We cannot change this country without winning over some portion of white working people, and I am not talking about gaining votes for the Democratic Party. I am talking about opening a path to freeing white people from the prison house of whiteness. True, with whiteness comes privilege, but many of the perceived privileges are inaccessible to most, which then generates resentment. Exposing whiteness for what it is—a foundational myth for the birth and consolidation of capitalism—is fundamental if we are to build a genuine social movement dedicated to dismantling the oppressive regimes of racism, heteropatriarchy, empire, and class exploitation that are at the root of inequality, precarity, materialism, and violence in many forms.

—Robin D. G. Kelley

I spent Election Day in the emergency room with my husband, who had gashed his leg badly and needed stitches. The following day, our department colloquium was drowned out by student protesters: “5, 6, 7, 8, America was never great!” It took less than a week for the University of California, Los Angeles’s nearly one thousand undocumented students to come up at a faculty meeting; the university was bringing those on study abroad home early, lest they not be allowed back into the country. Everything, it seemed, was bleeding. Yet, of course, the open wounds of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and mock populism are just that: open. Donald Trump’s election did not cause them but re-exposed them, especially to people who imagined them, wrongly, to be on the peripheries of the U.S. body politic. Reading the Black radical tradition, alongside other radical (as opposed to liberal) intellectual traditions, forces the acknowledgement that far from being peripheral, these are the foundational injuries of our nation, and we cannot heal them at the ballot box.

Cheryl Harris and Robin D. G. Kelley—two scholars who work in the Black radical tradition at UCLA—remind us of the historical intersection of whiteness and capitalism in particular. In Harris’s now-classic piece in the Harvard Law Review, “Whiteness as Property,” she writes that “whiteness as property retains its core characteristic: the legal legitimation of expectations of power and control that enshrine the status quo as a neutral baseline, while masking the maintenance of white privilege and domination.” Drawing on Native scholarship, Harris reminds us that property and sovereignty in the United States have had a racial basis from the very beginning, when “land was taken by force from natives by settlers, justified by racial superiority.” As too much ink is spilled in the wake of the election on racism versus class alienation, prejudice versus downward mobility, Harris and Kelley remind us of the profound intersectionality and historicity of race, class, gender, and sexuality. “It is not a matter of disaffection versus racism or sexism versusfear,” Kelley writes in a postelection forum response for the Boston Review. “Rather, racism, class anxieties, and prevailing gender ideologies operate together, inseparably, or as Kimberlé Crenshaw would say, intersectionally. White working-class men understand their plight through a racial and gendered lens.”

The long and licit durée of racial capitalism that both of these pieces take as their focus offers a powerful reminder of the limits of electoral politics. We will not get free at the ballot box. How could we, if, as Kelley reminds us, the very institutions that give it shape (the Electoral College, the duopolistic political parties) are themselves the unfolding outcome of enslavement and property ownership? Thus, Harris and Kelley beckon a much more expansive and radical political imagination, inviting all of us out from the echo chambers of media and critique alike, and into the fraught, often tedious, occasionally transcendent world of collective deliberation and organizing. Kelley’s article lists many activist groups already deeply engaged in these practices, and certainly the pre- and postelection continuity of my own work with the Debt Collective—(Trump? Still racial capitalism)—has been one of the most forceful reminders of how far we have to go to begin to close foundational wounds.