In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing protests, there has been speculation on what can or could happen as an end-result of this moment of civil disobedience. Some are hopeful and others are critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose aims are not as calcified as say, the Black Panthers, or even Occupy Wall Street. However, it is worth noting that these protests, which have precipitated looting, riots, and unrest in neglected and thriving cities the world over, show no signs of slowing down. In my home state, for example, over twenty scheduled protests are to be held by the end of this week. Floyd’s murder, as the primary, galvanizing moment, has converged with the anger, frustration, and material deprivation that millions have already been feeling, due to the Trump administration’s bungled Coronavirus response, which has left them unemployed, with paltry financial assistance, and little hope for the future.
Deprived of traditional social outlets, the populace has abandoned local government’s halfhearted pleas for social distancing and has taken to the streets. Some are upset — won’t the protests lead to a Coronavirus spike in a couple weeks? That is of little concern to those who view protest, now more than ever, as their only means of communicating their dissatisfaction with a draconian, impassive government. Already the protests have yielded some concessions: the officer chiefly involved with Floyd’s execution, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder (after initially being charged with third-degree murder); the other three officers have newly been charged as accomplices. Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s Attorney General, is not ruling out a first-degree murder charge — should new evidence emerge. This alone is a big victory for the people. The police state, even if only for this one case, is being held accountable for the brutality which has historically rocked poor, black, brown, and white working-class communities. Considering this victory, will the protesters call it quits? I do not think so. They have a lot of momentum already, and the protests are a chance for people to go outside, intermingle, and voice their anger — things which have been deprived of them for the past ten weeks. It took just under a week of protests for the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Fair Housing Act, to get passed. What could be conceded by the state if the protests last for months?
I have found myself most interested in how the general population — mostly on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — has responded to these protests. The friends and colleagues I’ve made, and whom I follow on Facebook, range mostly from center-left to left. In these social pockets, it is no longer acceptable to be passively or casually racist. Thus, many have voiced their support of the movement, if even only to black out their profiles. Maybe I am caught in my bubble, but it now seems to be a faux pas not to be on the side of the protesters. (Even the Washington Redskins, for example, posted their support). Is this due to a shifting consciousness on the part of the people? Or because Floyd’s death, caught on video from several angles, was so blatantly an act of murder? That we are not seeing much media making note of George Floyd’s “criminal” past — a victim blaming tactic — asserts we may have entered into a new era. What I am curious about is the effectiveness that a newly race-conscious society has on our ability to affect systemic change, and if a critique of race can eventually lead into a critique of class. That race-based consciousness has become mainstream has me hopeful; however, it also has me skeptical.
As I see it, the language surrounding racism as it relates to academic and pop-academic discourse seems to be an indirect attempt to muddle the connections between race and class exploitation. Some popular books that have been trending, like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” are largely aimed at educating upwardly mobile whites on how to discuss and deal with the racial disparities endemic to our society. On paper, maybe this is good. It could, as they say, “start a conversation.” That these books are championed by The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the pro-capitalist liberal-leaning zeitgeist, however, reveals a considerable amount about the ideology espoused in each — namely, that they do not likely threaten the power of our nation’s ruling elite. Consider the differences between allyship, the corporate-bias-training alternative to solidarity, and solidarity itself.
Allyship takes its roots in a palpable recognition of difference, positing that one’s experience is distinct from another’s due to race, gender, or religious identity. What allyship says is, “I will stand up for you because I should use my relative position of privilege to stand up for you.” This logic undermines solidarity and the possibility for recognizing the other as an extension of the self. Solidarity, as it goes, is a recognition of sameness, in spite of identity-markers which separate us outwardly, such as race, gender, sexual identity, etc. Solidarity recognizes these differences but assumes a shared sense of the same: “I will stand up for you because you are me.”
One is coercive and rooted in guilt; the other is rooted in a collective sense of humanity. Solidarity is possible only when one approaches life through the veil of ignorance, as in, you could have been born as anyone, and so you have to be willing to fight for another person as if they were you (consider Bernie’s ‘Not Me, Us’). Integrated within the Black Lives Matter movement, in addition to policing reforms, which hopefully entail defunding and demilitarizing police outfits, need to be the call for economic redistribution — through an increase in corporate and individual wealth taxes, as well as a reallocation of public budgets. George Floyd was murdered because he was poor and black; the cops were called on him because he was using a counterfeit $20 bill. He’d been laid off due to Coronavirus, and wasn’t — like many of us — getting enough government assistance to meet his needs. In a just society, racial justice and economic justice would go hand in hand.
And so, because the moment’s dominant politics are not rooted in class, but in race, the average white person — not recognizing how much, in fact, they share with their black brothers and sisters, can only think in difference. They wish to be absolved of their whiteness, and ask of the black community, “What I can do? I want to help eliminate racism; I want to be anti-racist.” While this seems a good first step, one cannot help but balk at the chasm in the reified relation, one that parallels the NGOification of “third world people”. The first step, if one must begin anew, should be to examine the roots of racism, which are endemic to caste- or class-based societies. In the US, it is not a stretch to say that the police largely police the poor, and that the black and brown, in our country, are disproportionately poor and working class. As user sleepy fil noted on Twitter, we don’t know how to “fix” racism, but we do have the resources needed to fix poverty.
This past primary, we had a candidate whose aims were to reallocate as much money as possible to the poor, working poor, and working classes — basic tenets of social democracy, socialism, and communism. These types of governments get smeared, in the mainstream, as idealist projects. And yet, societies that have implemented redistributionist governments (Guatamala, Nicaragua, USSR) have boasted the lowest rates of crime, poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. It is worth nothing that there was (relatively) very little outcry by the center-left and left-liberal class about the coordinated takedown of Bernie Sanders. If these people cared about racial justice, would they not be attuned to the necessity of economic justice? Moving forward, our goal must be to make available, in the simplest terms possible, the contradictions of capitalism so that they can be digested by the masses and imbued into this mass uprising. The connection I made earlier, between the unemployment rate and George Floyd’s death, is rooted in a problem that capitalism is not fit to solve.
An anti-racist politics must be aligned with an anti-capitalist politics, as Fred Hampton, bell hooks, Malcolm X, and MLK Jr. knew. The limits of identity politics is that those whose identities are marginalized do not always advocate for the marginalized, as we saw recently, with Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete, and Liz Warren, whose identities as oppressed minorities betrayed the fact of their political goals, which were to reproduce slightly tweaked versions of the status quo. I’m not sure if there is one answer, or what that answer is, but it is definitely important to examine the roots of ideology and information, and to figure out if those political things that we and those around us do are contributing to systems of oppression, of which racism is a part.