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.
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
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.