Black and red, but I don’t see color

In my last piece on Medium about racist consumer ethic critiques of Black artists, I attempted to be intentional in naming that such poor racialized critiques can come from any political group or ideology including and, in my experience, existing most egregiously among progressives, leftists and radicals. However, what I wrote ended up leaning more towards calling out liberals, and so radical leftists seemed to feel my words had nothing to do with them.

I got a comment by an old white man who, after stating I “gave him a good laugh”, informed me I was failing to understand that the only color capitalism sees is “green”. In a thread on the Facebook page The Middle Eastern Feminist, I linked my piece to a white male anarchist who had brought up that, as an anti-capitalist leftist, it was his duty to be infuriated at any celebrity who exploits Brown labor, by “any” of course meaning “Beyoncé”. His subsequent mansplaining, anti-Black racism, and derailing was also likely his anti-capitalist duty. In an Anarchism subreddit, a person said I was clearly referring to “white hipster anarchist girls” and not real radicals such as themselves.

This dismissal seems inevitable when discussing anti-capitalist, consumer critical ideology and the hyper-focused and disproportionate push-back against rich Black celebrities in particular. You’re going to be called a white girl and you’re going to get white (and plenty non-Black) leftists and radicals who say that race has nothing to do with it as capital and class is a privilege more powerful and pressing than any other. Even in the cases where they understand that race does play a big role, they dismiss that they’ve internalized anti-Blackness and don’t unpack their exclusive criticisms of Black celebrities and shows of wealth, their argument being that those Black celebrities are often hurting communities of color abroad so it is their obligation to stand in solidarity with them, even if no one asked for their help.

In their minds, because they are not rich, or because they hold anti-state ideals, they are of the oppressed and are therefore subjugated by these rich Black people and have unlimited space to criticize anyone richer and more powerful than them regardless of color. A lack of class privilege gives them authority and power in all conversations concerning authority and power. They balk at being accused of misogyny, racism, antisemitism, or other –isms the like because as a marginalized person you cannot oppress the bourgeois, regardless what marginalized group that rich person might be from themselves.

Now it’s true that a person of any race can act as an arm of capitalism, can benefit from it and can perpetuate its violence (specifically against marginalized communities of color). I agree that having money, social connections and power can protect you from a good portion of the violence that people much poorer than yourself will experience, even if you’re Black as Black can be. I believe that no one is magically absolved of criticism for their role and place within capitalism, especially the more they benefit from it. However, I still take issue with the way people seem to not understand the racialization of capitalism and the history communities of color, especially Black people, have with it.

First off, capitalism is a white supremacist construct. It is inherently hierarchical, Eurocentric and colonialist. It still demands that the people of color, including the Obamas, Jay-Zs and Oprahs of the world who join its ranks, assimilate and forgo the parts of themselves that are anathema to white supremacist capitalism, and tread carefully when admitted to the club, which then overwhelmingly oppresses people of color in the West and the global south in various degrees and ways. It still operates on anti-Blackness. It still steals land and resources from indigenous communities globally and displaces them, and affords power, privilege, and luxury to those in the West, especially if they are white.

It is actually because of this inherent whiteness of capitalism that I disagree when people say that poor whites “act against their best interest” when they vote Conservative and the idea that they have more in common with marginalized people of color than rich white people. Those poor whites are voting in the interests of whiteness, even if they vote against their class, and that does benefit them. Despite their class they have a lot of space and power in the overwhelming whiteness of the way capitalism has structured the world. It’s the reason why, during the days of slavery then Jim Crow and indentured servitude when many Europeans like Eastern Europeans and the Irish were being poorly mistreated and face institutional discrimination at the hands of other whites, they were yet considered higher in social standing than enslaved African Americans and other people of color was because ethnically and culturally, poor whites were still white. In eras where racial superiority was being touted as cultural and genetic, they were still above people who were racially and genetically other, specifically Black. White people, of any class or economic background, have the most in common with other white people.

Oppositely, even as rich people, Black people can still experience dehumanization, violence, and discrimination. They likely had to work 10 times harder than their white peers to get into spaces where there are little to no other people that look or sound like them in it. There are few rich Black people that aren’t new money. Celebrities often gained their wealth in the industries and businesses that historically, Black people were forced into due to old racist ideologies about the kind of work they were physically and mentally fit for, AKA the arts and entertainment and athletics.

Second, there’s the unique and tortured relationship that people of color, specifically Black folks, have with capitalism. Not all rich people are the same in their history, family background or context. Black people were not merely discouraged from competing or engaging in capitalism, they were, for hundreds of years, considered capital. Then, when they struggled and abolished slavery, across various places in the diaspora, Black people were economically disenfranchised through social and institutional mores and legislation that restricted where they could live, what jobs they could hold, where they could do business, and thus how rich they could become. In the US, Black cities and economies that grew or flourished were often destroyed by white rioting. A Black come up within a system that was built on their backs and exploits their labor historically and now is often understood as a hustle and resistance.

Simply put, Black forays and successes in capitalism are absolutely not the same as white capitalism, a rise into ranks often by the simple merit of their racial power and authority at the historic and current exploitation of communities, lands, and bodies of color. Mocking or hyper-criticizing Black wealth comes from not understanding Black people’s very violent history with capitalism. That isn’t to say that we should think of Black capitalism as a solution to what ultimately requires insurrection, but to castigate Black people for accruing wealth and being proud of it in a country where they were once themselves property and the markers of wealth is, at heart, racist. These Black people are merely adhering to a status they were once and really still are violently, disproportionately kept from.

Hip hop in particular seems to be a lightning rod for people’s rage regarding and economic inequality and greed. Lyrical brags of wealth and of ruler or authoritative status are seen as oppressive. But again, hip hop is Black culture born out of struggle, rebellion, and resistance. The culture of Black artists referring to themselves as Chiefs, Gods, Princes, Princes, Kings and Queens of different genres comes from the fact that Black people and other people of color were not historically allowed formal status. Jim Crow laws established that while Black people had to refer to white people formally (as Sr. Mr., M’aam, etc) they were referred to by their first names alone. So a royal status and authority over a society that have told you that you never deserve finer things, that you cannot aspire to be king, to rule, to win at their game, is a way to push back against dehumanization and disrespect and reject a subjugated and oppressed status in white society.

So yes, capitalism does indeed see color. And if capitalism sees color, so should radicals and leftists of any affiliation. The responsibility for capitalism’s harm still falls on whiteness and those most aggrieved are of color. The naïve and whitewashing idea that capitalism only sees green is white as white comes and allows for the rampant white supremacy in anti-statist circles and conversations and makes us unable to understand the problem from the root and challenge its racialized outcomes in our world today.

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Afro-Dominicana. High Hex Femme. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com

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