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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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