The main material development is the consolidation of the shift from a quasi-deterministic to a more pronouncedly probabilistic nexus of class and race. The professional-managerial and ruling classes are now both racially permeable by law and in practice, but the relationships between groups on average remain. This represents a genuine, non-illusory structural change from an earlier version of global capitalist society where, in many contexts and with few exceptions, being of a dominant racial status set a juridically enforced floor on one’s relationship to production (candidacy for slavery) and being of a dominated racial status set an equally firm and likewise enforced ceiling on one’s relationship to production (exclusion from the ruling class).
But it is unclear that this makes much difference to the material prospects of the vast majority of people of color or indeed of people in general. Indeed, the racial permeability of the upper classes is accompanied by an increased and inverse racial permeability of the underclass. However, we are still far from proportional racial representation across classes, and it is unclear that the current trend allows us to predict it will ever be reached. Diversification is so elite-driven that it is unlikely to proceed beyond the cosmetic, and for that reason it seems that diversification does not necessarily correspond to any major structural changes in the relations between groups of people, whether we consider them as arranged by class, race, or the intersection of the two.
It follows that the politics of representation should not be regarded as a vehicle for the agenda of the materialist left. We propose instead a responsive universalist approach—responsive to racism and all other forms of marginalization and different from the homogenizing universalism of class-only politics. This approach has a long history of development in supposedly “identitarian movements”—Robin D.G. Kelley reminds us in Freedom Dreams that many campaigns for racial reparations in the United States were built to produce more comprehensive social transformation rather than merely racially targeted cash payouts. He made the same argument here in Spectre about movements against policing under racial capitalism. Accordingly, prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore recently reminds us that the “abolition” in recent abolition movements is not simply an absence of prisons or police but a presence of comprehensive systems of social support for everyone.
Taking our cues from this long history, we argue that the left should focus on universal policies—the Green New Deal, or Medicare For All, say—but those policies should not be colorblind. Rather, they should be weighed and designed to address social identity-based disadvantages with specificity. In fact, we argue for the further kind of position taken by Theda Skocpol and the Haas Institute: that only a “targeted” universalism that responds to marginalizations inherent in our social structures is true universalism, insofar as it aims at impacting everyone equitably without homogenizing them.