjected to U.S. imperialist atrocities, are among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Michigan. Refugees and recent migrants are often manipulated by state institutions and non-profit groups that support capitalist labor exploitation.

Michigan has the second-largest population of Arab-descended people in the country, having grown by 300,000 over the past two decades. When many in that community refused to endorse the ongoing genocide in Gaza, powerful capitalist media last fall accused them collectively of being “angry” and described Dearborn as “America’s Jihad Capital.”

Union membership reduces super-exploitation by reducing racist wage gaps (and gender wage gaps) and promoting greater solidarity and political unity. Almost 17% of Michigan workers – far too few – are union members, and Black and Hispanic workers are most likely to be members. But unionization is only one tool for eliminating racism.

Racism, more than just a class question, targets whole communities, not just workers. People of color who are college professors, professional athletes, actors, comedians, musicians, doctors, lawyers, politicians, business owners, faith leaders, farmers, journalists, and more are also subjected to the violence of racism.

Local aspects of racism also merge with national patterns:

  1. the criminal injustice system is deliberately designed to criminalize Black and Latino/a people.
  2. mass incarceration has produced the largest prison system in the world.
  3.  communities of color face intensifying racist hate crimes that continue to target Black, immigrant, and Asian people, and the overlaps between those groups.
  4. women of color experience deeper forms of super-exploitation and widespread violence.
  5. trans people of color are subjected to multiple forms of violence and marginalization, beginning with racism, that denies even their existence as people.
  6. uneven public education resources aim to thwart Black and Brown intellectual, cultural, and technical excellence.
  7. reduced access to health resources causes higher rates of infant mortality and shorter life spans.
  8. child welfare policies disproportionately harm Black and Latino households/families.
  9. job discrimination reproduces patterns of last-hired, first-fired, or denial for higher-paying occupations, creating large gaps in unemployment rates.
  10. abandonment of communities of color produces food deserts, poisoned water, and environmental racism.
  11. racist gentrification intentionally drives up housing costs and disrupts community cohesion.
  12. white paternalism and hostility toward people of color drive wedges in organizing work.
  13. state-sponsored Islamophobia targets people who are Arab and non-Arab Muslims and spreads maliciously to people incorrectly perceived as Muslims.

Discussion and moving forward

We call for discussing how the party can deepen the anti-racist struggle in all our work.

In Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, people have been campaigning for non-police solutions to public safety, health crises, and capitalism-created housing shortages. Despite obstacles from powerful capitalist and ultra-right groups, they are gaining momentum. Clubs can help build this momentum.

Let’s focus on linking the core forces to a specifically anti-racist struggle. Let’s talk about how wage gaps, student debt, and attacks on historical truths are deliberate tools of white supremacy and racial capitalism.

How can we recruit more Black and Latino/a people to the party?

An active recruitment approach is needed to help clubs to build two-way street relationships with allies. We should not just support the movements tied to the core forces; we should develop techniques for winning them to the party.

Some Party clubs, like the Detroit club have seen success working in spaces where Black Americans have been fighting for tax justice and for tenants’ rights. These relationships have helped build stronger alliances with communities of color.

Deepening the party’s anti-racist commitments may help it to be used as a safe space for organizers and activists of color to experience joy, restore their energy, and as a site of healing for the mental wounds caused by racial capitalism.



    African American Equality Commission, Michigan District works to help build unity in action around issues related to the African American, Latino/a, Indigenous, Asian, and and other nationally oppressed communities.

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