On James Cone and “Racial Reconciliation”

In hearing about the passing of the good Dr James Cone, founder of Black Liberation Theology and an all-around important figure in latter 20th/early 21st Century Christianity, I ran across this older article from The Gospel Coalition (TGC), that bastion of White Conservative Evangelicalism. I in fact have several Black and POC friends and family adjacent to John Piper and TGC (and once was an adherent), largely because Piper puts out an aura of intellectualism that is attractive to young urban Christians who do not see much intellectual engagement in other church life, and because Piper and TGC also at least tend to talk about racial justice.

But whereas Cone talked about God siding with and identifying with the oppressed (ie, Black people) and thus allying against the very White Christianity that supports oppression (ie, White Supremacy, anti-blackness, reactionary politics), TGC and other White Evangelicals (including those who align with the White Theological/Political project) call for racial reconciliation. The author quotes from Black theologian J. Deotis Roberts:

Christians are called to be agents of reconciliation. We have been able to love and forgive . . . The assertion that all are ‘one in Christ Jesus’ must henceforth mean that all slave-master, servant-boss, inferior-superior frames of reference between blacks and whites have been abolished.

But the meaning in a spiritualized sense does not mean in an earthly sense, so to say. To declare that we are free is merely to say it; and while imagination and declaration are important steps in the realization,  they are not sufficient. To suggest that they are is to not just to say that a dream is reality, but to keep the dream from being worked out and actualized.

Racism is a device and creation of Whiteness, of which White people have primarily benefited–and that works itself out in class and sexual/gender approaches as well. The conditions of Blackness and Whiteness were created by Whites and those identified as White have been the benefactors of this distinction. So the idea that there is something to reconcile between the two without eradicating the White-created racism in all its material and psychological processes is both absurd and obscene.

And while it is the work of White people to eradicate material racism–as they currently control the means of materialism under White Supremacist Imperialist Monopoly–it is not the worth of White people to also devise the conditions upon which this reconciliation should be made right. How can you trust the people who benefit from Whiteness and who believe wholeheartedly in their innocence to purge their benefits, even if and when they mean well?

I do not trust capitalists to give us the means of production. We should not trust White people to eradicate racism on their terms.

That is why it is important that God is on the side of the oppressed. Because it assists in creating a space where it becomes psychologically and socially possible, which leads to material matters. Anything less is an immaterial, and thus hopeless, religion. And what good is religion if it does not offer hope?

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The Education of the Secretary of Education

I was watching that train wreck that was Betsy DeVos on 60 Minutes and it struck me that not only is DeVos not bright but how her lack of curiosity (fitting for a Dept of Education head) is tied to and propelled by both her class status and to her deeply abiding and troubling allegiance to a broken, quasi-religious dogma.
Being born and then marrying into filthy rich status as a white person, she has never had to work a real day in her life and (like her boss) never gets told no. While she’s a philanthropist, she has no need to come in contact with the real world outside of superficial photo ops with black children. She can have her perch and live there comfortably unbothered by the effects of poverty, racism, ableism, or the messy masses.
The other point is her faithfulness to an ideology that can be be broken down into two words: Individual & Choice. DeVos has taken Margaret Thatcher’s catchphrase “There is no society, only individuals” and declared it her life verse, a suitable model to run the entire educational system upon. Doing such allows her to not take seriously nor really consider systemic injustice: whether that be sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, or classism, it doesn’t really matter because we’re all *just* people.
DeVos believes in the neoliberal maxim that the free market is the solution for each and every ailment. In this market framing, the consumer is allowed to make choices between various brands, types, sizes, smells, flavors. The more choices a consumer has, the more likely the consumer can make a better choice to fit their individualist and highly-unique branded lifestyle. It follows from this that the more choices one has, the more likely that person will make the right, fully-informed decision. Herein lies the importance of allowing Nazis to have a platform as it gives another choice for the citizen to accept or reject. It goes without saying that there is no actual solution proffered, just variations.
As if a choice between Frosted Flakes with Extra Fibre (TM) or Granola Raisin Bran can truly offer life. Its ridiculousness should be evident to anyone who isn’t a fanatic, but Free Marketism is a very profitable and dynamic fundamentalist religion with strong in-roads into Christianity. It’s pretty obvious that Betsy DeVos is a true believer in Christian Free Marketism.
Put these two factors together, this unearthed class status and strict dogma along with a general incuriosity of the world and how it works, and who needs data or findings? Who could possibly question this notion that school choice is always preferable to public schooling? Like when she called Historically Black Colleges & Universities “pioneers of school choice.” It’s so self-evidently obvious that there can be no questioning, right? Who needs to study whether it works, because it has to work. And who needs to study the issues and come prepared to an interview with, say, a nationally-televised news magazine or the entire senate chambers, when you have dogmatic soundbites to repeat. Soundbites such as:
  • “Empowering… to make choices” – Except that choices in and of themselves aren’t empowering. Why not “empowering… with resources, with money, with access, with direct connections to power”? Why is the only option to remove individual children “stuck” in “poor-performing” schools (or “bad schools”) rather than improve the actual school itself through funding and access to resources?
  • “We should be invested and funding in students, not in… institutions.” – What is it you think institutions are? If you honestly believe that institutions don’t serve individuals, please get the fuck out of the public life and certainly out of government.
  • “Government overreach.” – Being a neoliberal adherent and a Trumpist, it should be no surprise that one of DeVos’s principal jobs is to oversee deregulation. Somehow, protecting vulnerable students is seen as an error on the side of Big Government, rather than a truly positive aspect.
  • “All students [should] have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.” – She repeats this mantra three times. And it works, except for black, trans, disabled, and sexual-assault survival students I guess? In a system where only white, straight, cis-male, wealthy students (and investors) count…

On another note, DeVos is often talked about as the most-hated member of Trump’s cabinet. And while she is bad (and I wouldn’t want to rule out misogyny as a factor in the degree of criticism against her), I have to wonder why this same light isn’t directed at the KKKeebler Klansman, Jeff Sessions, or the Captain Planet Villain in charge of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. Why her? And I think a large part is because she is directly opposing a largely mobilized sector of public employees and that she appears in public spaces much more frequently than her counterparts, so there are more opportunities for direct confrontation. But I don’t think that we should kid ourselves that DeVos isn’t a more intensely evil (if not less equipped) form of an enemy to public schools and the children and adults they serve than Chicago’s own Arne Duncan, her predecessor under Obama.

March for Whose Lives?

I think it’s good to be proud of these Parkland student activists; not only are they young people organizing and inspiring hundreds of thousands of fellow young people and adults (largely parents and teachers), they are also standing up to the death industries and their asshole lackeys who would dare threaten children. However, despite their alleged wokeness, their Manifesto makes it clear that their solutions to gun violence are those modeled by White, Middle Class generations before them. And this is troubling because their solutions are more of the same retrograde ones that honestly exacerbate the violence in certain communities and among certain marginalized people groups.

In this White, Middle Class vision, it is perfectly fine to argue for imperialist violence, such as when they say: “Civilians shouldn’t have access to the same weapons that soldiers do… their availability puts us into the kind of danger faced by men and women trapped in war zones”; and, “With the exception of those who are serving the United States in the military, the age to obtain any firearm must be raised to 21.” This Veterans for Gun Control perspective (which they also openly support) allows that these weapons are perfectly fine, only when they’re used to hunt down black and brown people in the Global South. Or, in the case of the police, in urban areas (and wherever else black and brown people are found).

There is also the factor of blaming mental health issues (and bullied victimization) for these mass murders: “Many of those who commit mass shootings suffer from (PTSD, depression, and other debilitating illnesses).” While this statement is verifiably false, that fact hasn’t aided in this ableist, stigmatizing, and harmful narrative. The manifesto also opens the doors for police to perform surveillance on people with mental health issues. To wit: “Change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement.” This only assists a police force that targets rather than assists people with disabilities and mental health issues. (Helpful discussion here.) Doing such puts already-marginalized people in harm’s way and keeps other people (specifically black and brown people) who need that service from seeking it.

Finally, these students are asking for even more police presence in and near the schools. “We believe that schools should be given sufficient funds for school security and resource officers to protect and secure the entire campus.” This does nothing to protect black and brown students nor those with disabilities but instead strengthens the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

As we talked about earlier this month, these harmful would-be solutions come about, at least partly, from an inadequate (but useful-to-capitalism) diagnosis of the problem, which itself stems from a feeling that this violent society is functioning. The truth is, it functions for some but at the expense of others.

However, I have hope for these students. It’s not as if they don’t have useful models in front of them, delivered by people who’ve experienced life from a different perspective, which these same students say they want to honor. The Movement for Black Lives and tons of aligned black-youth-led organizations (such as this list of demands by a group of Chicago high school and elementary school students) as well as anti-war movements have been laying down alternative, holistic responses for years. To reduce access to guns, it is necessary to reduce the amount of guns manufactured and distributed; thus, we need to look at who the largest buyers and marketers/dealers of these weapons are. The answer, in case you need a refresher, is the US military, CIA, FBI, and district and state police, the very ones that the Parkland and liberal gun control agencies believe should be armed to the hilt.

Here’s to hoping these young people will take notes from the right people as they have the ears of the nation right now.

laws, guns, & money, Pt. 2: The causes are coming from within the house

A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at the proposed solutions for mass random killings[1] in the States and how the would-be solutions can actually lead to worse conditions for the marginalized. What we found is that it would be a better use of time and energy to look at systemic causes and then try to seek solutions from there. Looking at such may even save us from other problems.

For the United States, the root of our mass shootings may be traced to the lack of accounting for the fundamental exploitation of violence which continues in an intractable pull towards violence, death, and destruction as the key component of our way of life. Like George W Bush, we may talk about our way of life being freedom—which *THEY* hate us for. But that is only true in a strictly consumerist perspective, which depends on spendable and gathered capital of both the society and of the individual. In America, unlike the East Germany of the 1980’s, we are free to buy Jordache Jeans, but only if we have enough money. We can buy our health, but only if we have enough money. We can buy elections, but only if we have enough money. We can buy enough tasty food, but only if we have money.

In a country founded on guaranteeing negative rights[2], primarily shoring up the livelihood of slavers and land-usurpers, we cannot expect much more than what we have now: A few are made rich on the backs of the poor, the workers, the enslaved, the racialized, the indigenous. And none of this capitalist concentration of wealth and inequality is sustainable without extensive and sustained violence and containment.

To understand random violence here (and, I’d argue, abroad), we must look to the militarization of our society. It is this militarism that guarantees that those who amass resources and wealth can maintain and keep what they’ve stolen. Dole, United Fruit, Exxon, Boeing, Walmart, Raytheon, Nike, etc, rely on the 800 military bases in over 70 countries under the United States’ direct control in order to extract resources and make a killing (what pun?). Those forces exert pressure on would-be sovereign nations to also keep working conditions at a disposable level, optimal for capitalist extraction. This partnership is strengthened by the Wars on Terror and Drugs as well as through more apparently benevolent strategies such as monetary aid and NGO’s. If the governments were to get out of hand, there’s always the CIA.

The violence that the US exerts throughout the world is necessary to keep peasants and workers from effectively demanding their own economic and workplace freedom. The answer to both civil and personal unrest and unease is breaking bones and breaking wills.

us military shooting

And this violence comes home through various policing strategies. The priorities of the local police and criminal justice system are to protect private property—to protect capital. As such, they are generally in opposition to the needs and often the safety of marginalized and oppressed people, among whom are the Working Class, People of Color, People experiencing homelessness, and those with mental health issues. That there is a large overlap is not incidental. The police and justice system in capitalism resolve the internal conflicts of capitalism through violence and escalation.

Capitalism at its height needs waste. Waste is what the Free Market resides in, how it operates. Its nature is to mine, alter, consume, and discard. The US, with 1/20th of the world’s population, consumes 1/5th of its resources. Yet it has the audacity to throw out a third of its own food[3] and judge other nations for not being able to properly feed their own, even as it embargoes them. This waste expands to the wider economy and to other precious resources, such as fossil fuels, innovation, and labor. The waste is considered beneficial because it illuminates both plenty-as-reward and scarcity-as-punishment, the carrot and stick of the Meritocracy Myth. Labor in this system is deprived of meaning because it is wasteful; it doesn’t build to anything that has any value. The Free Market ideology does not lead to anywhere but capital gain for its own benefit; it does not lead to truth or beauty or value or health but to monetization and only to monetization.

So Capitalism also disposes of people—not just the Working Class who toil to survive with the minimum means and relationships to survive—but even the Petty Bourgeois and the Bourgeoisie themselves as their lives are filled with the meaninglessness, the nihilism, of monetization. All relationships become monetized under Neoliberalism, and the United States is at the height of this contradiction as we citizens spend our days worrying about either not having enough money or worrying about holding onto money. Indeed, as with cash, private property rules everything around me.

Other violent enforcers of American capitalism include Immigration and Border Patrol agents—ICE allows conglomerates to hire immigrant workers at a small price and then run them out when they begin to mobilize—the feds—despite the FBI’s celebrity status among the #Resistance, it continues to upend movements of actual resistance—and of course the CIA—which along with the DOD works to destabilize international resistance to US and capitalist hegemony.

This violence is state-led for the purpose of maintaining a destructive way of life. It is proof that capitalism is destructive externally and internally, for the world, the community, the family, the body, and the soul.

As King suggested before his assassination (yet another touchstone of American capitalist violence), we can’t point fingers at instances of seemingly-random violence done by Americans without considering the extent and depth of the violence of the bourgeois state upon the world and upon our own. White Americans wreak havoc in public spaces of  innocence because that is what they know, what they see, how they experience the body politic of their country and identification. How else to explain our involvement in Vietnam, in naked attempts to overturn the will of the people in state after state  (including our own, where the choices are already breathtakingly narrow), in the militarized police occupation of Black communities during protest, in the extrajudicial choking of Eric Garner and the seventeen shots into Laquan McDonald’s body? It is how vigilantes have dealt with encroaching threats and kept populations in line, from the post-Reformation lynchings to subway “heroes” who shoot teens like they’re Dirty Harry (and are elevated to that status) or have a Death Wish, to George Zimmerman in Florida and Theodore Wafer in the Detroit ‘burbs.

Lastly and most importantly, we cannot ignore the connections between mass random violence and intimate partner abuse. Not only are many of these shooters cisgender men, but they have made it clear that they feel entitled to enact violence onto the women in their lives. What is practiced at home is a practiced enactment of ownership and brutality. This is tried in the private and semi-private, and then carried out in large scale. From intimate and gendered to public and indiscriminate.

The only viable solution for potentially-lethal problems in violent capitalism is escalation; the solution for fear and foreboding nihilism is lethality. We must cut out the heart of the problem.

—–Note: This content first appeared in the Patreon page. Consider subscribing for early and exclusive access.—-

[1] Mass random shootings need to be understood within its many contexts as distinct from yet also familiar to intimate partner violence (and the mass shootings that are extensions of that) and neighborhood violence in underground economies. More on the connections between MRS and IPV later. For more on VIUE, read here.

[2] I have been working on this connection for a while and hope to have something up on it soon.

[3] According to the USDA, this also leads to tremendous pollution in the making and wasting of unused food. To wit: “Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States.”

laws, guns, and money, pt 1

In the light of horrendous massacres, those who have a heart cry out to “do something” to prevent further atrocities. However, a narrow focus on gun control—or worse, mental health—at best only treats symptoms. Homicides are not merely a fact of weapons (which is to say tools) but of will, of psychological possibility, and apparent necessity. As we see in other contexts around the world, semiautomatics are but one efficient way to kill a group of people, but far from the only. So, we need to not just look at the tools of homicide, but the motives as well. Not just the how but the why are important. I’m convinced that in the context of the United States, it’s helpful to look at how state violence is carried out here and abroad on behalf of corporations and that violence becoming internalized. Digging further, the fact that the US leads the world in energy and food consumption (and waste) is not unrelated to the fact that its military dwarfs all other militaries. Combined with its repressive and militarized police and incarceral system and extreme income inequality, this helps explain why we have a more abundant gun and violence culture than other rich countries.[1] We will cover more of the why’s later, but for now I want to highlight how this concentration on the how is problematic, perhaps futile, and often worse.

Much is made in liberal circles of the over-abundance of guns. The United States leads the world in terms of firearm ownership with just slightly more guns than people (101:100 ratio). However, it rates low in terms of the guns to gun-death ratio, with several countries tacking upwards of 70 to 1000 times the number. Clearly, someone is stockpiling these weapons,[2] so the overabundance isn’t the only factor. And while this may sound insipid, perhaps there is something to the conservative argument that taking away guns merely means those who seek to commit mass murders will find other ways to do so. Lethal retaliation against random members of targeted populations (otherwise known as terrorism) takes the form of knives, homemade bombs, vehicles, and, hell, planes. However, reactionaries are always looking for distractions and scapegoats to continue the perpetuation of massive violence. On the other hand, liberalism avoids searching systemic causes. But a nation and world in such dire straits as ours must radically cut to the roots of the problem, particularly if the proposed solutions may garner more problems than solutions.

And the problems are many. On the one hand is the gun control debate where we question how to regulate the flow of weapons. A waiting period is reasonable and should not be discounted, but most of these mass random killings had been planned for months and the weapons bought well in advance. We must also take a hard look as to how historically and presently such laws have been used to criminalize Black and Brown citizens, much as anti-drug laws have done to racialized people. In fact, gun laws have the double effect of targeting black people for contact with law enforcement (and thus increasing the likelihood of death and prison) and of stripping black people of self-defense (as seen in the Reformation era, Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement). Despite much crowing from self-appointed– if not self-righteous–ministers of non-violence (who tend to be White and have little skin in the game), it was the Deacons of Defense and other armed revolutionary Black Southerners who kept the Civil Rights Movement safe in the hyper-violent Jim Crow South as witnesses such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed testify. Notice that there are two different standards in the application of gun laws and in how it works in relation to encounters with law enforcement: One is for White people and those connected to Whiteness and the other is for Black people and those connected to Blackness. Playing with toys did not save John Crawford or Tamir Rice. Being lawfully compliant and polite did not save Philando Castile. Carrying a phone and not a gun did not save Cedrick Chatman nor countless other Black youth and adults framed for their own murder by police who are supported by liberal fear of Black power.

If the liberal answer is to look at the tools as flawed, the conservative answer is to look at the people as such–not to seek solutions but to further alienate and oppress specific populations. Targeted here are racial and religious minorities and people facing mental health issues. While liberals tend to indirectly indict these same groups,[3] reactionaries like to go for the jugular. This can lead to travel bans, more militarized policing and crackdowns on protest, and of course ableist rhetoric that blames violence on mental health and stigmatizes mental illness. Not only are these not solutions and detrimental to the targeted populations, but they involve implementing and releasing more violence. Stigmatizing mental health, for instance, leads those facing mhi to resist assistance and therapy. This undergrounding of mental health leads to victimization for the person with the disability. By now we should all be aware that those who suffer mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Further, going underground and not seeking help or voicing needs leads to a higher likelihood of being preyed upon.

Not that mental health access isn’t necessary, but the US doesn’t have more people facing mental health issues than anywhere else. We need to disentangle talking about mental health and mass shootings or we risk combining the two and trapping many of us into a villainized victimization.

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[1] It’s important to note that the US does not lead the world in gun-related deaths, and even less so with firearm-related homicides. In fact, it is around 15th place depending on how metrics are measured. But it does lead in so-called developed countries. What this reinforces is that poverty kills. And as the US leads rich nations in wealth inequality and gun ownership, so it leads rich nations in homicides and suicides.

[2] Apparently, half of the weapons are owned by 3% of the population, with an average of 17 guns per owner at that top tier. Thanks to ___ for pointing this out.

[3] By supporting anti-crime bills and deportations as well as malignant rhetoric about “Muslim extremists/terrorists” and stigmatizing mental health problems

The Axioms of Evil

It’s been sixteen years since George W Bush and David Frum introduced to the neocon play action Axis of Evil speech¹ pointing out the three major powers that the US wanted to overthrow and colonize liberate from any semblance of self-rule: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (DPRK). These were three nations that supposedly sponsored terrorism and were thus linked to the 9/11 attacks on US soil. An attack by a network not affiliated by any of these countries but instead by one of the US’s closest allies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since Iraq has already been dealt with, to put it crudely, and the Gears of War are turning on the other two due to either some protest or escalating nuclear tensions, it’s time for a some disjointed thoughts:

  • First, let’s dispel the false notion that there were millions of protesters in Iran calling for the overthrow of the government (and certainly that they want the United States to overthrow it). Several pictures of Brown-People-Protesting did go viral, but one of those was in Buenos Aires and another in Bahrain–two large-scale protests that Americans did not care about.
  • One of the main driving factors for the Iranian protests, as they are, has been economic. People protesting in the hundreds to thousands for a better standard of living, and against cuts to the social safety net, such as reductions in cash subsidies to the bottom 90%. How familiar does that sound to Americans? But in this case, we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump and reactionary American elites are on the side of the protesters?
  • No one dared to raise the possibility of regime change during the millions-led Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, a clear (but respectable) sign of dissatisfaction with the current regime by a significant percentage of the population.
  • No one dared suggest toppling DC after the #J20 protesters on the day of the Inauguration for protesting a little more loudly. In fact, the police kettled and arrested 200 such under false pretenses and have pressured most to either take a plea bargain (granting them a criminal record for either protesting or being adjacent to a protest) or face up to 80 years in prison. Some are still in jail or awaiting trial.
  • What country raised the possibility of invading the US during any of the Fight for $15 minimum wage demonstrations? These were longer, and involved tens of thousands of people, many literally leaving their work place during hours. And while several municipalities raised their minimum wages (after decades of stagnation), several states made it impossible for cities and counties to increase the minimum wage–despite the fact that cost-of-living substantially rise in urban areas and thus states should not be in charge of determining what is and is not livable. Missouri Republicans, for instance, forced St Louis to reduce the minimum wage by 20%! This was clearly a repressive state action. But again, silence.
  • Speaking of St Louis, where were the regime change callers when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off? Thousands of oppressed people took to the streets demanding justice in the criminal justice system and its attendant policing. While the justice system started making minor accommodations to their demands, the current administration has worked overtime to turn back those concessions and several states have introduced bills that make it perfectly legal to run over protesters. Clearly, Black Lives do not matter to this regime.
  • But, if anything, the US is ignoring long-standing protests in South Korea against the US’s military presence and impending war.
  • Meanwhile, the US has given millions of dollars to support the right-wing government in Honduras, which killed dozens of protesters recently. When the Washington-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández was accused of rigging the elections in his favor, thousands took to the street. Dozens were killed, most directly by the narco military police units. In one scene, a group of unarmed protesters were shot down by the police who would tell the world that their victims were shooting back at them and thus they had no choice.

Relatives of the dead say they fear that there will be no justice over post-election violence: some say they have been threatened by troops; others point out that human rights prosecutions involving security forces are overseen by the same task force that helps coordinate [military police] operations.

  • North Korea at least is acting in a defensive position. Who does the US have to prove itself to? Who is threatening to destroy our entire country? What nation in the world has ever wiped off one-fifth of our people? (Not counting the original inhabitants because then the answer would be the United States.)
  • Who knew our president would use classic Orientalist tropes about Asian male sexuality IN A FUCKING TWEET?
  • South Korea (the Republic of Korea) began negotiating talks with the DPRK without US input. This angered Trump and Nikki Haley because it’s important for US interests (including Abe’s Japan) to make it look like Kim and the DPRK are unhinged and would never compromise; as if North Korea were the one making threats, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • When the negotiations between North and South Korea to start talks began leaking, all of the US media focused on how divisive this would be, how it will end badly (for who?), and how Trump is taking credit (despite the fact that Nikki Haley just yesterday distanced the administration from the talks).
  • The United States’ two biggest allies in the Middle East do not allow for protests. It is illegal in Israel to display the Palestinian flag, and a group of more than five protesters is also violently prohibited. And we all know about the extensive human rights abuses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Israel prevents movement in Gaza and shoots Palestinians trying to get away on boats. But you never hear of politicians condemning Israel or the KSA the way they do the DPRK and Iran.
  • If, however (and hear me out, please), Iran had a nuclear arsenal, the Trump administration would be much more likely to heed caution as they’re doing irt: North Korea.
  • There are some times when I truly wish that Trump actually was a stooge for Putin and Russia.
  • Meanwhile, in a country we’ve already conquered (my ancestral homeland): So far, at least one thousand Puerto Ricans have died and millions more at still at high-risk, without regular clean water or electricity as a result of Hurricane Maria and the US’s abysmal response. Clearly, we do not have a good track record of supporting our colonies², so why should we have a right to talk to or about Iran or Korea?

¹ In what the Washington Post dubbed the Fourth Best State of the Union Address ever.

² Yes, that is the point of colonialism, after all….

Suppression, Revolution, and Commodification: On Baby Boomers and Millennials

The ongoing flame wars between Greedy Baby Boomers and Entitled Millennials is not only  tiring (its roots lay some 25 years ago when mainstream media dubbed us Gen X’ers “Slackers”), it lacks deeper analysis in need of some old fashioned dialectical materialism. Because the problem isn’t so much the people, but the conditions.

Let’s start with the coming-of-age of Boomers. The Post-War years brought along unheralded prosperity due in no small part to added productivity in the global economy (what with the US sitting out most of this war between Empires only to clean out on top at the tail end) and a large swath of the population missing. Semi-skilled labor, due to the work or threats of unionization, finally delivered living wages and a level of comfort unknown for the Working Class. Or, shall we say, the White Working Class, as Black and other non-White populations were denied entrance to many of the mechanizations of prosperity–such as drastically increased wages, accessible higher education, and the expansion of home ownership in the sprawling suburbs. The fact that the suburbs were sprawling and that home ownership there was so available was the work of a federal government once again expanding the terms of settler-colonialism through the mechanisms of the nation-state including reduced fuel prices and expanded interstate projects coupled with a new form of Homestead Act.

The benefits of the White Working Class mediated a distinction brought about by commerce and the bourgeois government that would lead to the creation of a large and placated White Middle Class to buffer against dispirited Working Class people. Higher social mobility through the GI Bill coupled with geometric mobility, allowing a large White Flight from the urban areas, where the new White Middle Class and industries were able to transport wealth gotten through wage theft of the working class Black and White people of the city. The same remnant working class people were stagnated in urban ghettos such as, in Chicago, Uptown or Bronzeville. Meanwhile, higher-paid White WC and Black Entrepreneurs moved to their own racially and class-segregated neighborhoods to act as yet another buffer. Because White Supremacist Capitalism thrives on buffers and interruptions. And so it’s important to note that any critique of the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is woefully inadequate, as it misses many of those purposefully left behind in this new ecology.

This social and capital mobilization was imprinted for the benefit of welcoming a White Baby Boom for the manufacturing and consumption of consumptive goods, the bread and butter of American capitalism. The rising Middle Class Baby Boomers were raised in this atmosphere, but globally and locally something else was happening: revolution was in the air. While many people give White hippies (the children of the rising White Middle Class in the US) credit for the burgeoning revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s, the reductionism is particularly nationalistic and racist. Revolutions against imperialist capitalism were happening throughout the under-developed world and were finally coming to a head in the 1950’s. Whether China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, or India and the entirety of the European colonized in Africa, people of color throughout the world were unshackling themselves from Western hegemony, often at great cost. The Washington, Belgian, and corporate influence could be felt at the peak of the bullet and bomb through Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Black America in the US South and Urban North. Other formerly-colonized began to rise up and stand their ground, including the Chicano and American Indian Movements while women (famously-but-not-solely White women in the US) were simultaneously struggling for social, economic, and sexual liberation (as all three are interconnected).

It was in this frame of the liberatory organizing of the Black and Brown proletariat that the occasional White ally would arise and, due to the power of Whiteness, would somehow amass a substantial amount of the credit. While not in the same vein as the FBI taking credit for dismantling lynching White Supremacist vigilante groups during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s clear that dues owed White allies such as the Weathermen during this time may be overrepresented.

Yet, the rise of radicalism in White Middle Class Baby Boomers was an effect of the times that were a-changing. Being White and affluent, they had more direct influence and it was harder to ignore these would-be class-and-race-traitors (in the most complimentary of tones). The way they would be silenced would be different from the silencing of Black and Brown radicals throughout the world and domestically. Key leaders of the Black civil rights, anti-war, and liberation movements were assassinated and the movements as a whole underwent severe repression on all fronts that the full lethal force of the federal and local police (and aiding vigilantes) and judicial system as well as economic depression, psychological and social warfare. It’s increasingly easy to argue that they had a hand in flooding our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and guns (while maintaining .the strict prison industry that severely punishes Black and Brown communities for obtaining or holding such).

The White Middle Class retreated back to the life they were raised to occupy, to take over the mechanizations of industry. To further expand the unsustainable economic growth they sought, they helped to usher in Ronald Reagan’s Neoliberal state (aka, the Final Stage of Capitalism).  They commodified public works and turned stable and previously accessible goods into get-rich schemes. They dismantled the welfare state, the collective organizing, and the infrastructure which had enabled their transition into the comfortable Middle Class. They also helped to dismantle Affirmative Action which had temporarily expanded a Black Middle Class.

So this exponential growth necessitated the dismantling of the means to that growth. Once the capitalist class established enough buffers and re-stole all the wealth they could (in a time of tremendous economic growth, the top ten percent came away with 99% of it, leaving the working and middle class with one percent) while exponentially increasing the cost of living.  The very stolen wealth has become its own buffer. And the Petty Bourgeois White Baby Boomers, who have already entered into a comfortable retirement, seem blissfully unaware that the next generation faces the void of the disparity between the standards of living of the Baby Boomer generation and the cost of living in the new millennium.

You see, a dialectical materialism will tell you that it’s not Boomers or Millennials you should be angry with, it’s Capitalism and Whiteness.

Thanksgiving, the National Myth-Making

Thanksgiving is a collective remembering of a national myth. National myths are ahistorical stories that we retell over and over to and about ourselves as a people.

While they may be ahistorical, as though they didn’t happen in a specific time and date and place, national myths are important. They help preserve culture, connections, and kinship and help guard against those things that tear us apart. They can be a bulwark against oppression and suppression, ways of remembering the best of ourselves when the world and empire strike against us. The Torah, for example, is a national myth about Hebrew and Jewish people and their identity that often sets them apart and unique, even as many of the stories are adapted from local myths and legends and then reframed for a different context, a people who imagined themselves differently. Indigenous people throughout the world celebrate and remember national myths. The Iroquois had myths that the Puritans considered dangerous in their encounters. Schools were established to “Kill the Indian and save the Man” by driving out Hopi, Sioux, and other indigenous languages, customs and myths. So recalling those myths are important resistance to white settler colonialism.

We’re very familiar with the dangerous side of national myths, however, such as Hitler’s regurgitation the National Myth of Germany through Wagner, Nietzsche, and antisemitic and racist tropes. And the National Myth of the United States being founded as a paragon of freedom and liberty is especially pernicious in the face that its Founding Fathers denied women the right to vote and held black people as literal pieces of property.

Image result for charlie brown thanksgiving table

But it is more important what we do with our national myths and whether we are willing to interrogate them, especially if, like in the States, it is one of genocide and chattel slavery disguised as kindness and civilization.

Thanksgiving as a whole has its moments. It is a time to spend with family–whether biological or chosen or a mix of both–and a time to practice gratitude, which can be revolutionary in an atmosphere of consumption. But then it’s followed by a day expressly for the purpose of hyper-consumptive capitalism. It’s no mistake then that the main mythos narrative of Thanksgiving is of settler colonialism.

The narrative of a friendly dinner with the natives is a ritualized hand-off of the land and its bounties from the original occupants to the settlers, who now rightfully belong. How fitting that dinner is situated around a land-occupying sport like American football with one of the teams named the Cowboys–another powerful settler-colonial myth about the rugged Anglo individual who tames the Wild West and vanquishes the savage American Indian. It’s also telling that next week, the Cowboys will be playing the Redsk*ns, a specifically genocidal slur against American Indians.

I would argue it is time to confront, rather than run from, what this national remembrance means. To interrogate it as Jewish people do the Torah. To recognize the role it has played in our society and how we use it to erase and murder Native peoples here. And then to set about to make corrections.

School Priorities: Protect the Assets

What I will say following is out of the deepest love and respect for the students, teachers, parents, and administration and staff of the Chicago Public Schools, as a former or current participant in all but the latter two categories.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to invest in CPS next year by an additional $80 million from City Hall. Did I say “invest”? I’m sorry, I mean, rather than restructuring the contract with the Chicago Police Department to remove its presence from within the schools and save the city 80,000,000 dollars a year, he’s going to put that money back into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, diverting it from other needed resources.

His plan has always been to take money earmarked for schools and children and give it to capitalists. He does this through expanding the privatization of schools (which doubles private investments within a seven year period); enforcing standardized tests (enriching the testing and curriculum industry while stunting student-driven pedagogy); expanding the hyper-localization of taxes that is known as TIF zones where half a billion dollars a year that should go to schools and parks is redirected to private investors and developers; and shutting down fifty schools in poor Black and Brown communities by ultimatum before selling off half of the properties apart from the input of the community.

Emanuel brought in a CEO for CPS, Forrest* Claypool, who knows so little about education that he needs a Chief Education Officer simply because his main skill–and the reason he was brought in–is dismantling unions. It’s instructive, in fact, that there is a CEO and similar positions heading the operations at the Chicago Public Schools. It says much about the corporation model that neoliberal school systems seek to emulate and where their heads are at. It’s not in the interest of the children. No, in this model, students are no less than points of profit, items to be consumed. Teachers are merely overpaid workers who must be crushed and brought to heel.

Rahm fired an award-winning and high-performing principal for challenging his agenda. Meanwhile, special education classes and students are left to the wind.

But at least they’ll still have police occupation in their supposed safe-haven. The same police that are woefully untrained in even basic developmental psychology. The same police who ride around wearing Trump MAGA hats.

But that’s what police are for, no? To protect private property. The neoliberalization of public schooling is derived from the commodification of students. Students are assets and police in the schools are making sure the assets don’t step out of line. That’s for the bourgeoisie to do.

 


*Yes, that first name is apt.

 

Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

——-

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[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

Evangelicals: The Sheepdogs of Capitalism [preview]

The following is from a long essay published on my Patreon page. To read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a subscriber. But you’ll get so much more, including books, chapters, poems, and other fun essays you can’t find anywhere else.

The lagger in this study is organized religion, which by necessity of sacredness takes its sweet time to make change. Since religion needs to codify through theological and linguistic practice, its values tend to run behind the elite culture it mediates for. God doesn’t change, except when God does. And God always needs justification, and for that justification to spread, for the text is sacred and God is eternal. However, this lagging provides a function in capitalism, that of the sheep dog. Preachers and religious functionaries help to keep the regular folk in line until they are ready to be absorbed into capitalism’s newer schemes.

In my experience, the organized religion most closely aligned with capitalism is White Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is a pan-Protestant movement that has erased denominational differences (similarly to how whiteness has erased ethnic and class distinctions between Euro-Americans) to focus on a salvation moment that relies on an hyper-individualistic relationship with Jesus. This in tune with the fact that Evangelicalism is rooted among the White suburban mid-management bourgeois class puts it at a unique position to serve the interests of the capitalist class while maintaining forms of power within the state and worker systems.