In the late 60s and early 70s the Black Power movement grew by leaps and bounds. Many saw revolution as the only viable path for Black Liberation. Over the past decades, a series of capitalist ideologies have become more common. Instead of “All Power to the People” some say the solution is to “Buy Black” and support Black owned busisnesses. But is this really a way to overcome the white supremacist capitalist power structure? Or do we instead need to return to the revolutionary path?
Black people in America have a vested interest to struggle for liberation from the capitalist and white supremacist patriarchy that is America. This isn’t just the case for a clear majority of Black People, but for an overwhelming percentage of Americans, of all nationalities and ethnicities. The political climate that we experience daily has painted the experience of Black liberation to be uniquely only “our” struggle, but there are many other ethnicities and cultures aside from Black families that are struggling to make ends meet and ensure that there is shelter over their heads and food in stomachs.
Based on that, there is a very clear basis to create solidarity with each other, and see that we understand the larger struggle and situation, while still addressing the particularities that set us apart, culturally. This can create a revolutionary movement where all ethnicities come together to write and progress the story of revolution through struggle. One where we all see the basis of how our lives can be transformed by overthrowing this oppressive system and creating a new one that serves the interests of working people. But doing this requires us to see that our struggles don’t just happen to link together at certain points but rather our struggles are bred from this white supremacist capitalist power structure we live in. Therefore, working people of all ethnic and national backgrounds in this country have a shared interested in working together to overthrow this system through a revolution.
In contrast, there are other arguments for Black liberation to be linked to the growing “buy Black” movement and related efforts to “support Black business.” This discourse even promotes the idea by Black people simply “changing our spending habits” we can achieve liberation from white supremacy. Eventually, these arguments reveal a divide between elite and working-class black folks. The wealthy and elite blacks are usually thought of more highly because they have been able to “succeed” in this racist system and only want enough reform against racism to create more integration, only enough reform to make their lives a bit more comfortable.
A very incorrect image that portrays Black power as monetary power. In contrast, Black power actually comes from breaking from this capitalist system and joining with our other brothers and sisters who are also fighting to break from these chains.
They would rather vote than protest because the image of Black folk as “respectable” in the eyes of the ruling class holds more importance to them than our collective liberation. While some elite Black folk understand that this system is white supremacist and has no interest in the voice of poor Black folks, they continue to push us towards capitalist solutions like buying Black and voting for the newest Black politician.
It’s important to note, that these are the same folks that often view Black people asking for discounts as taboo when entering a Black business. It’s seen as too much for this aspiring Black business to take in to account that the majority of Black folk are working class and often can barely make ends meet. Also, that this same crowd vouches for electoral politics as a means for change because protesting and creating uprisings in the streets is thought of as immature and not a good image to project to other nationalities. So really, when people talk about “buying Black” they are talking about solidarity that runs one way. Poor Black folks are supposed to shop at the businesses of the more well off, and expect nothing in return. This is the platform of respectability politics and it leads us nowhere.
Often, it’s easy to miss that most uprisings in predominantly Black communities have resulted in positive change for the community. For example, when people rose up in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA in 1965, it resulted in increased trust and solidarity among the people in the community. This rebellion also inspired many of the founders of the Black Panther Party, and Black folks all around the country. Similar things came from the more recent rebellion Ferguson, MI in response to Mike Brown’s slaughter by the police. This rebellion helped to spark the Black Lives Matter campaign and saw the residents of the city protest with zeal and high spirits in the struggle to see their situation transform.
What has prevented us working people from approaching our struggle as a united group are systems and institutions in place that have told us that to get ahead we must see each other as the enemy. The reality is that the working class is exploited and pushed to always meet the needs of the upper class, while having to scramble to address their own socio-economic trials and tribulations. The working class comes in all shades and orientations and has been tirelessly told by the powers that be that everyone is their competition to escape out of this crab barrel that is America. The reality is that we poor people of all nationalities struggle to meet our basic needs, and have an interest in coming together, but the capitalist system tells us we have to be at each others’ throats. Those in power want us to be stepping over each other in vain attempts to get ahead, instead of coming together to overthrow this white supremacist capitalist power structure.
Along these lines, what exactly constitutes Black liberation? Well, in the current climate many would view electoral politics, investing in Black business, refraining from activities that are caught in the politics of Black stereotypes, and becoming a more “respectable and accountable” citizen in this society, as the basis for Black liberation. We have been told to pull up our pants to be received better, to wear a suit if one wants to get ahead in life, and to vote in a system of voter suppression by both parties so that we can somehow take get elected officials in power, when these politicians have always sold us down the river to the highest bidder.
Not surprisingly, these various concepts don’t actually set a course for liberation but only divert us. We have been told that we are responsible for our poverty and must do the clean up work for centuries of oppression. Black folk should not be held respons-ible for racist practices such as “Red-lining”, where real estate interests and banks worked together to prevent Black people from getting home loans and the like. This is just one example of how the white supremacist power structure in this country has systematically deprived Black people at every level of our society. Some pretend that through “buying Black” and homeownership Black folks can live the “American Dream,” but the reality is that this dream is little more than a fleeting illusion which quickly becomes a nightmare for folks when they can’t make ends meet or when the police show up.
Fortunately, there is liberation but its not in the same avenues and sectors of capitalism. It is within the working people. What sets this liberation apart from capitalist dead ends—like “buying Black,” the American Dream, and so on—is not having to internalize the same attitudes, roles, systems, and governments that have institutionally suppressed our voices. We can look towards ourselves and not go down that oppressive path again. Those very paths come in the form of working two jobs, when one barely covers the rent, and being convicted for long sentences for petty crimes.
These are just some examples of how the system pushes us and forces us to adopt nihilistic and nasty behaviors. On the other hand, solidarity amongst working folks doesn’t have one color, nor one orientation. The image of solidarity is going to be multi-national and filled with a mixed bag of people. The only category that won’t really be included is the rich, as this is a struggle that working people will most likely have to take the fore front on. The point of cultivating solidarity with other working folk is to create fewer divisions and less competition with each other.
This helps us to see and pave the most well-planned path to a new world that is run by the worker. Inevitably, in paving this new path, the perceptions, limitations, stereotypes, rules, and status quo will crumble and break down. In the case of Black liberation, adhering to such things as respectability politics, colorism, and hyper-masculinity will be a thing of the past. In the end, the capitalist society that once pushed us to fixate on our short comings and flaws, will not stand up to our confidence and trust with each other as an unbreakable entity.
Many working-class people are aware to some extent the toll that capitalism takes. While there is theory to help accurately explain the overall struggle of working people, it doesn’t take a scientist to understand that the system that we live in is not here to serve the exploited but rather the exploiter. Marx and Engels, as well as other revolutionaries like Lenin and Mao have written works that precisely document the struggle of working people, and sum up the successes and failures of past revolutionary movements.
The most important part of revolutionary theory is the class struggles and antagonisms that have concretely displayed how much the working class—the most revolutionary class that struggles for the overthrow of the capitalists—must go through. Its important to understand that works written by these revolutionary thinkers are not meant to be treated as dogma, but rather practical knowledge that is meant aid the struggle to overcome capitalism. Generally, the consensus among revolutionaries around the world, is that there is a significant amount to be understood from these writings. Revolutionaries in other places around the world like India and the Philippines are putting into practice the lessons summed up by people like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao. In doing so, they are working hard to liberate their people from this oppressive capitalist system, and we can learn a lot from their struggles too.
In Marx’s Capital, he correctly theorizes how, under capitalism, the working class becomes hired slaves to meet their basic needs. They must sell their “labor power” to create a commodity good for the capitalist. Marx goes in further to display the leaps, bounds, and somersaults that the capitalist will pull to suck the surplus value (profit) from his hired slave, all in the name of greed and commodity production. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this basic image isn’t too much different from the current image of the present capitalism in America––but this helps us in drafting the blue print for actual Black liberation. The unfortunate part is that the capitalist system we live in still keeps us in chains; history continues to repeat itself as different versions of the capitalist hell that Marx and Engels concisely analyzed for us.
In the present day of capitalist America we see that the majority of Black folk are working class and there is an apparent wide gap between them and elite Blacks, with a small but shrinking middle class. Many of the policies and practices that are being pushed out today only really align with the elite Blacks and leave most of the Black working class having to scramble often to “keep up appearances” and make ends meet. This then leaves little room for discussion to have solidarity among working class and elite Blacks. In fact, we have a situation where elite Blacks are pushing the idea that working class Black folks need to be “accountable” and “refine their spending habits.”
These are just ways of selling us the lie that there is a way for Black people, as a people, to make it in this racist system.
Among working class Black folks there are real divides. Many want to cultivate solidarity, but others aspire to internalize various attitudes and behaviors that are bred from capitalism and white supremacy. Most Black businesses, as of late, have been known to be rather austere with their practices of buying and selling products, justifying paying their employees poorly and never having discounts. Even though its small in paving the path for solidarity, simply not asking for full price and being mindful of the overall situation for Black folk—that majority of us are working class—can help in building stronger ties within the Black community.
Unfortunately, the current trend for most Black businesses, and its inevitable, is adopting these practices of internalizing capitalist behaviors, putting the survival of their business over the survival of the community. Not only does internalizing these same capitalist behaviors harm the overall community but it leaves most Black folk to wonder where they can find trust and solidarity that doesn’t involve money, and wonder if there is such a thing. Solidarity is a tough topic to fully flesh out because one becomes aware of the many actors and systems that actively stump solidarity, which must be discussed as well, to gain a full picture of the situation we are currently in and so that we discover proactive ways to overthrow it.
Now that we have discussed some stumbling blocks that hurt solidarity among classes in Black communities, we must also discuss what is hurting solidarity among Black folk and white folk. Over the last few years, the conversation surrounding ‘white privilege’ has broadened the overall race discussion in the U.S. While there are some positives to what has come about from these various discussions, one thing that seems to be missing is the subject of the working-class white folk.
For years, working class white folks have been told that they are not on the same level as working class Black folks, and that they are superior, and their vote carries more weight. Politicians and media have been very explicit in this, and it has worked to a certain extent with the Tea Party Movement during the Obama Administration and even going back hundreds of years earlier to the Nativists—the people that thought they were in “America first”—in the mid-1800s who ran racist campaigns against the large population of Germans and Irish that were migrating to the U.S. and blamed them for taking away their jobs and land that they felt entitled to.
Another very clear example of poor white folks feeling like Black folk are their enemy is with the late 1970’s Boston busing riots that occurred in South Boston and Charlestown. Black folk in Boston saw that their children were still being taught very outdated, racist material. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, there was a call from the Boston NAACP to update the schools with predominantly Black children with more resources and relevant text books. A Boston Judge thought it would be best to not update those schools but bus the Black children into predominantly white schools, and vice versa. Even though this was still lacking in effort to update these schools with better books, the busing initiative revealed the covert racism of the Northeast—and this is important because many liberals like to pretend that there is only racism in the South. Buses with Black children coming to South Boston High, were egged and vandalized, and white South Boston residents yelled slurs at the Black students as they came to school.
One of the Infamous South Boston/Charlestown Busing riots. Many residents were working class whites and felt that having integration of Black and white children in the schools was beneath them. It is important to reflect on how politicians used this rhetoric to manipulate white working class folks to vote for them.
These are just a few examples of how poor white folk have been fed the lie that they are inherently better than other nationalities. However, the white privilege argument fails to address poor white folk and why they are still poor. The white privilege argument bunches together elite, middle class, and working-class white folk, leaving their differences muddled. In reality, the overall basis of the argument is only reflective of elite white folks being able to prosper off their inheritances and policies that suit them better.
According to a recent study, the majority of white people are living in the suburbs and are poor. Black and white working-class folks have very similar interests to come together and break from the attitudes and behaviors that keep them tied down under this white supremacist capitalist power structure.
Unfortunately, the current situation, especially with the Democrats ‘blue wave’ initiative, many working-class folks—white, Black and Latino—feel that their only option is to vote for a representative that somewhat voices their political interest. In this country that claims to be the most democratic, you would think that we would have other mediums and effective ways for U.S. citizens to voice their politics and have change.
That’s not the case and there is a reason why things are the way they are. The decline of radical movements—like the Black liberation struggle—in the 70s led to the rise of Black electoral politics. Many activists during the time feared being locked down by some government funded program like COINTELPRO—the infamous FBI initiative that worked to internally destroy social justice and revolutionary groups such as the Black Panthers, during the 60s and 70s. Also, the rise of the Black middle class, with a high percentage of Black citizens being government employed, was part of the political shift for Black folk after the early 70s. More and more Black folks started viewing protesting as ‘immature’ and not a ‘respectful’ way to bring about change. Almost every political group that has once been radical during the Anti-War movement of the late 60s, began to liquidate the work they had done in exchange for votes.
Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party.
This political shift, along with the rapidly growing ‘buy Black’ movement in the late 60s and 70s, had sparked many Black folk to want to go to in the direction of toeing the middle-class, petty-bourgeois line. Huey P. Newton criticized these trends during an interview with Ebony magazine in 1969:
“A part of the Black bourgeoisie seems to be committed to developing, or attempting to develop, a form of capitalism within the Black community, or the Black colony as we call it. As far as the masses are concerned it would merely be trading one master for another. A small group of Blacks with control our destiny if this development came to pass.
“Such a notion is reminiscent of our earlier history when we had Blacks slave masters. A small percentage of the blacks owned slaves; they were our first Black bourgeoisie. But we have today are their spiritual descendants. And just as the earlier Black slaveholders fail to alleviate the suffering of their slaves, so today the Black capitalists (those few in existence) do nothing to alleviate the suffering of their oppressed Black brothers.
“But in a greater sense, black capitalism is a hoax. Black capitalism is represented as a great step toward Black liberation. It isn’t. It is a giant stride away from liberation. No Black capitalists can function unless the plays the white man’s game. Worse still, while the Black capitalist wants to think he functions on his own terms, he doesn’t. He is always subject to the whims of the white capitalist. The rules of Black capitalism, and the limits of Black capitalism are set by the white power structure.”
Newton is correct in saying that this movement would essentially be “trading one master for another” as this movement gives up on Black liberation and instead pushes for having more Black CEOs, developers, capitalists, etc. The color of our skin doesn’t eradicate the harmful and oppressive reality of capitalism, and that’s what Newton was trying to convey. Black capitalism will only take us further away from liberation as Black folk ditch the blueprints for activism for business plans, and seek to exploit our own people in a more direct manner.
Of course, Newton’s argument against Black capitalism is a criticism of the Black elite and middle class of his time. Unfortunately, Newton would later shift politically to similar politics, as he and Bobby Seale shifted the BPP towards voting initiatives by 1972.
In 1973 Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland on a ticket with BPP member and FBI informant, Elaine Brown.
In an interview Ebony Magazine in 1972 (only 3 years after Newton’s interview) Seale argued that the party had to shift to an electoral strategy because their membership had suffered 50+ casualties from police violence, with hundreds injured. Seale began his campaign for Oakland Mayor, and saw that this would be a way to sustain membership from their middle-class members, and improve their image, in mind of, again, the middle class. The only people they left out was the Black working class that had been the political basis of the organization. Instead of developing a strategy to avoid arrests and police killings, they “followed the money” and changed the purpose of the BPP’s original aims. This amounted to a betrayal of the Black working class.
It is hugely disappointing to see a once revolutionary group like the BPP suddenly liquidate the struggle and hard work they had done. They had really put themselves out there to finally address Black people’s liberation from the oppressors we had been under for 400+ years. Their programs like Patrolling the Police, the Free Breakfast program, and the Free Health Clinics, inspired many. It was invigorating to experience for most working-class Black folks during the time, and after this short span of history nothing has been quite the same regarding Black libera-tion. The trend now is to get out to vote and hope for someone who is Black. Having more Black politicians might sound rather different from the status quo, and it would be nice to have a Black politician get voted in and lift all the barriers that have kept us going forward as a people. But given this capitalist and patriarchal system, most Black politicians inevitably toe the same line as their white counter parts and are often pushed to be more racist, patriarchal and austere in their policies and actions.
For example, Obama’s presidency was a time of pushing U.S. chauvinism, and ignoring the issues that Black folk faced. Often, he would make comments about how “all American people get the same rights and privileges” or something along this line. It’s not bad for a politician to want to address all needs. However, when voting in 2008, most Black folks viewed Obama as somewhat the answer, but Obama didn’t deliver. Instead he perpetuated more Black stereotypes, especially surrounding the family.
Obama perpetuated many racist stereotypes about Black folks.
For example, he claimed that absent Black fathers were to blame for issues in Black families, black families and even referred to the racist stereotype of “Cousin Pookie” who has a gambling problem. The reality is that this idea of absent Black fathers is a racist myth. A 2014 report showed that Black fathers are on average actually MORE involved in their children’s lives than white fathers! Obama wasn’t Black folks ultimate answer, and it would have been more considerate of him to represent his people in a more positive light. Instead, given the system we live in, Obama and many other Black politicians feel the can’t acknowledge the reality that Black people are disenfranchised largely by the state—which they are a part of—and instead blame Black folk for a mess that was created by this white supremacist capitalist power structure.
The overall trend of Black politicians is to not address Black folk-specific issues, and to never acknowledge that this system we live in stifles almost every effort towards liberation and only locks folks down. Instead, we see many buy into the concept of “culture of poverty,” which is the racist idea that Black folks are by nature “financially irresponsible” and to blame for their socio-economic situation and that they must not blame the government and capitalism for forcing Black people into poverty. This idea isn’t new and has been one of the key distractions in the way of taking actual steps to Black liberation.
What I mean by saying distractions, is Black folks thinking that if they just be a respectable citizen, who has a high credit score, votes, and makes sure to be polite and politically correct, than they can say “I’m fine and doing what I’m supposed to do.” All of these supposedly “respectable” things, serve to distract and defer any discussion on the topic of Black liberation. Being politically correct and polite will not address why police brutality is one of the key killers of Black folks, nor will it address the actual historical reasons for Black poverty in this country.
In the wake of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements overt racism became politically unviable for most politicians. Nixon’s administration helped to develop a new coded language to spread racist ideology. To this day politicians continue to use similar terms, like “culture of poverty.”
Not only does the argument behind the “culture of poverty” come as an obstacle to liberation, but it lessens the responsibility of the government we live in to address the countless atrocities and injustices it has done to Black folks. There is no amount of improving your credit score, and schooling that will address the trauma and systemic racism that the state has placed on to marginalized people of this country. On July 4th weekend in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston, there was one shooting that managed to garner a rather dry and unconcerned response from Marty Walsh, the Mayor of Boston. Walsh basically said that the shooters needed to not blame the police for the shooting but rather “man up” and take responsibility and be cooperative with the investigators and detectives surrounding the case.
First of all, not only is this rhetoric bred from “the culture of poverty” but also, it is encouraging a predominantly Black population in Mattapan to be more comfortable with the police instead of making this an opening to have the community handle this situation. Cities like Boston basically administrate the inequalities between rich and poor, and in the end are in favor of only helping the rich. The state, according to Engels, isn’t meant to resolve the contradictions that come about in class struggle but is just there to perform managerial and bureaucratic tasks, to keep the poor in chains, and make sure the rich continue to profit. Because of this, the proletariat (aka the working people) must be the backbone behind the addressing these needs and resolving the contradictions of our society.
I bring this incident up because the city of Boston did not take effective steps to address the capitalist and racist societal reasons as to why these folks resorted to gun violence but instead put the blame on them. But this is how it is supposed to be with in a capitalist society, to blame all issues on the individual poor people’s choices. In a socialist system, the government would have to really look within itself as to why they are not meeting the needs of all its citizens. But until we as a people finally get the gears working to end the complicity and deferral of responsibility, we will only be taken for a longer ride by these systems and governments.
A frequent theme in the Panther’s art work was there solidarity with the revolutionary struggles of all oppressed peoples of the world.
The topic of Black liberation has been distorted, deferred, and lost for many decades after the 60s. This isn’t an accident, because Black liberation is a threat to the dominant power structure and value system of our society. It isn’t just a thought experiment, the people’s capacities are boundless and can really spark a prairie fire of revolutionary struggle. In order to get there, we must chart our way through these capitalist hindrances and push forward on an unbeaten path. The stumbling blocks come in the form of bureaucracy, politicians, voting, adhering to post-modernist views of liberation/revolution that only enrich the individual but not the masses. We fail each other when we point fingers and place tremendous blame on each other, instead of on the governments and ruling class who have told us to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.
This is the time to start opening our eyes and being critical of the systems that we are in. I know that when the people are pushed, we push back harder. We must be the definers of our struggle and liberate ourselves, these systems won’t do it for us. What has prevent us working people from approaching our struggle as a united group are systems and institutions in place that have told us that to get ahead we must see each other as the enemy.