Sunday November 28, 2021

Lessons for today

October 27, 2021

In November of last year, The Washington Post reported that, nearly nine months after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, the disease was “ravag[ing] African American and other minority communities with a particular vengeance” -- as Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian patients continued to perish at a far higher rate than white patients.

Then in April 2021, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that Black women in the US suffered three times the coronavirus mortality rate of white men.

According to the study’s authors, the disparities in mortality had much to do with “the gendered and racialised nature of work, housing and living conditions, comorbidities, and access to care”.

Yet Covid-19 was not the canary in the coal mine that exposed US society as, well, downright sick.

A half-century before the outbreak of the pandemic, the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) was already diagnosing the structural pathologies of a system of racist and patriarchal capitalism, as retired psychology professor Patricia Romney documents in a new book titled We Were There: The Third World Women’s Alliance and the Second Wave.

A member of the New York chapter of the Alliance from 1970 to 1974, Romney demonstrates how the TWWA connected the dots between racism, sexism, and classism, adopting the position that “the struggle against racism and imperialism must be waged simultaneously with the struggle for women’s liberation”.

The TWWA evolved out of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee -- a pillar of the civil rights movement -- and the Black Women’s Liberation Committee, expanding to include other women of colour based on a recognition of shared suffering.

The name of the organisation, Romney explains, derived from the thinking that, in the US, the ‘third world’ consisted of the descendants of people from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, who had been forced to endure similar forms of colonial-minded exploitation – albeit domestically – as those in the original homelands.

The TWWA espoused the belief that a profit-driven capitalist society placed third-world women -- both in the US and abroad -- in the position of ‘triple jeopardy’ as workers, people of colour, and female. To be sure, capitalism cannot thrive without mass misery, especially the misery of select demographic groups.

Imagine the disaster that would befall US corporate plutocracy were the government to devote more resources to, say, providing decent healthcare, education, and housing to its population rather than spending trillions on war. The TWWA’s ideological platform rings as true today as it did 50 years ago: “The United States is ruled by a small ruling class clique who use the concepts of racism and chauvinism to divide, control and oppress the masses of people.”

Excerpted: ‘The Third World Women’s Alliance: Lessons for today’