In a quest to colonize the “New World,” the genocide of indigenous peoples became our nation’s original sin. White supremacy and capitalism were then built upon this rotten foundation. These two parasitic abominations emerged simultaneously in American society; let’s dismantle them simultaneously as well.
A four-decade onslaught of neoliberal Reaganomics has decimated the American poor and working class. Median wages have remained stagnant since the late 1970s, despite a consistent increase in productivity. The top 1 percent owns 40 percent of the country’s wealth, and top CEOs make more than 300 times that of the average worker (which is a 1,000 percent increase since 1978). There are 46 million Americans officially living in poverty, but, due to the arbitrary nature of the poverty line, another 100 million are “near poor” (i.e. cannot afford basic necessities). And keep in mind — this is happening in the richest country in world history. These third-world levels of economic inequality make the U.S. look a lot like an oligarchy. The vast majority of new income goes to the top 1 percent, and one family — the Waltons of the Walmart empire — has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the population.
Wealth concentration and poverty under neoliberalism aren’t abstract concepts; they have tangible consequences. For example, half of all Americans don’t even live paycheck to paycheck, student loan debt is diminishing the prospects of home ownership, climate change is beginning to devastate poor communities while helping the rich, and 45,000 people die every year due to a lack of health insurance. In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he said:
“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”
But this is a democracy, right? Who would vote for such a grim existence? Well, according to an academic study from Cambridge, there is literally no correlation between public opinion and government policy. Turns out the plutocrats are running the show (thanks, in part, to Citizens United).
Generic, theoretical capitalism is inseparable from our current paradigm of advanced, hyper-consumerist, job-shipping, union-busting, soul-crushing neoliberalism. Prominent capitalists have fought desperately to achieve this sadistic system, which is the culmination of an evolutionary history of laissez-faire. One day, long ago, Adam Smith planted roses, and all that remain are the thorns. To quote King again, “today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”
But capitalism is not an equal-opportunity destroyer. These social tragedies demonstrably and empirically affect folks of color at vastly disproportional rates. For instance, the average net worth of black households is $6,314, compared to $110,500 for the average white household. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to be poor, and a white male with a criminal record is more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record. Median black household income is approximately $43,300, while median white household income is around $71,300. This discrepancy is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967. And these economic disparities are just the beginning.
In the realm of mass incarceration, more than 40 percent of American inmates are black men, while that demographic only makes up 6.5 percent of the general population. In the realm of police violence, black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white teens. These statistics could continue for pages. Profound systemic racism poisons every aspect of American society. These horrors are manifestations of the racial caste system that has always existed in the U.S., which is discussed at length by Michelle Alexander in her groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
We often forget that merely five decades ago, our country maintained a government-sanctioned apartheid system. This included the intentional creation of black ghettos through redlining and other discriminatory policies. Political inertia, white backlash, and the racist War on Drugs have worked together to preserve the vestiges of white supremacy. The reality on the ground looks a lot like the same ol’ Jim Crow; that guy we swore we kicked out in the 1960s.
But racism isn’t just systemic; it is often overt. The recent emergence of Trump made this crystal-clear. Not only did the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists endorse him, but even for his voters, “fear of diversity” was a significant motivating factor.
The evils of racism are clearly apparent, but racial ideologies also serve to pit poor and working-class white folks against people of color and minorities, distracting them from their true nemesis; the ruling class. This is a classic example of “divide and conquer,” and has benefited the elites immensely. Anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise elucidates this phenomenon in a concise Marxian manner:
“The history of America is the history of rich white men telling not rich white people that their enemies are black and brown.”
We need to build a movement to confront and destroy this dual evil of racial and economic exploitation. And we need to stop being afraid of the “S” word.
Socialists have a rich tradition of fighting racism, from the Communist Party of Alabama, to Cuba’s crucial support for black South Africans during Apartheid, to early 20th century socialist politician Eugene Debs, to revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg, to the original Black Panther Party. Socialists see racism as not only contrary to worker solidarity, but as a destructive and dehumanizing hierarchy, just like the class system itself. And indeed, capitalism and racism have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship thus far. Two modern organizations that are battling this double-headed beast are Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Redneck Revolt.
Founded in 1982, DSA is the largest socialist organization in the U.S., with a total dues-paying membership of 48,000. Members have been active in opposing the agenda of the Trump administration, as well as carrying the torch of the Bernie Sanders “political revolution.” DSA has been on the front lines fighting for a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, LGBTQ equality, climate justice, reproductive rights, rent control, and many other progressive causes. The group has also been instrumental in the electoral victories of a variety of progressive candidates across the country, including Lee Carter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, one thing that separates DSA from other progressive organizations such as Our Revolution is its fervent anti-capitalism. As the DSA document Where We Stand: Building the Next Left explains:
“We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit, alienated labor, race and gender discrimination, environmental destruction, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo.
We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane international social order based both on democratic planning and market mechanisms to achieve equitable distribution of resources, meaningful work, a healthy environment, sustainable growth, gender and racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.”
“A long and deep legacy of white supremacy has always arrested the development of U.S. democracy… When the system is declining, it can bring despair. That’s why Black Lives Matter — and all other young people of all colors who are mobilizing — is a beautiful thing. We are having a moral and spiritual awakening. It gives us democratic hope... It’s time to move from being spectators, to being actors.”
Members of Redneck Revolt are not liberals. They are pro-gun, pro-labor, anti-fascist, and anti-racist. The movement, which began in 2016 as an outgrowth of the John Brown Gun Club, has dozens of vetted chapters around the country. This diverse group is rapidly expanding, and focuses on recruiting rural southern and Appalachian working-class folks to join the fight against white supremacy and capitalism while protecting and supporting people of color and other marginalized communities. Many of these impoverished white folks have been voting against their own interests for decades, after falling for the xenophobic rhetoric of prominent politicians. As founding member Dave Strano explained:
“The history of the white working class has been a history of being an exploited people. However, we’ve been an exploited people that further exploits other exploited people. While we’ve been living in tenements and slums for centuries, we’ve also been used by the rich to attack our neighbors, coworkers, and friends of different colors, religions and nationalities.”
Member Max Neely summarized their strategy by saying simply:
“We use gun culture as a way to relate to people. No liberal elitism. Our basic message is: guns are fine, but racism is not.”
Last but not least, we do have to talk about white privilege. Simply mentioning this concept can make people uncomfortable, but this sociological reality must be acknowledged as an inherent aspect of entrenched white supremacy. White privilege is the flip-side of the oppression and marginalization faced by people of color. Simply being given an unconditional pass to avoid oppression, discrimination, profiling, and other forms of profound inequality is in itself a major manifestation of white privilege. But an understanding of intersectionality as it relates to privilege is also crucial, just as it is in understanding oppression and exploitation.
If someone has privileges based on other sociological aspects of their identity, this privilege may extend beyond merely avoiding the injustices uniquely faced by non-whites. In addition to race, these realms include class, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, physical ability, etc. Based on a rudimentary analysis of modern American society, the most privileged demographic would be wealthy, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied Christian men.
Indeed, if you pay even peripheral attention to current events and history, you’ll quickly realize that these are, more often than not, the characteristics of those who own and control our society and have since its inception. Let’s break this trend and democratize the economy, and society as a whole. Let’s uproot and expose our vicious history of racism and dismantle the new Jim Crow. And to those of us with various forms of privilege, let’s use it to fight for a better future for everyone.