Flint Is An Unfortunate Example Of Why We Need Class Consciousness

I was thinking recently about the fact that in the media coverage of the water crisis in Flint almost everyone has been focused on race. Yes, Flint is a town that is 60% black, but that means its not an entirely black city. The other 40% of people in that town are getting poisoned too. I also noticed a refusal of black folks and others to analyze what was happening there beyond the concept of race.

-9c09b76920d21026

What happened in Flint happens in cities all across this country. In the wake of the all the media exposure in Flint more stories are coming out that describe a systemic problem. This problem is not isolated to the choices one governor made. This a country wide issue, and it’s class warfare defined. Understanding that class warfare is really what’s happening is an important realization. It’s bigger than racism. Will black folks be dis-proportionally affected by any tragedy perpetrated against the poor? Of course. African Americans are dis-proportionally poor, but thinking it’s just a race problem is part of the strategy to keep folks from understanding the bigger picture.

Twenty years ago a great book about what was happening in Flint was published. A Town Abandoned (Flint, Michigan Confronts Deindustrialization), written by Steven P. Dandaneau, delves into the reality of capitalism in decline, and argued Flint, while a sad example, is a great example for analyzing the effects of capitalism not just in Flint but across the country. 515WB5NhjML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ The book begins by detailing how Flint, only second to Detroit, was a shining example of capitalist achievement. It was a city known for its stability and harmony from the end of the Depression until the late 1970s. It was a city heralded for embodying the American dream. In Flint, and other industrial labor towns during this era, they led the way in morphing the previously oppositional working class into an integral part of the capitalist machine, as organized labor. As Dandaneau put it,

Labor’s new struggle was to wrestle from contract negotiations a lifestyle of middle-class consumption. Concern for the sphere of production, and with this the meaning of work, was devalued in favor of the concern for the sphere of consumption, and with this the meaning of leisure. Class consciousness now meant accepting this trade off: alienated work in exchange for second cars, cabins, boats, household conveniences, and a university education for the young. The American Dream.

He then later adds,

Not surprisingly, with the decline of Flint as a prosperous industrial community, the meaning of class, work, and class consciousness has shifted once again.

And lastly on this point he concludes,

… class consciousness [now] means realizing the New Deal compromise is over, and that the struggle must again be joined.

What is happening in Flint, and all across this country, is class warfare. The owning class is ever in the search for profits. Flint was abandoned in a way it never thought it would be; It never thought the automotive industry would abandon them and ship those jobs away. Why did GM, Ford, and others leave? Profits. Quickly the facade of the American Dream vanished. By 1996 we had enough of the picture for Dandaneau to write A Town Abandoned, and by 2016 we have enough of the picture to understand what happens to the working class when it has no power and no voice.

When we run city, state, and federal governments like a business then the quest for profits leads to tragedy. We see what the auto industry did to this town, why would you want to model government that way? I’ve read that it was known before the switch in water sources that a chemical sealant was needed to seal the lead pipes used to deliver the water in Flint, and that this chemical would have only cost about 9,000.00. This recommendation was ignored due to the cost. Now it’s being estimated that to replace the pipes it’s going to cost 1.5 billion. That’s what running government like a business gets us. More importantly though, when that decision was made the choice to potentially harm the residents of Flint seemed better than spending nine thousand dollars on them. If that isn’t class warfare I do not know that is. That’s murder. That’s terrorism. That’s a declaration of war.

Again, this is not isolated to Flint. This is happening all over this country. When will we say enough? When will we rejoin the struggle and come together as a class conscious citizenry? Soon I hope.

images (8)

 

Not So Fast, Bey.

I like Beyonce. I totally appreciate how much influence she has. When she drops a video people watch, and they share, and they react like their lives have totally been changed just by watching it. “Did you SEE Formation?” They say it like your very existence as a human being depends on it. Lets break down the video and examine some of the lyrics and concepts.

download (2)

I love Beyonce’s message of female empowerment. The idea of women everywhere lining up with her in formation to “slay” because we “woke up like this,” is a wonderful concept. images (13)Loving ourselves both individually and as a community is important. Black women are on the front lines of the activist movement. Plus, if there’s no dancing during the revolution I don’t want to be apart of it. I love the unapologetic southern blackness on display in the video. I love the curly afros and the deliciously wanton way she talks about sexing her husband while twerking in the hallway of the “big house.”images (12)

I wanted some Red Lobster for sure yesterday afternoon, but all jokes aside we have to dig a little deeper. Feminist expression that does not recognize class struggle is flawed.

Kanye West gets a bad rap, because he’s…well…he’s a dick sometimes. There’s really no way around acknowledging that, but that does not mean he is wrong about many of the things he rants about. We all know about that famous BBC radio interview rant from several years ago, but do we really remember what Kanye was ranting about? Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

Now let’s take people who have issues with me as Kanye West. They classify my motivational speeches as rants – like “Why is he saying that? Why is he doing that?” Well I’ve reached a point in my life where my Truman Show boat has hit the painting. And I’ve got to a point that Michael Jackson did not break down. I have reached the glass ceiling – as a creative person, as a celebrity.

And later he adds:

I understand we want to make it about music but I wanted to take this step to say, we got this new thing called “Classism”. It’s racism’s cousin. This is what we do to hold people back. This is what we do. And we got this other thing that’s also been working for a long time where you don’t have to be racist anymore it’s called “Self-Hate”. It works on itself. It’s like real estate of racism. Where, just like that, when someone comes up and says something like “I am a god”, everybody says “Who does he think he is?” I just told you who I thought I was, a god! I just told you! That’s who I think I am! Would have been better if I had a song that said, “I am a nigga”? or if I had song that said “I am a gangsta”? or if I had song that said “I am a pimp”? All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right? But to say you are a god? Especially, when you got shipped over to the country that you’re in, and your last name is a slave owner’s. How could you say that? How could you have that mentality?

Kanye is not making a feminist critique here, he is talking about class, and because of that it has a different and an arguably more mature message for the listener. While working hard, grinding, and stacking paper seems like a path to empowerment here is Kanye saying don’t be fooled there is a glass ceiling of success for African Americans. We are apart of a totally different class. We do not own Nike, we do not own the large fashion houses, and there is a certain height of success you can achieve before you’re reminded by those in the owning class that you work for them and that you must ultimately, “stay in your lane,” as Kanye put it. Coming to these realizations produced the manic levels of frustration he exhibited in that interview and other interviews of that era. I think the casual fan didn’t really know what to make of his angry rant. We don’t have many “successful” African Americans detailing their treatment from white corporate America. There isn’t much else out there to compare Kanye’s comments to. Beyonce talks about being authentically “country” and carrying hot sauce in her purse, so there’s a hint of an understanding that money doesn’t transform us. She’s asserting that being apologetically Black AND successful is possible and revolutionary at the same time. This is an empowering message, but I just wish she could take that thought further.

beyjayye

One thing that really stuck out to me was her invocation of her Creole heritage. I am from Louisiana, and so I know that Black Creoles embody an interesting intersection of race and class. French slave culture was very different from British slave culture. In Louisiana, before the Louisiana purchase, relations between slaves, free Black folks, and whites was much less restrictive than in British slave territories.  It was much more common to see white males who fathered mixed race children to not only take public responsibility for those children, but they were sometimes made legal heirs and sent to France to be educated. These mixed race Creoles grew to form their own socioeconomic caste. This culture extended even beyond emancipation.

1982.1.10.4

Creoles would marry among themselves to keep this social class in tact, and often identified not as Black, but as Creole. The “paper bag test” grew from this way of thinking. If you were darker than the brown of a paper bag you could not be Creole. The denigration of darker skinned African Americans is obviously not something isolated to Creole culture, but it is definitely clearly exemplified in it. It’s well known that often the racism perpetuated by Creole’s rivaled the racism of white Louisianians. Invoking this heritage is an interesting choice. Again, I think we can’t gloss over the class implications. Should we ignore the parallels present here? Creoles had more wealth, were closer in complexion to white people, and had a higher social status than darker Black folks and slaves, but did having more money put them on par white citizens? Did their fairer complexions make them full human beings in the eyes of white supremacy?

Creole heritage is really a stark contrast to the unapologetically country girl persona. In 2016 the complexities of our identities and our heritage are important to examine and critique. Beyonce is embracing the revolutionary power of simply existing and resisting, and she is helping to forge new understandings of self for Black women, and minorities in general, but defining who we are while being consciously aware of how white supremacy defines us is not enough. We must also be careful not to only define ourselves just merely in opposition to white supremacy’s ideas of blackness. I think the struggle is to define ourselves totally free of the white supremacist paradigm altogether. That’s what Kanye is talking about when he discussed that blow back he experienced when he claimed “I am a god.” You can proudly be Creole within white supremacy, you can be a thug, you can be country, but white supremacy has no space for black gods.

I don’t want to get lumped in with the haters. Beyonce gave us plenty to be proud of and to love in the video for Formation. This video is modern day protest in high artistic form. Screen-Shot-2016-02-06-at-5.09.18-PM-630x321.png

These images say so much, and give us so much to dissect and think about. My only critique is that I want more. I want Beyonce to take us to even higher places with her art. We need a sharper class consciousness brought into focus. In the meantime though, there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to be boldly black, beautiful, and to SLAY.

Thoughts On Communism Part 2

please read Thoughts on Communism part 1 before continuing

The jobs in this new “post capitalist” society would be more secure, because instead of company decisions being made by a small few, who only consider the bottom line and profits, the decisions would instead be made by the workers, and their job security would result from making good business choices for everyone and the whole company.

Industry would truly be built around demand.  Instead of, for example, car companies buying influence in government, hiding information about their industry’s impact on the environment, or falsifying emissions tests to get around the rules, there would be no incentive to block progress for sake of profits. We as consumers would demand better technology, and since that is what the market demands that is where the industry will look for new products to make and sell. If the concern is just making products people want and need, and not profit, then you have industry taking the lead from consumers and not the other way around.

Would the workers at any given company democratically elect to poison the water supply of their town with pollution from their factory? Or would they elect to spend whatever was necessary to make sure their water was healthy to drink? In the current system, if the 10-15 , or less, people running this example company decides that it will save the company money to pollute the town’s water supply what do you think happens much too often? How do we allow to this to happen to us? How do we allow companies to do whatever they want to us and the environment in search of profits?

How do we fix it? How do we have worker owned businesses and democratic work places? How would we make sure everyone had their basic needs met? What will be the role of government in this post capitalist world?

To answer those questions we now need to define socialism and communism.

Most people, in America, think socialism is just a less strict version of communism. With Communism being defined as the government taking over everything and all means of production, no one owns anything, we are told where to go to work, told what to do, and in exchange we have access to all the things we need to survive. The idea is that this leads to dictatorships like what we saw in the mid-twentieth century.

All of that is incorrect. Socialism and Communism are two ways to implement system change. Both are a result of the teachings of Marx and others. Both ideas begin with the accepted notion that the problems that plague capitalism cannot be reformed within the current system. Both ideas accept that we must transition to a new system to realize the goals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. So each idea is arguing how we should initiate that transition. Socialism says we can do it through government. That we can take over from the inside. Socialists believe if they can form political parties and make the case for socialism to the masses people will see it’s the right way to go and democratically make the changes we need to get to a more equitable system. Communists argue it won’t work that way and we need to seize the power of the state by force and implement these changes by the sheer force of the movement we create. Exactly like the Bolsheviks did.

images (8)

We have to be very clear here. This action of taking control of the state is not the only goal of Communism. That is merely the means to the end. The goals of Communism are achieved by what comes next. It does not mean the state owns the means of production forever. Instead, once the power of the state seizes the companies from the owning elite, as soon as possible each company and industry would be returned to the workers, and they would get to divide the profits of their labor equitably among themselves. True democracy in the work place would be instituted, and the state would be no more in control of day to day operations than it is now. If the company is no longer profitable for the workers they can decide to make changes and go in new directions. They do not have to be risk adverse, because their basic needs are guaranteed to be met, and serving society whatever society needs is their only true goal. Not profits.

Education would take on a new focus, because people are not being educated to become mindless workers, but instead educated to make informed and critical decisions in the workplace and in their lives. Our society would be built around the need for each worker to have a good education. The stakes of poor education are much higher in a democratic society, and the education of our peers is something each of us would have a stake in.

If more people now have the means to travel more often, this does not mean the quality of the methods we use to get around has to suffer. It does not necessarily mean more and longer lines at airport or no hotel rooms in the city you want to visit. This also does not mean we should maintain a system where some get to travel and enjoy the planet and others do not. Instead if everyone can travel more the focus would be on making travel as efficient as possible. New innovations in mass transit and city planning would help us to make things that were once a luxury for the well to do a quality and luxurious experience for everyone.

Rule of law is not abandoned. In fact, it is strengthened, because no one is powerless due to lack of resources or money. The law would be equally applied and no one would be above it. There would be no need for classes of people to discriminate against to be begin with. Many crimes would cease to occur because the economic need to commit crime would be essentially eradicated.

Continued in part 3

Thoughts On Communism Part 1

I was talking to a new comrade last night for awhile about communism vs capitalism. I argued that the profit motive was at the root of most of our problems as a society. He argued that removing the profit motive from our economic system was a tall task, because if people aren’t motivated by self interest they won’t produce anything. Why work if there’s nothing in it for you? I’ll personally add that I assume most people think humans will only work if A. Someone is forcing them to or B there is some monetary incentive for them to do so.

Lets begin exploring that by confronting some questions. Is it okay to force people to work by withholding what they need to live? Also, is it okay that because the vast majority of people are being forced to work many are not even paid enough to meet their basic needs? Should those who are unable to work at all go without their basic needs met as well?

Now keep in mind we can feed and house everybody. The basic needs of all of humanity can be met if we choose to meet them. We could all live lives with more luxury and leisure. By combining human effort with the technology that currently exists the amount of work humans have to do could be drastically cut. A lot of the drudgery that we associate with labor could be removed from our lives altogether if we accepted that technology has made these jobs obsolete. As it is now, the truly wealthy don’t have to work. They enjoy incredible lives of leisure, and they don’t want to live any other way. They may feel they deserve everything they have, they may think if others worked harder they could have a few billion or trillion too. Except we know that’s not true. People work hard everyday all over this globe and have nothing.

So perhaps we shouldn’t look at taking a more equitable share of the profits from our labor as theft from the wealthy. Maybe we should consider that the theft is occurring when the profits from our labor are taken to begin with. If we could manage our companies ourselves and our labor on our own why do we need owners? Why should someone get to live a life of leisure off of our work?

So that brings us back to… Well if everybody enjoys an equitable share of the profits won’t everyone stop working? What would be the incentive to do anything?

download (1)

Right now we are a one option society. Either work for others OR ELSE. If you don’t work for someone you would be homeless, hungry, and shut out of society. The only people who may manage to work for themselves had to either save money from when they did work for someone else, or acquire the capitol from someone who has willed it to them or given it to them.

We all know that just because our basic human needs are being met that we would likely still want things. Even if I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to eat tomorrow or worry about how I’ll pay my water bill I’m still going to want to buy pants. I’m still going to want to watch movies and read books. Something also tells me that humans are still going to want to make pants and make movies and write books. I’ll go a bit further and say that with more leisure time more people will actually be able to engage in the activities of reading and writing and watching and making films. Just having our basic needs met, and having an equitable distribution of wealth, will not result in people not wanting to produce and innovate new things.

In this new society people would have meaningful jobs and secure jobs. We would have a real choice of what to do for a living, because we would not be forced to labor to survive, our work would be voluntary. Voluntarily working and doing something you take joy and pride in would make you a more productive worker. People will take genuine joy in what they do, because they are doing it for more than just pay. Everyone has probably imagined what they would do if they were a billionaire, and most people admit that eventually they would want to do something good with their life and their time. Many folks in their retirement find things to do to keep them occupied. Humans like to be of use and busy. People want to contribute to the society that makes their life possible. It is in their self interest to do so.

Continued in part 2

We Must Embrace Feelings of Agency Within Us

Everyday I come more and more to the conclusion that being black is a state of mind more so than anything related to biology. That everything that ultimately becomes the “black identity” … you know those stereotypes that embody the common notion of “blackness” and that create the black and white binary… those things are all fiction. I’m no more a child of Egypt than I am nigger. My most recent ancestors slaves, my more distant ancestors west Africans. Not in any way inferior to a slave owner or inferior to those glorious Egyptians. Just being dark and nappy headed is in and of itself glorious. Carved by the sun and the earth. We are what the birth place of humanity produces when you never leave it. Or when you left it but a few 400 years ago. Nothing to be ashamed of there. We are different on the surface, but all a part of a connected humanity. We are one. Our difference and variety should be marveled at instead of scorned. Proof of our species’ adaptability to nature. Proof of our resiliency literally visible in our genes.

Being yourself is indeed a revolutionary act, but I want to push that further. If you can create an identity that neither aligns with the dominant culture’s values nor is created in opposition to those values, but instead an identity that transcends those values. If you can understand that you can’t refute fiction with more fiction, and that we must instead grab hold to those concrete and transcendent human values of liberty, justice, equality, and fraternity. If you can do that you are a revolutionary. You must recognize that feeling of agency in you. Don’t smother it with drugs and alcohol. Don’t turn away from the feeling nagging you inside. Stop clinging to blind positive thinking. Stop trying to block those feelings of agency out.

There is a latent criminality to the American psyche. We understand the blood shed to make America what it has become, and we accept it. We understand that all the children of Flint Michigan were poisoned, and we accept it. We know people with vast wealth steal from us, break the laws they haven’t already found a way to rewrite, and lie us into wars, and we accept it. There is a latent criminality in the way we think, and it reveals itself in what we allow to happen.

We will either confront the fictions we’ve allowed to be constructed around us or we will perish under the weight of them. Those are our options.

images (7)

Reparations…The key to Revolution?

I have to admit that when Ta-Nehisi Coates came for Bernie Sanders last week over Bernie’s position on reparations I was like, “chill Ta-Nehisi he’s with us,” but the more I think about it the more I understand exactly what Coates was trying to hip us all to. Any candidate who understands the true nature of white supremacy and institutional racism, and wants to fix it, would support reparations. If you do not support reparations you are not even remotely concerned with righting the wrongs that have plagued this country since it’s inception.

Bernie Sanders said he is against reparations for African American’s because,

First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.

Well, as Coates points out, almost everything on Bernie’s agenda, if he wins, will likely be divisive and unpopular in congress, but he’s willing to go for it, because he believes those things are the right things for most Americans. Reparations are the right thing too, and his dismissal of the idea is directly related to how radical he is not and how uncommitted to moral and social justice for African Americans he is.

Coates discussed this further in a piece published two days ago. In it, Coates addresses the idea that just focusing on reform of the current system and policies centered around class are not enough. Coates says,

Here is the great challenge of liberal policy in America: We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year. We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide.

Coates does not stop there. He adds,

Across Europe, the kind of robust welfare state Sanders supports—higher minimum wage, single-payer health-care, low-cost higher education—has been embraced. Have these policies vanquished racism? Or has race become another rubric for asserting who should benefit from the state’s largesse and who should not? And if class-based policy alone is insufficient to banish racism in Europe, why would it prove to be sufficient in a country founded on white supremacy? And if it is not sufficient, what does it mean that even on the left wing of the Democratic party, the consideration of radical, directly anti-racist solutions has disappeared? And if radical, directly anti-racist remedies have disappeared from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, by what right does one expect them to appear in the platform of an avowed moderate like Clinton?

The democratic party will not save us. We must save ourselves. We can use reparations to start anew.

A comrade of mine recently posed to me the idea of starting a new nation. He said we must consider a demand for land as part of our reparations and we must use that land to start a new black socialist nation. At first, like I did with Coates, I was resistant. I was stuck focusing on class warfare (which is important), but not really seeing the big picture. I imagined revolution being this populist uprising of poor people of all shades rising up to claim their liberty. That’s unlikely. The number one thing liberals say when you talk about system change is “well what are your alternatives.” Black people… we can be that change. We can take what is owed to us, our forty acres (let’s not forget these ideas are not new) and our money, and build the alternative. It might start out as a black socialist nation, but where socialism goes equality goes, and everyone is invited.

If we as black people can at least unify behind a demand for reparations anything is possible. We would no longer need to look to White America for anything. We cannot reform the current system. It is working as designed. We have to look beyond it, and Ta-Nehisi Coates is spot on. It starts with reparations.

Reparations3

Black Lives Matter Has To Be About More

To say that I find it inspiring to see so many beautiful Black Lives Matter activists battling on the front lines all across this country would be a huge understatement. They have been like breath in my lungs. They give me life. From Deray to Bree to Aurielle and all the many others I cheer on, follow, and respect – I appreciate their courage and tenacity. They’ve help put the phrase “white supremacy” in everybody’s vocabulary and they’ve ushered in a new era of civil disobedience, resistance, and racial awareness. We’ve got Macklemore and Ryan Lewis preaching to white America this week. We’ve seen some police arrests and the conviction of a rapist cop who terrorized black women. The work they are doing is amazing. I would just pose these questions to them and others? Why don’t black lives matter? Where do racism’s roots lie?

Racism, institutional or otherwise, is a tool of capitalism. How do we know this? There are tons of writers, thinkers, philosophers, economists, and activists who have explained it to us. If you don’t know its because they have been erased by history and/or marginalized. Let’s explore.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander states,

What is completely missed in the rare public debates today about the plight of African Americans is that a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all. It is not just that they lack opportunity, attend poor schools, or are plagued by poverty. They are barred by law from doing so. And the major institutions with which they come into contact are designed to prevent their mobility. To put the matter starkly: The current system of control permanently locks a huge percentage of the African American community out of the mainstream society and economy. The system operates through our criminal justice institutions, but it functions more like a caste system than a system of crime control. Viewed from this perspective, the so-called underclass is better understood as an undercaste—a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society. Although this new system of racialized social control purports to be colorblind, it creates and maintains racial hierarchy much as earlier systems of control did. Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.

In defining the current mass incarceration problem in America as one element of an ongoing racial caste system in America, Alexander is also evidencing the reality that a racial caste system exists. Racism is not just about attitude or beliefs, it is about power. Institutional racism is a system of laws, policies, and customs that serve to solidify the racial caste system. Who benefits from this caste system? Well, obviously those at the top benefit, but we know that there are also poor white citizens, so who really benefits? Alexander discusses the beginning of this caste system,

The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines.4 Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery—as well as the extermination of American Indians—with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

During early slavery revolts led by free whites like Nathaniel Bacon unified free whites, indentured workers, and slaves against the white land owning elite. Alexander discusses the response of the white land owning elite:

In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves. Instead of importing English-speaking slaves from the West Indies, who were more likely to be familiar with European language and culture, many more slaves were shipped directly from Africa. These slaves would be far easier to control and far less likely to form alliances with poor whites. Fearful that such measures might not be sufficient to protect their interests, the planter class took an additional precautionary step, a step that would later come to be known as a “racial bribe.” Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias, and barriers were created so that free labor would not be placed in competition with slave labor. These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position.

In that passage we have the explanation for the beginning of American white supremacy and the solidification of the racial caste system in America. The racial caste system exists for the sole purpose of protecting the wealth and status of the wealthy elite class.  

Let’s let others weigh in. Malcolm X on race and it’s connection to capitalism:

Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America and it’s impossible for a white person today to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism.

Martin Luther King Jr.:

The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism

Angela Davis:

I believe profoundly in the possibilities of democracy, but democracy needs to be emancipated from capitalism. As long as we inhabit a capitalist democracy, a future of racial equality, gender equality, economic equality will elude us.

W.E.B. Du Bois:

The espousal of the doctrine of Negro inferiority by the South was primarily because of economic motives and the inter-connected political urge necessary to support slave industry…. The South could say that the Negro, even when brought into modern civilization, could not be civilized, and that, therefore, he and the other colored peoples of the world were so far inferior to the whites that the white world had a right to rule mankind for their own selfish interests

So now that we’ve answered questions about why racism in America is so pervasive, its origins, and subsequently answered why black lives don’t matter…what can we do about it? Will body cameras fix this? Can electoral politics fix this? If not, what type of reform can fix this? Well, I’m certain that no reform of the current capitalist system will produce a society where black lives matter. We can only create this society by dismantling the white supremacist-patriarchal-capitalist system. This is where the only hope lies for true liberation of all oppressed peoples globally, and with America as the bastion and center of this capitalist system it is up to us Americans to do the heavy lifting. We need Black Lives Matter to be about more than just reform. We need Black Lives Matter to be about spreading the message of how to reclaim our power, how to find liberation, and explaining that these things cannot happen within the current capitalist system.

Once the message changes the reaction from our oppressors will intensify. MLK Jr. survived many years working for integration and civil rights, but as soon as his focus changed to a discussion of socialism and anti-war speeches everything changed and soon he was murdered. This is where power draws the in the sand. Power will protect this system until the bitter end. We the people are stronger. We the people are waking up, and I ask all the activists engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement to focus their message on Power, and to expose it, and the help lead true revolution to dismantle capitalism.

15393_081715_blacklivesmatter2_km_webf

What It Means To Be Woke

I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “woke” lately. You hear it from the conscious crowd all the time. #Staywoke hashtags are plentiful around the black twitter landscape. In terms resistance what does it truly mean? How can you know if you’re awake?

Being woke is not a destination. It is not something you arrive at and then the work is done. It’s a humble process of continuously challenging yourself to learn more, understand more, and love more.

Love is a big part of the process. I don’t mean a selective kind of love. I don’t mean the kind of love you have for people that come from where you come from, look like you, love the way you love, or reside in the same economic class. I’m talking about a love for humanity that extends beyond all barriers and all class conflicts. I love police officers. I love Republicans. I love racists. I don’t love many of the things they do, say, and believe, but I love them as people. Love is radical. Love is resistance. Love is what our oppressors fear most. What divides us is hate. What destroys global unity is hate. Hate never advances a just cause. Hate can never reside in the same space as progress. You’re not awake if you aren’t ready to love.

We all have had white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalist, and sometimes religious propaganda ingrained in us since birth. The cops that brutalize, the soldiers that kill, the teachers that treat minority children unfairly, the judges who give longer sentences to minority offenders, the governors and mayors that hide crimes against humanity (selling citizens poisoned water is indeed a crime against humanity for example) are victims as well. They’ve been raised by a system that teaches us to hate and teaches us to exploit, but even more it encourages it.  When you are woke your job is to love these people. Sometimes that love means you have to stand up to them, challenge them, force them to see what they have been taught not to see.

You cannot be silent. What is the point of being woke, if you do not bring others along? It goes without saying that you will encounter resistance. Even still you have to stand in your truth and be unrelenting in your fight for justice. Silence is the enemy. We have to find our voices and demand our liberation. Frederick Douglass understood these basic truths. He said,

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Being woke is an action not a state of mind. It’s the choices you make everyday, it’s the struggle both internal and external to be the change you want to see in the world, it’s the action of loving, and it’s reaching out and building unity and community where there used to be division and isolation. Being woke is understanding what the oppressive power structure takes from each of us, and demanding it all back.

So yes, brothers and sisters, stay woke.

tumblr_nsw4l5uXVu1rfwfq9o1_1280

 

Friends: Televized White Privilege

I’ve never seen a single episode of Friends, well not in its entirety anyways. That’s blasphemy, I know. I hear about that show quite often even now, and never mind it’s popularity in its hey day. That’s all anyone seemed to talk about back then. I’ve heard it all before. Friends is so funny or It’s my favorite show. I know people with the dvd box set or that binge watch it on Netflix. Yet, I’ve never been interested in watching it at all. Why?

Simply put, Friends was white privilege in sitcom form. 

01012015

I was almost ten when Friends debuted in 1994. I didn’t yet possess the language to describe the show in terms of it’s white privilege, but immediately things stuck out to the nine year old and already cranky version of me. Where were all the black people? This was a show about living in NYC, and they barely even run into people of color on the street? They couldn’t even get a light skinned extra to stand in the back of the scene somewhere? Even nine year old me knew something wasn’t right here. Hell, I knew from the first few seconds of the theme song something wasn’t right.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way/ Your job’s a joke you’re broke…

Um, I’m black. That’s exactly what we expect life to be like. Our expectations are often low. Right now there’s been a spike in the mortality rates of middle aged, poorly educated, white folks.  According to some analysis it isn’t a spike so much as other ethnic group’s mortality rates are declining while the mortality rate for middle aged whites is holding firm. The 2008 crash ruined their privileged dreams of upward mobility. Now many middle aged white folks are drinking, drugging, and pitying themselves to death. Other ethnic groups are used to living in tough economic times. This is nothing new to us.

What I have seen of Friends just reenforced my preconceived notions. It’s a show about a group of white people doing white people things.

joeyjoeyjoey

 

untitled-4

You know… Culturally appropriating, hanging out in coffee shops, living in a segregated world oblivious to anything outside of it. Cultural appropriation combined with zero actual minorities on screen = millions of white funny bones tickled. Ratings success for sure.

It has always bugged me to see so many people crazy about a show with so little concern for diversity. I remember being floored when Aisha Taylor got a brief role on the show. The reality is she was one of 23 minorities ever seen on the show in its 10 seasons and 236 episodes.

Prepare yourselves for a truth bomb… I didn’t really watch Seinfeld for the same reasons. In its 180 episode run, Seinfeld only managed to feature 19 black characters. From what I have seen of Seinfeld, which I’ll admit I’ve watched more than Friends, it was pretty funny, but again a show set in NYC with no minorities to be seen or heard from just ruined, for me, whatever laughs it elicited.

tumblr_mzqs4f7Ylq1qa9p5qo1_1280
Perhaps the best description of “Seinfeld” that exists.

 

47794923

We know how Kramer feels about the importance of diversity.

Screenshot_2016-01-20-12-31-43-1

We’ve come a long way. Kind of. One of my favorite shows, Modern Family, had Kevin Hart in like two episodes, but to be fair there are gay and Latino main characters, so it’s more diverse than most of NBC’s hit sitcoms from the 90s combined.

All I hope is that more white people speak up about the lack of diversity on TV. We should all want to see representations of different people and cultures in popular shows. Gene Roddenberry has always been a hero of mine. His insistence that Star Trek have a diverse cast way back in the 60s was a trailblazing move. I don’t see a lot of black folks on TV, but I see even fewer Asians. Star Trek had both represented in the original cast. Roddenberry was a white guy making space for minority representation on his show. That’s how things change. It’s white people taking responsibility for their privilege and insisting on inclusion that has the biggest impact in the advancement of racial equality. The results of diversity are beautiful, and we really need more of it.

star-trek-original-series-fan-art

 

I’m Black and I’m An Atheist. Ask Me How.

9025110_f520

It’s hard out here for black atheists. I’m from the deep South, New Orleans to be specific, and I can’t remember a time where church wasn’t apart of my childhood. My grandfather was a preacher out of Donaldsonville Louisiana, or simply “the country” as we called it, and my mother was on the usher board of our church in the city. I remember her getting dressed up in these ornate matching outfits with the rest of the ushers for their anniversary celebrations every year. I loved church actually. I loved the music. I grew to love sermons. I loved going to breakfast after church. Ha! I loved it all. I even become a junior usher board member at one time. With all of that said, I’m 31 now and can proudly declare I’m an anti-theist.

Let me first clarify that this does NOT mean I hold any contempt for most religious people. My mother and most of family and friends are religious, and I have the deepest respect for them all. I remember around the age of 13 or 14 asking my mother questions about the dinosaurs, evolution, the earth being only 6,000 years old, who were Cain and Able married to etc, and I remember the feeling of unease when she had no answers. She referred me to our pastor at the time, “Ask him” she said. Not even contemplating the seriousness of the questions and her inability to answer them. That she, and so many others, would base their entire lives around writings that are so clearly imperfect, so clearly fantastical, and from an era in our history where science did not yet exist to answer any of our questions about life or the world around us is frankly disturbing to me, but I respect people’s choice to believe whatever they choose.

Black people, my people, have a particular connection to Christianity in America that we have to examine and explore. There’s the common misconception that slavery is the beginning of the African connection to Christianity. This is false. As discussed in an Ebony piece by Nana Ekua-Hammond

Christianity reportedly arrived in North Africa in the latter part of 1st century AD/early part of the 2nd, while “the adoption of Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the fourth-century,” according to findings by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Bible also documents the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch as the early church was forming.  Likewise, Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta mentions Christians in Nubia (an area that covers present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt) in his 14th century travelogue. But when Europeans penetrated Sub-Saharan Africa in the 16th Century, ultimately mining the region for Africans to enslave, the historical narrative shifts which is perhaps why many associate the religion most with Europeans to this day.

Black folks could have ended up Christians no matter where they were located on this globe. Slavery or no slavery. Now I don’t want to falsely paint the picture that Africa was a largely Christian continent before the slave trade and colonization, but the point is that religions spread and they spread through various methods, and while Christianity’s connections to slavery makes for a good place to start when asserting African Americans should question their faith, it’s not the only reason or even the most important.

I don’t reject just Christianity. I reject all religions. The first thing people then often ask me when I say this is, “So what… You don’t believe in God?” They ask it in that do you hear yourself tone. Like if I take a second to think about what I’ve just said I’ll regret it and apologize. Better yet I’ll drop to my knees and confess my sins to god and ask Him back in my life. God is a him, right? You never hear most folks talk about God being female. I’d call that patriarchy, but I don’t want Him to hear me say that. Wait…can’t he hear my thoughts? Doesn’t he know my heart too? I guess there’s no getting anything by God. He’s obviously not a huge fan of privacy . He should probably work for the NSA. 

I want to further discuss that often asked question. Do I believe in god? No, I don’t. Furthermore, I don’t have any clear idea of who this figure even is. I’ve asked theists time and time again, what is God to you? Is it an old, bearded, white guy floating somewhere beyond the universe? Is god some spirit watching over us, but uninvolved in the things that happen? Is god some omnipotent force with a master plan dictating everything from who wins each football game to what diseases we find cures to? The god I like the least is the vengeful god. The version that says listen to all the contradictions of the Bible and follow all my ridiculous suggestions OR ELSE. The mention of hell is purely a new testament thing. It’s Jesus that presents the my way or the hell-way choices, and since we can’t even confirm the existence of Jesus on earth I’m skeptical. As Christopher Hitchens has mused, what would we have now if someone had rushed the Romans and helped Jesus to escape crucifixion? Would our sins then be forever unwashed and unforgiven? Did god have a back up plan in case the death of his son had been somehow avoided? Bigger questions arise. Why present the option of sin? Why the connection of the first sin to knowledge? Why would you create a species, with the capacity for knowledge, give them free will, and then punish them forever after for using that free will to seek more knowledge? Was it just so you could later send your son to die for these sins you created to begin with? Jesus’capital punishment is what earned us this forgiveness? You would think murder would be a worse crime than Eve giving in to temptation and biting into some fruit, but He’s the boss who am I?

There are so many logical reasons one could list as to why theism is ridiculous. Perhaps I’ll do more pieces just on that, but this piece is really about Black atheists. When you’re black to think like this is almost unheard of, or at least rarely talked about. The black atheists I personally know of, outside of social media, could be counted on one hand. I know plenty of black folks who don’t go to church, and who say things like “I don’t believe in organized religion,” or “I believe in spirituality,” but very few who will go so far as to say, “I’m an atheist.”

Black culture, as many wonderful things as it gives us, is resistant to non conformity. With over 80% of African Americans reporting religious affiliations, compared to other ethnic groups, we are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation. Our connection to religion is complex. We are an exploited community, we live and breath white supremacy every day. We’ve been slaves, survived Jim Crow, and now we are struggling through mass incarceration and continued racism. We have a lot to pray about. Or do we? What kind of god would allow you to suffer through all those things when more than 80% of us are praying to him daily? Were the slave masters not praying to the same god that he’d keep us in chains? Do we not drop bombs to protect our Christian nation, and are the people we drop them on not praying for our destruction simultaneously to the same god? What sense does any of this make? Black folks have been too docile for too long. We sit and pray for solutions to our problems when the logical solutions are just waiting for our consideration and our action.

I understand the desire to pray. Everyone needs someone to talk to, to confess our deepest darkest fears to, and to relieve us of our worry. I even understand the desire to believe in a deity. I’ve often pondered how maybe god is just the fabric that holds the universe together. This entity, a metaphorical conductor, leading this vast orchestra and guiding the rhythms and vibrations that create our physical existence. I don’t have any proof of that though. That’s just my human desire for answers talking. My universe exists, I exist, and I want to know why. More truthfully, I want there to be a reason whyThe reality is there isn’t any reason to believe there’s a reason we exist. At least no more reason than the dinosaurs had for their existence or the ants in my yard. We see ourselves as being important. Much more important than we truly are. Perspective is everything. The famous quote from Stardust goes,

Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human? Pointless, really. Do the stars gaze back?

I am a proud black atheist. There are no reasons to be ashamed. Morality is as human as anything. The golden rule exists, because reason tells us we must have rules and we must respect the rights of others, or our own rights mean nothing at all. Good exists outside of religion, and “evil” exists within religion. What rationale dictates is love for each other, and more importantly love without the promise of reward in the afterlife. We are present in the here and now. Without any thing remotely concrete to prove that the afterlife even exists, should we not build the best life possible here on earth? Black people especially, should we not let go of faith and live on fact? Could our experience in this world be any worse if we did?