Racism is the Inevitable Outcome of an Economy Based on Exploitation
We live with an economy that requires exploited workers who can produce enough at a low enough wage to make their employers, who actually contribute very little to productivity, wealthy. There is a reason that early capitalism relied on slave labor and why capitalism STILL relies on slave labor in third-world countries and in the American prison system: nothing is better for a wealthy capitalist than FREE labor.
Early on, even white people were enslaved, albeit for a set period of time and in exchange for passage from Great Britain. These were indentured servants, but that short timeframe really rankled — having to let them go after seven or ten years — so clearly abducting Africans was the better bet, economically speaking.
It’s pretty hard for nonslave laborers to compete with free, so our current fucked-up system evolved with the understanding that the poor white folks needed some buy-in. And as I’ve said before, you can rip off the poor white folks all you want, but as long as they own one turnip more than the black man, they’ll go along with it. Because they’ve been taught to view their white skin as superior. As entitled. As privileged. And holding the belief that maybe, one day, with enough “hard work,” they, too, can be wealthy exploiters of slaves or, in the modern day, wage slaves.
Nothing has changed, sadly. The actual people who built this nation, the ones with black and brown skin, are still viewed as the “lazy” ones. The criminal ones. White skin, however, belongs to the “industrious” people — the guys who stand around holding the whip. This is bullshit and doublespeak, and all people of color know it, along with a few white people.
People tend to forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only an advocate for black people, he was also an advocate for the working class of any color. His calls for economic justice seldom get mentioned, and this is probably the core reason that he was murdered: he was calling for racial and class unity, which is the last thing that our oligarchic leaders want to see. A divided workforce is a pliable one, easily exploited. A united workforce can force change.
“The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.”
— MLK Jr, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967
In the 1963 March on Washington, protesters issued 10 demands, some of which have since been implemented, such as a national minimum wage. Of course, when a small, powerful minority rig the economy and the government, we take two steps forward and at least one step back. Our current minimum wage hasn’t changed in more than ten years, and no one can live on it.
Meanwhile, society, the media, and our government continue to spread the virus of racism, resulting in yet another death of an innocent black man, George Floyd. Our system works perfectly, as designed, by terrorizing those at the bottom and brainwashing those a step or two above into thinking that blackness is something to fear, something to report, a reason to call 911 because they have the audacity to be in their space. The Amy Coopers of the world no doubt think they “don’t see color,” but they’ve ingested the poison and regurgitate it at will. Meanwhile, some white people will say, “Tut, tut” about yet another murder by cop, but then they’ll turn around and say that Kaepernick’s kneeling is a bridge too far. No, white people. It is not nearly far enough.
If you believe that you would be the sort of person who would join your black brothers and sisters on the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, then it is time to get off of your comfortable ass and become uncomfortable. It is time to march with them again, to kneel, to speak out when you see bad shit happening to them, and to get involved. If you’re unwilling to be even a tiny bit uncomfortable, then you’ll have to admit that you actually do not care and that this racist system is fine with you as it is.
As the title of this article suggests, we are not going to become an equal society racially until we are an equal society economically. This should not be a competition, a social-Darwinist hellhole where only the bullies survive. We have to get rid of capitalism. We have to have truly democratic institutions. We need to have all of our workplaces run democratically, as a cooperative effort where all employees have a stake and a say in what is produced. And we need to start changing our consumption and take care of this planet while there’s still a chance for us to survive. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that truly, we are all in this together.