“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude” – Stokely Carmichael
The videos of the lynching’s of black men such as Ahmaud Abery, and more recently, the asphyxiation of George Floyd by the United States police have sparked mass uprisings worldwide. They have opened a dialogue for how working-class black men are brutalised by the system. Floyds’ last words, “I can’t breathe”, have become synonymous with the following protests. The deaths of these men are just the most recent in a cruel history of unlawful acts of violence against Black Americans and the global African diaspora.
The oppression of black people is part of a white supremacist superstructure that reinforces class domination. Racism is a social force used to enrich a wealthy elite; it is an embedded symptom of capitalism.
As a young black man growing up in a predominantly white country, I have unfortunately encountered some level of racism and bigotry. Though these experiences are negative, they are not helpful in understanding the root causes of racism – blaming individuals who have been racist in the past was missing the forest for the trees. This attitude changed for me once I learned about how the dynamics of power truly operate. What I mean by this is, it was easier to blame my peers for their bigotry rather than the economic system which benefits from a culture of racism and division amongst our class, ‘the 99%’.
The narrative is pushed that racism is due to prejudice from working class communities, this ‘everyday racism’ is a symptom that is far from the root. This view is perpetuated to demonize the working class, look no further than the liberal medias reporting on Brexit voters to see this. Racism stems from top down not vice versa. The state and elites actively participate in racial and ethnic discrimination. For example, many historical and economic factors mean that black people have consistently been at the bottom of the economic ladder, the ferocious attacks against the poor by years of austerity have disproportionately affected people of colour. Poverty breeds crime and the excessively poverty-stricken black community gives a ripe excuse for passing off crime as a race issue.
This is evident when looking at how crime is handled and shown in the media when it is in poor black neighbourhoods compared to white ones. One example is the knife crime taking place in London, when those involved happen to be racialised as black it is referred to as ‘black on black’ crime. However, when this very same issue was taking place in Glasgow and white youths were attacking each other the situation was handled and discussed in a totally different manner. The nuances for this are far deeper than the first glance. It is a lot easier to act as if the rise of crime is a symptom of these youths being black rather than address the elephant in the room: class relations and poverty. Furthermore, there is a systemic over policing of black communities. This leads to many holding a hyper defensive mentality caused by the years of abuse suffered at the hands of the police. In addition, the purposeful underdevelopment of these neighbourhoods’ locks many in a bastion of poverty which makes crime an economic necessity. The so-called political freedoms and democracy we have means nothing to those who have no means to exercise them.
Racism is not just institutionalised within the political system of certain countries but is inherent to the smooth running of global imperialism. Imperialism is when rich countries forcefully exploit and under develop the third world for financial gain. Due to centuries of colonialism this is usually (although not exclusively) white westerners getting rich off the backs of people of colour worldwide. The African kids you see digging through bins for food on UNICEF commercials, or the cries for help stitched into Primark jeans by Bangladeshi sweatshop workers are not some kind of accident. They are a rational result of a system of profits in command.
Colonialism is not just a ghost of history; it is alive and kicking and is intrinsic to the wealth of Western Europe and North America. This is done through phoney ‘foreign aid programs’, major international financial actors and regime change against governments willing to stand up to global capital. A significant actor of imperialism is the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which forces reliance on the West which make many post-colonial nations independence merely symbolic.
The example of Jamaica is one of the many possible illustration of how imperialism functions. In the early years of independence from Britain in 1962, Jamaica’s economy was growing and the standards of living rising, however, in the 70s the international oil crisis struck. In 77’ they were forced to take a loan from the IMF. This was in return for a ‘structural readjustment programme’. A complete opening up to imports meant that instead of producing its own necessities, it had to buy them off the west at exuberant rates, which destroyed the local economy and caused mass unemployment. It also meant privatisation of their assets, a free-for-all for corporations to exploit the labour of Jamaicans and keep wages down, while funnelling the profits back to the West; stagnating Jamaica’s development and stripping away their sovereignty. Furthermore, the readjustment programme forced Jamaica to halt education, health and infrastructure investment. This pattern of trojan horse ‘aid’ to developing countries is a global phenomenon, which keeps most of the world reliant on the West. Unsurprisingly, the IMF is based in Washington DC, with its biggest funder being the United States government, who have executive power on many of its major decision. While this economic imperialism enriches the western elite, the rest of us get poorer and lose jobs as corporations outsource to the global south where they can pay workers a fraction of the wages they would have to in the west.
Countries that do not abide to imperialism will receive huge trade embargos and foreign military intervention. Cuba, for instance, has its economy in its own hands and has suffered decades of brutal financial restrictions from the USA and its allies; in addition to the CIA making several hundred failed assassination attempts on their late leader, Fidel Castro. The economics behind the Vietnam war, the US and NATO backed regime changes in Bolivia, Libya, Iraq and countless more follow the same pattern. Imperialism is the most brutal form of international domination by the richest 1%. It is reinforced by a white supremacist power structure, keeping people of colour from Jamaica to South Africa impoverished and reliant on the West.
Socialism has always been intrinsic to the black liberation movement, and vice versa. Just as racism is inherent in capitalism, anti-racism is inherent to socialism.
The origin of modern anti-black racism is widely recognised as slavery. The theory of white supremacy and eugenics came as a justification for this super exploitation, the fact black people were slaves and hitherto predominantly of the lowest economic strata reinforced the idea that they must be inferior, and so and so forth. ‘Blackness’ is a strong class indicator. The social and economic are inseparable, and racism makes a lot of money. It is used to divide and conquer; the most positive historical advances have always been the attempt for collective betterment when people of all races have worked together.
The Black Lives Matter movement has given rise to many trends. It has been disheartening seeing some of the liberal responses. It takes a delusional level of cognitive dissonance to think that an appropriate response to a video of a man being suffocated to death; is to debate the political correctness of Little Britain, etc. We should not fall into the trap of empty, symbolic gestures. This is a dangerous current that has belittled a movement that seeks serious racial justice. Liberal concessions are there only to win black votes, while still upholding a system of national and international oppression A tearing apart of the economic structure which makes racism profitable paired with mass education about the history of racism, and the harsh punishment of people propagating racist ideas is the way forward.
Socialism has been used as a tool by people of colour all over the world to free themselves from the grasp of white western hegemony. It is often overlooked that the Black Panther Party in the USA were communists and for a long time were at the forefront of the black liberation movement. They were also spearheading the anti-Vietnam war movement, this is because they recognised that even at the other side of the world, colonised people were fighting the same common enemy. International solidarity has been key to black liberation struggles. Another example being socialist Libya heavily funding the Black Panthers fight against US racism. Many soldiers of black liberation in the United States, if they had not been killed by the government, fled to socialist Cuba as political refugees. One of these people is Assata Shakur, the aunt of late rapper Tupac Shakur.
All the concessions people of colour and the working class have been given under capitalism have been out of fear of mass organising and uprisings.
It is time we take the future into our own hands.
There can be no socialism without black liberation and there can be no black liberation without socialism.
Article was written as a collaboration between two good friends in Glasgow.