By Gwyneth K. Shaw
A new book by Berkeley Law Professor Ian Haney López is garnering rave reviews and striking a chord with progressive activists.
In Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, Haney López lays out a blueprint for building a new, multiracial political coalition. It’s based on more than two years of research, including interviews, surveys, and focus groups with voters.
Haney López collaborated with union activists, racial justice leaders, communication specialists, and pollsters to understand why coded racial messages often resonate with a wide swath of voters. Building on his previous splash-making book, Dog Whistle Politics, Haney López argues that right-wing politicians have engaged in a “50-year pattern” of using race to divide the electorate, in ways that have made it tricky for left-leaning politicians and activists to respond.
Until now, he writes, the left has been split between what he calls a colorblind approach—essentially staying silent about race—and an approach that explicitly engages and calls out racism.
What’s needed now, Haney López argues, is a strategy that combines race and class, with a focus on racial and economic justice for all and a government that works for everyone. In Merge Left, he describes how focus groups and survey respondents reacted positively to crafted messages that called for cross-racial unity with a goal of greater justice and prosperity.
“The Right’s core narrative urges voters to fear and resent people of color, to distrust government, and to trust the marketplace,” he writes. “The Left can respond by urging people to join together across racial lines, to distrust greedy elites sowing division, and to demand that government work for everyone.”
With a little over a year to go before the 2020 presidential election—and with the Democratic primary race heating up—Haney López’s book is poised to wield great influence. Ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Columbus, Ohio, he penned an op-ed for The New York Times, distilling his findings into advice for the candidates.
Making an impact
The book is already resonating with activists, many of whom are in a position to lead the coalition Haney López envisions.
“With great clarity and thoughtfulness, Ian F. Haney López shows why the path to a truly just society lies in a multi-racial coalition of poor, working and middle-class Americans,” raved Robert Reich, a Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley who led the U.S. Department of Labor during the Clinton administration.
“The unity that makes the labor movement unbeatable requires genuine cross-racial solidarity,” says Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.
“Merge Left addresses the longer arc of history in our struggle for building a just society,” says Eva Paterson ’75, founder and president of the Equal Justice Society. “Professor Haney López’s keen insights are desperately needed as we find our way forward at this perilous time for our democracy.”
“The fight for racial justice and the fight for shared economic prosperity are one and the same. Ian Haney López lays out a compelling vision for a progressive future in his new book,” Van Jones, a CNN host who worked in the Obama administration, wrote on Twitter.
Recently, Haney López has made a number of media and speaking appearances, including on North Carolina Public Radio’s “The State of Things,” “The Remedy” with Jamal Simmons, DailyKos.com, Salon.com, and USAToday.com. On Oct. 11, he spoke at Berkeley’s David Brower Center, at an event sponsored by Berkeley Law’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, the Equal Justice Society, and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
Haney López is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at Berkeley Law, faculty director of the Henderson Center, and director of the Haas Institute’s Racial Politics Project. He is also the author of White by Law and Racism on Trial.