Racism is exacerbated by a capitalist production process that teaches us that some people have a God-given right to pursue their economic and social interests without regard for other people’s right to thrive, free of fear for their own survival. The antidote is red love.
The Slaughter-Bench of Race
It seems that it is an everlasting open hunting season in the United States and the kills are Black men. The senseless killing of unarmed Black young man Michael Brown by a White police officer and the grand jury’s decision to allow the officer to walk without facing a trial through a faltering prosecutorial process (that aims to defend when the target of indictment is a police officer) has brought Ferguson, Missouri, and other communities across the country to their feet in loud and incendiary protest.
Approximately 50 protesters on a 120-mile march from Ferguson to Jefferson City decrying the shooting death of Brown were met with counter-protesters all along the route. Especially stomach-churning was the reception given to the protesters in the sleepy hollow of Rosebud, where the caterwauling and public scouring was most intense as 200 residents screeched at the protesters to “go home and get jobs” along a route littered with 40-ounce beer bottles, watermelons, Confederate flags and fried chicken, and where at least one concerned citizen was wearing a makeshift white hood, redolent of the vile knights of the “Invisible Empire.”
With the growing confidence among White police officers that Black men are fair game for killing without consequences, how many more of our Black children’s lives will we lose?
While the corporate media has suggested that the violent response by some protesters – property damage and looting in some instances – diminishes the authentic call for “change” – i.e., a demilitarization of the police, improved police-community relations, urban job creation, increased sensitivity training regarding race among police force recruits – it is hard to ignore the storied observation by Frantz Fanon that violence is oftentimes the only possible response by communities that have lived through centuries of violence – slavery, joblessness, poverty, police profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline and a military-industrial complex that thrives upon the deaths and killing of Black and Brown young men.
In the wake of this blow to the Black community, we have seen a string of similar White police killings of unarmed Black men and an unwillingness to indict them. These include the killing of Eric Garner who was caught on video repeating the words, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times as a New York Police Department officer had him in a chokehold that has been banned by the NYPD for years; the killing of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Arizona; the killing of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun in a park and shot within two seconds of police arriving on the scene; and the killing of Akai Gurley, a young man who was fatally shot by a rookie NYPD officer in a dark public housing stairwell in Brooklyn. With the growing confidence among White police officers that Black men are fair game for killing without consequences, how many more of our Black children’s lives will we lose?
In the cases of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley, the police did not make any effort to assist their dying victims. In the case of Gurley, the officers who shot him – in true “cover your ass fashion” – decided to text their union representative while ignoring calls from the police and medics. Six and a half minutes went by before they finally radioed for assistance. It wasn’t until a detective and FBI agent arrived at the scene of the Tamir Rice slaying that the victim received any first aid. In Eric Garner’s case, numerous police officers stared at his unconscious handcuffed body for seven crucial minutes instead of performing urgent CPR or frantically seeking professional medical assistance. In the case of Michael Brown, we know that his body lay lifeless on a Ferguson street for four hours before it was carted off to the local morgue. While some have attempted to justify police killings of Black men as a function of the job demand for quick decisions and their own survival instincts, this unconscionable and merciless failure to attempt to save these men’s lives, points to something much deeper.
Astonishingly, we are now hearing backlash against protesters that Black men must be suicidal since they are acting in ways that are surely to get them killed. It seems no matter what the circumstance, the narratives shift in order to maintain the sanctity of the White cop. The institutionalized and pretentious discourse of conservative talk show hosts now includes remarks to the effect of: “If Garner can say ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times, then he can breathe” (obviously these self-proclaimed “critics” don’t realize that being pinned down by police may prevent lungs from re-expanding, forcing out the functional reserve capacity of air while the expiratory reserve volume – which is not oxygenated and basically exists as carbon dioxide gas – still permits vocalization). This vicious insensitivity from the frenetic ranks of these racist prodigies have ripped away any cosmetic prostheses hiding the seething subterranean animus of the White population who have inherited a historical proclivity to blame Blacks for their own suffering and who continue to do so with an increasingly smug impunity.
Protesters are demanded to show restraint in a country that has shown no restraint in killing Black communities and other communities of color – physically, psychologically and economically.
Given the rancid history of racial violence in the United States, should we be aghast at the audacity of White police officers who continue to shoot first and show little restraint prior or remorse after, and at the imperviousness of prosecutors and grand juries that see only through the dominant lens, justifying the growing epidemic of Black killings by White cops as a “natural” reaction to fearing for their lives? Protesters are demanded to show restraint in a country that has shown no restraint in killing Black communities and other communities of color – physically, psychologically and economically. While we do not advocate for violence, we understand how centuries of pain and humiliation can result in a pent-up rage that eventually explodes.
More recently, African-Americans face the grim new reality of moving from the super-exploited sector of the working class to being even more marginalized as capitalists switched from drawing on Black labor in favor of Latino/a immigrant labor as a super-exploited workforce. As a result of increased structural marginalization, African-Americans are subject to what William Robinson describes as “heightened disenfranchisement, criminalization, a bogus ‘war on drugs,’ mass incarceration and police and state terror, seen by the system as necessary to control a superfluous and potentially rebellious population.”
Racism is not a natural phenomenon, but one that has been produced within each and every institution of our society. Racism is exacerbated through a capitalist production process that teaches us that some people have a God-given right to pursue their own economic and social interests with little regard for the right of every human being and other living organism to thrive in the world free of fear for their own survival and with dignity and freedom. Racism stems from a world that has lost its ability to recognize its social nature and absolute need to love one another. While we must work to make people safe today, we must also consider the long-term goal of anti-racist struggle, which in our view is one and the same as class struggle, such that a new world order, one free from class and founded on love, interdependence, social responsibility, equality and freedom can thrive.
It is glaringly evident that despite the current fanaticism with post-al theories in the social factory known as the academy, racism continues to be an endemic and pervasive cancer. Made to justify slavery and the economic disparity and hierarchical structure of our society, human beings were “marked for labor” through a process of racialization (Monzó and McLaren, in press). The plantation owner defined what it meant to be human in their own socially constructed White image and attributed subhuman characteristics – less intelligence, less morality, less beauty – to the racialized Other as a means to justify their exploitation.
We must seek to fight against not only the consequences of our exploitation but against the architect of hate that is killing our children – capitalism and the inherent greed that it breeds for the purpose of value production and wealth accumulation.
The impressive gains to social justice made through the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and the many women and men of all colors who have fought with them, before them and since them are continually and egregiously being rolled back through a prison-industrial complex and a school-to-prison pipeline that has re-established the horrific race-based slavery of our country’s past, making visible the clear internal relation between race and class. Thus, as we move forward in this critical time when our blood boils at the recurring and unabashed White-on-Black violence and a judicial process that legitimizes it, we must seek to fight against not only the consequences of our exploitation but against the architect of hate that is killing our children – capitalism and the inherent greed that it breeds for the purpose of value production and wealth accumulation.
The monstrosity of racism and its most atrocious consequence – structural genocide – have been evidenced through the mass and social media at a world scale in the past few weeks. But these are not new phenomena, although we fear they may become even more engrained in our structures of state power now that White cops across the country are learning that they can easily kill a Black man with impunity. Racism has procured an enormous death toll over centuries as a result of police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, and from the many associated ills that come with poverty and the dehumanization that people of color experience daily. Through the exclusion from “rights” afforded to the dominant class, including the right to own property, the robbery of wages during slavery, and the exclusion from and denial of educational opportunities, communities of color have been relegated to a working class status while Whites have retained a legacy of privilege, wealth and power. This is evident in the staggering disparities between Whites and people of color across a spectrum of factors including wealth and poverty, educational achievement, housing and neighborhood trends, media representations and the political arena.
Although racism affects all communities of color in the United States and across the world, its manifestation of hate has differed between particular communities and must be understood in its specificity. Racialization has become so ingrained in our subconscious that even when we understand that it is a social construction, we continue to engage with race as an actual characteristic of human beings. Its endemic nature stems from its tie to skin color and physical features that are defined in contrast to those perceived as White. As such, the Black community has been historically “demonized” as an “angry, dangerous and criminal” people in contrast to the self-proclaimed humanity of the White man (and woman). Reports by police officers who shot these Black men suggest that they perceived them as having some sort of superhuman strength and being physically much larger than they actually were (police stated that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was about 20 years old). Such exaggerations could make sense given the societal depiction of Black men as prone to violence and dangerous. However, even if fear were a motivating cause, it should be crystal clear that fear of the Black man is racist and an aspect of racism.
James Loewen (2005) has uncovered an often forgotten aspect of our history of racism: the existence of sundown towns – towns where Blacks and other people of color were pushed out in an attempt to create all-white communities. These were towns that either explicitly posted signs telling African-Americans to stay off public streets after sundown or used other informal means of letting them know they were unwelcome. Hundreds of sundown towns were spawned by the incubus of racial prejudice across the United States between the 1890s and 1940s and peaked in the 1970s (although some still exist). Black Americans (as well as other people of color) found on the streets after sundown were often subject to harassment, arrest and even murder. On his website, Loewen deliberates that the historical demographic shifts in Ferguson suggest that it may have been in the process of becoming a sundown town. Although Ferguson did not reach the status of a sundown town (it never had city ordinances nor posted signs for people of color to stay off the streets), Loewen points to other strategies in place for keeping Blacks out, including policing of “driving while Black,” realtor steering and blocking the main road (with chains) to Missouri’s first Black town, Kinlock (Wright, 2000).
In the fascist tradition that Karl Marx warned would take hold upon significant threat from the popular masses against capital, the militarization of civil society is becoming the “normal” response to protests perceived to be “unmanageable.”
Not surprisingly, Loewen shows that between 1940 and 1960, Ferguson’s White population grew by almost 400 percent and its Black population was cut by 60 percent. During the same period, the Black population of the St. Louis metropolitan area doubled, from just under 150,000 to just under 300,000. Loewen points out that sundown towns were instrumental in creating the inner city “ghettos” – forgotten swamplands of poverty densely populated by people of color – surrounded by White middle and upper-middle-class suburbs that we see across the United States today. This history suggests the possibility of a deeply entrenched racism in sundown towns where people of color remain buried in the dank catacombs of the judicial and criminal justice systems. That prosecutors fail to indict on White cop killings of Black Americans, when statistics show only 11 cases out of 162,000 did not bring indictments in 2010 (the last year for which data is available), is astounding and yet believable given this history (Casselman, 2014).
If proof need be adduced, further evidence of this entrenched racism can be found in the police responses to protests in Ferguson both at the time of the shooting and more recently after the grand jury verdict. The use of military tactics on civilians suggests the same ideological distancing from the “enemy” to which soldiers are indoctrinated in order to assure their complete and unquestioned loyalty to their commanding officers, even when orders may seem inhuman. In the fascist tradition that Karl Marx warned would take hold upon significant threat from the popular masses against capital, the militarization of civil society is becoming the “normal” response to protests perceived to be “unmanageable.” The slaughter-bench of history awaits its next victims on the mean streets of communities of color and no water cannons will be powerful enough to wash clean its bloodstains from our collective memory of civil rights struggle. The aerosol prescriptions and ritualized piety of mainstream “food fair” multiculturalism fed to our teacher educators will never vanquish the blight of capitalism or uncover the unholy alliance between racism and modes and relations of capitalist production.
We have seen these tactics playing out in the protests related to the killing of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Is it a coincidence that these are both Black men and that attacks on protesters took place in communities predominantly of color? Where better to begin to institute the coercive threat of a fully militarized police against our own people than in the communities of color perceived “expendable” (Monzó, McLaren, & Rodriguez, in press)? Indeed, William Robinson argues that Black men in the United States are being replaced as the hyper-exploited worker by immigrants from Latin America and suggests that this may make Black men seem expendable to capitalist production.
That communities of color are heavily targeted for police brutality and imprisonment, and suffer disproportionately the tortured realities of poverty, joblessness, loss of educational opportunities, militarization and most of society’s social ills is undeniable. Indeed according to the Pew Research Center, White households currently have 13 times the net worth of Black households and while income levels in the past decade fell 9 percent for people of color, they fell 1 percent only for Whites. Furthermore, in the last year, only 47.4 percent of people of color were homeowners, whereas 73.9 percent of whites owned homes. Indeed, recent Sony financial documents leaked by hackers reveal a racial and gender disparity among that corporation’s 17 top paid employees, which make more that 1 million per year – 15 of them were White men. This is what racism is and what it does.
Obviously, the ills the Black community faces are intricately tied to economic exploitation and to the fact that communities of color overwhelmingly make up proportionally the largest number of workers throughout the globe in the service of the capitalist class. This aspect of the problem is rarely highlighted and when it is, it is inverted to appear as though the economic disparities experienced by communities of color are a result of a racist society that does not grant them the opportunities necessary to rise above the “ghetto” rather than the effects of a capitalist system that sees no bounds to the destruction and immiseration it creates in the service of the capitalists who spin lies that assure their own reproduction without remorse. The deception is woven through all our institutions, but especially through corporate media, which answer first and foremost to capital and thus rarely link race and class together. A focus on race is safe – for capital.
We believe that anti-racist struggle and class struggle are one and the same fight – the struggle for a world founded on love, on the ability to see the worth of every human being and all living organisms simply because they are.
A focus on race and race relations alone, severed from its dialectical relation to class, suggests that the problem is attitudinal, that what needs to change is for “Whites” to learn to accept, value and respect those who are different from themselves. Economic conditions under capitalism must always be obscured, lest people begin to understand that the so-called freedom of the market does not change the fact that capitalism rests on a social relation of domination and exploitation and that it requires continual immiseration through the extraction of surplus value that most heavily afflicts communities of color. A focus on race and race relations continues to popularize the myth that race exists (even though it is well known in the scientific community that race has no biological validity), which is what the capitalists want since it was “invented” (Callinicos, 1993) to support capitalist production and continues to serve as one of the most powerful ideological tools to sustain it.
We do not, as some critics of Marxism contend, place racism at the back burner after class or suggest it plays a secondary role in importance, or reduce it to class. We recognize that racism exists and is killing our children of color and destroying our communities of color and understand this phenomenon as it was created through an intricate system of White dominance. We also understand that ideational factors stemming from the subjective experiences of people play an important role in the White racism that criminalizes, imprisons and kills our Black and Brown male youth and relegates women of color across the world to the most abominable working conditions that exist. One of us is a Latina immigrant and I recognize fully the impact that racialization has had on my life as such. I live and breathe the chilling fear that my son could one day come face to face with those who may believe him to be a threat to society and will shoot to kill without a second’s hesitation and without any fear of retribution (legal or otherwise).
We do believe, however, that the fight against racism must be conjoined with class struggle. Indeed, we believe that anti-racist struggle and class struggle are one and the same fight – the struggle for a world founded on love, on the ability to see the worth of every human being and all living organisms simply because they are, because they exist and thus merit the right to develop with every possibility for respect, dignity, equality and freedom. We contend with conviction that as long as we live in a capitalist society, indeed a global world run by the transnational capitalist class, racism will continue to exist because it has served effectively as the structural, cultural and psychological justification for the existence of class hierarchies.
Further, we denounce on moral and ethical grounds – through our unapologetically egalitarian claim that the irreducible and indispensable core of humanity rests upon the promotion of justice – the idea that the horrific conditions of inequality and slave labor that capitalism produces would be acceptable under conditions of racial equality, that famine, homelessness, death and destruction would be made more palatable if it afflicted White communities to an extent equal to how they currently afflict communities of color. To us, social conditions of exploitation and hate are not acceptable for any human being and thus our fight must engage capitalism and its tenacity in producing varying ways in which we learn to hate each other to compete for perceived limited resources, which is designed to keep us divided and unable to rise up collectively against capital. What we need is a revolution that will break down our capitalist social relations and deliver us into a socialist alternative where a new human being can emerge with the socialist consciousness – the ability to truly love one another as an aspect of our human nature as social and interdependent beings.
Under capitalism, love has become a term that people are almost afraid or embarrassed to utter. It is seen as a weakness, something that as human beings we cannot control, something that allows us to become vulnerable to the injustices of those who are presumed to love us. Its ultimate proclamation is an economic contract that secures each individual’s interests (in capital terms) in the event of divorce. Under capitalism, everything is a commodity to be had, owned and controlled. Within the family, women and children are often seen as property and treated as subordinates. The family is, thus, a microcosm of the larger society’s social relations of production and an important context for understanding relations of domination and subordination, and the values necessary for maintaining capitalist production, such as individualism, a strong work ethic, meritocracy, and the belief in competition and ownership.
Our capitalist society removes the human potential to truly love by turning it into an agreed upon contract that diminishes risk and thus places our own needs and desires above that of the loved Other.
In the working-class family, women, through childbirth and rearing, produce what Karl Marx termed the special commodity – labor power or the capacity to labor which determines value. Thus, women, their bodies and the ways they relate to the world, must be controlled through a patriarchal structure that becomes complicit with the interests of capital. A family structure that creates the conditions of possibility for true love – a love between an intimate couple and their children or other family members that is based upon mutual respect, equality, creative labor and social responsibility for each other within the family – sows a seed for a love that seeks to know the Other, that cannot conceive of violating an Other, that recognizes each person’s own development as a function of the Other and that validates the Other’s differences. This type of love cannot be found within capitalism. Rather it can only spawn from a socialist alternative, a society free of capitalist social relations such that notions of equality, freedom and love are the foundation of how family members interact. Within this socialist family, racism and other forms of domination and exploitation have no place, and cannot be bred.
According to Erich Fromm (1956), love is not something that we “fall into” but an activity that we engage in for the purpose of resolving the anxiety we as humans feel through our awareness of our separateness by uniting with an Other. For Fromm, loving is a source of power; the desire to give freely simply because we can and chose to (rather than as a source of obligation or false giving) suggests our capacity. Loving also involves intimate knowledge of the Other and a celebration of them as they are (in their difference from us) and a caring for and personal desire to respond to their needs (being responsible). Loving, according to Fromm, is productive labor in that it breeds the power to create, to give birth, to something new that has inherent value; for it is the product of loving. According to Fromm, this need to overcome our separateness and aloneness is a human necessity without which we would go insane. In Fromm’s (1956) words:
. . . mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in [wo]man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate [wo]man from his fellow [wo]men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. (p. 19)
Our capitalist society removes the human potential to truly love by turning it into an agreed upon contract that diminishes risk and thus places our own needs and desires above that of the loved Other. Alain Badiou (2009) conceptualizes love as moving beyond the self-focused moment of ecstasy experienced in sex. He explains: “In love . . . you go to take on the other, to make her or him exist with you, as he or she is . . . [It] is a quest for truth . . . from the perspective of difference (p. 19-23).” Herein lies the potential for not only understanding, but for celebrating difference; for it provides the basis for knowledge and understanding the world – both necessary for affirming our uniquely human capacity as well as for our survival as a species. Although Badiou rejects the notion that love is synonymous with revolution, (hate, he argues, is also an aspect of revolution), he proposes that communism has the potential to free us up for the possibility of love and the possibilities that this emotion engenders in society.
In a like vein, Alexandra Kollontai argued for a red love that was not a binding material contract but in root and seed “a new communist sexual morality of free, open and equal relations of love and comradeship” (Ebert, 2014, para. 16). Kollontai argued that love was a social concern determined by material conditions. In Kollontai’s (1921) words:
Love is a profoundly social emotion. Love is not in the least a private matter concerning only the two loving persons: love possesses an uniting element which is valuable to the collective.
This is because learning and making the choice to love in this way creates a foundation for social justice outside of one’s immediate interests. That is, to create a social universe outside of value production grounded in an interculturalism, respect for diversity and a “régimen de desarrollo” that fosters “el buen vivir” by requiring all of us to exercise social responsibility in the communities in which we live and labor.
Our struggle to end racism then must be closely aligned with our struggle against patriarchy and capitalism. We must work toward the goal of creating a world free of exploitation for everyone, a world in which each individual can thrive alongside their comrades and feel the joy of living connected with others who we love and with whom we share a vision for a socialist world. As human beings, we are the makers of history and therefore, we must understand that we can transform our world into this vision but we must begin today. It begins with choosing love instead of hate, choosing to embrace the Other and to see the world with them. It begins with standing up to regain our humanity and our potential to love one another as human beings. Only then can we become a scourge of the rich and powerful, who choose hate as their modus operandi, turning the Other into a repository for their own political and racial animosity and who are more disturbed by the sight of a Black man in a White neighborhood than by poverty, structural inequality and entrenched policies and practices of racial injustice.
In our struggle for social justice, the backbone of our exigency is doing justice to justice. There should be no abiding inequality in ownership of capital, and the recalcitrant resistance of anti-racists to implicate capitalism in the production of racism must be overcome. Capitalism is compatible with the charity approaches to poverty that liberals and left liberals champion. Seekers of justice should have little faith in charity (social spending), which treats the symptoms of capitalism and instead should fight for social justice, fighting for a transformation of society in which charity is unnecessary because value production has been rooted out. The first step we must take is to stand up with our Black brothers and sisters, recognizing that their survival and triumph against this onslaught of hate is a necessary condition of our own survival as human beings, evidence of our ability to reclaim our humanity. Let the fight for justice begin!
Badiou, A. (2009). In praise of love. The New Press.
Callinicos, A. (1993). Race and class. London: Bookmarks.
Ebert, T. (2014). Alexandra Kollontai and red love. Solidarity: A socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization. Retrieved http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/1724
Kollontai, A. (1921). Theses on communist morality in the sphere of marital relations. Retrieved https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1921/theses-morality.htm
Casselman, B. (2014). It’s incredibly rare for a Grand Jury to do what Ferguson’s just did. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/
Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. Harper & Row.
Loewen, J.W. (2005). Sundown towns: A hidden dimension of American racism. New York: Touchstone.
Monzó, L.D. & McLaren, P. (in press). Marked for labor: Latina bodies and transnational capital – A Marxist feminist critical pedagogy. In C.R. Monroe (Ed.), Race and colorism in education. New York: Routledge.
Monzó, L.D., McLaren, P., & Rodriguez, A. (in press). Deploying guns to expendable communities: Bloodshed in Mexico, US imperialism and transnational capital – A call for revolutionary critical pedagogy. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies.
Wright Sr., J.A. (2000). Kinloch: Missouri’s first all Black town. Chicago, Il: Arcadia Publishing.