Whattaboutism & Chicago

“What About Chicago” is a widely-used bait/distraction from rightwingers and racists whenever the topics of systemic, codified racism and legalized murder of Black people is brought up. It’s also brought up when we talk about gun control, but we’ll get to that issue later. While the Whataboutism is a derailment meant to throw off the stinging critique of racist state and corporate violence, I see the two issues as intricately connected. Those who ask what Black Lives Matter activists and those of us concerned about systemic violence are doing about Chicago interpersonal violence don’t really care, but I’ll answer anyway: We’re tackling systemic, state-sponsored and economic violence as a means of tackling interpersonal violence. For me, that includes mass political education about socialism—and its localized counterpart, reparations—which is a means to achieve justice in my and other communities on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

Socialism is the owning of the means of production of labor by the workers. Capitalism, what we live under now, is the owning of the means of production by the investors and industrialists (aka, the non-workers) and managed by the managerial class, including bosses, politicians, and police. Since White Supremacy was invented to stabilize, further, and enforce capitalism, the system is by nature racist[1] and sexist. Socialism is, thus, a fundamentally democratic economic and political system that leaves more room to antagonize and confront racism and sexism.

Interpersonal violence is often a manifestation of a lack of holistic actualization and purpose[2] and thus seeks purpose through domestic and street violence, through acts of hyper-masculinity, and through escalation of conflicts. It is severely impacted by living with untreated trauma, such as that of experiencing and witnessing violence up-close and not having the tools to deal with it. This helps create a perpetual cycle of internalized violence and the dealing of it necessitates a strategic restructuring of resources, education, and organization of society. To trust the police and jails to carry the heavy load is counterproductive as they are the first to teach the lesson that violence is a solution to conflict. I suggest that this reorganizing is best done through a socialist prism.

Socialism is broad but pliable and must be applied differently in different contexts through time. It would, by necessity, look different in the context of African Americans within Northern cities than it would for those in rural communities, and both would operate distinct than it would for white people in most of the world. Each region would have to both apply it to its location—its social, economic, and political realities and where the oppressed operate there—to the oppressed and marginalized, and connect it to wider, not just national but international struggles.

In the case of these communities in Chicago, the need for both socialism and a distinct version of socialism are necessitated by a context where the people have relied on underground economies due to racist blocking of conventional economics, have and continue to lose wealth and security through the ravages of anti-black racist subjugation and wage theft, and have been under severe police occupation. African American, Latinx and Indigenous communities are all due a hefty amount of reparations for the heavy monetary, physical, and psychological toll that racialized police enforcement, caging, and generational wage-theft have left. And it is the work of those on-the-ground opposed to interpersonal gun violence to point out these injustices as a means of repairing them.

There are other things that we do, of course. In several neighborhoods, mothers occupy heavy corners so that the police and gangs do not. We have regular walks for peace in the hard-hit areas. And we grieve and we plead. We grieve heavily and we plead hard. The care, the concern, the comforting are never reported on mass media, but poor people and people of color come together in ways that the hyper-individualized WASP culture can never comprehend. But we can only do so much alleviating the symptoms when the disease is all-consuming. We need justice, not band aids. And we certainly don’t need to make it worse by further disrupting communities through more and tougher incarcerations and deportations.

One of the biggest ironies is, however, this notion that policing has nothing to do with interpersonal violence, but when the law breaks down or just doesn’t work for you, you go outside of the law to deal with glitches. Sometimes you have the tools to deal with conflict in reasonable ways, but sometimes you don’t. Developmentally speaking, young people are less likely to have those tools, so it is up to society to ingrain them, to teach them, and to nurture and protect them. Restorative justice is a means of dealing with these conflicts maturely and without throwing away lives for foolish mistakes. So, we must work towards having a restorative justice framework throughout the school and community experience to give students tools and to work away from the prison industrial complex that begins for black and brown children at a very young age, often through the school system.

What we need now, what a locational socialism can give us are full employment and a guaranteed income; fully-invested schools and community hubs; the collectivization of private property into public and personal property as the community and individuals within the community need; free and full access and control of medical care; an end to food disparities and hunger; the decriminalization of people of color which includes the abolition of violent policing, the release of prisoners, and a complete restructuring of the justice and immigration system; the end of colonial and settler colonial wars and a complete destruction of the military industrial complex, out of which the seeds can be utilized for rebuilding areas ravaged by the dogs of war; the fruits of our labor; and a labor system that invests in rather than robs from the material, social, economic, bodily and psychological needs of our communities. If these points sound familiar, it’s because the Black Panther Party outlined these 51 years ago in its Ten Point Platform.

May we give it the time and attention it–and we–so radically deserve.

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[1] This is not to say that socialism is an automatic solution to racism, but that it contains tools and has space to institute anti-racist measurements more effectively and fully than capitalism. This post will try to give a brief run-down of some of the ways that socialism intersects with anti-racism, largely through the imagination of anti-racist socialists, leftists, and radicals.

[2] Often those involved in state or privatized violent policing of private property (police, security guards, military, paramilitary, and gang enforcers, for instance) find their purpose in personalized violence and are thus employed by those with private property interests to protect their property first and foremost, at the cost of lives.

Note: This post originally appeared on my Patreon page one month ago. If you support my work through there you can receive tons of exclusive and bonus content, as well as early previews such as this piece and chapters for upcoming books.

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