Comment: ‘Be a force which capitalism must reckon with’

Thinking about the oppression and subsequent destruction of black lives is like watching the world being sucked into the sun. All-encompassing. Getting out of bed seems pointless, and as masses around the world wake up out of a not-seeing-racism slumber, I can’t help but feel they don’t experience the same agony. That, for a large portion of people, this is just a chapter of their lives. Once this chapter is over, they can return to feeling exempt from the struggles of racism, which gnaw at them in a way which is uncomfortable.

A surge in online support for the Black Lives Matter movement has sprung up, following the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Belly Mujinga and others. We must not forget those who are being shot at for exercising their right to protest against these murders, and black transgender people who get significantly less media coverage, like Tony McDade or Nina Pop. I admit I couldn’t remember their names in writing this, which is telling – and the countless whose names have been obscured in the constant roll call of the dead. Murdering, harassing and abusing black people is not a new phenomenon, after all. It is the foundation of western society.

I don’t know whether this support encourages me, or makes me feel more hopeless. Some forms of online activism, such as donating, sharing resources and spreading awareness, are instrumental in instigating action, others are ineffective. A list of people’s names on an Instagram story, asking them to tag a further ten people who think black lives matter to see who will “keep it up”, is not an expression of solidarity. It is an attempt to one up others. Another online challenge, but this time to determine who has and who hasn’t got blood on their hands. Pressure to show up becomes the incentive, rather than careful self-reflection and consideration of the white supremacist society we are actively a part of. I would much rather see posts promoting black music, film, books, or talking about the irreversible implications of colonialism on every aspect of our lives, down to the words I type on this page. A black square on a Tuesday is not comforting. Did people really take this opportunity to research the Black Lives Matter movement, to stop consuming white media and consider their privilege? Or was this just an opportunity to exhibit that they aren’t racist, while ignorantly tagging #blacklivesmatter, burying helpful resources and not doing any work to move towards the liberation of black people? If anything, it seems like this particular trend acts as a break from hearing the voices of the outraged. A way to lose momentum.

I firmly believe that we need to decolonise our capitalist way of thinking to move towards a state of equity. This will take centuries of work and extends far beyond our individual existences. Making an impact on one’s own is inherently a part of the capitalist mindset. In order to climb up the rungs of the social, economic or political ladder in a capitalist world, we must knock off other people. This philosophy is drilled into us from birth. A small minority have access to opportunities, investing themselves completely in their belief in a meritocratic system – those who work hard get to the top, the rest left to sink into a mire of criminal activity and idleness.

In reality, whether they perceive the effect of this, their class, gender, race, sexual orientation and other factors all play into their success. It works the other way around, too. When black people, or those from any marginalised group, manage to gain wealth and a higher status, not only do they become another trophy on the white capitalist’s mantelpiece, whispering ‘Hey, we are inclusive. You can do it too,’ a representative for all the “good”, or in other words silenced, minorities, they also become an important part of reinforcing the capitalist society, keeping people imprisoned in positions of inferiority. Individualistic ethics buy into their enterprise too.

The anti-racist fight can seem impossible to face. It will outlive us. It is an intersectional struggle and considering the context of the world we live in, interweaving the errors of the past, the struggles of the present and the production of the future, is a complex and emotionally draining process. It means we have to confront our own privilege, whether that is white, cisgendered, educated, straight, upper class, male, and fight for those who do not have these same privileges. Most importantly, we must continue to make a difference. Let our voices be heard. Make mistakes, reflect on them, hold ourselves accountable and keep striving to do better. Fight, be political, be a force which capitalism must reckon with. As Audre Lorde once said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, so while we are stuck in a state of slavery – a capitalist, disciplinarian incarnation which still rips the right to exist out of black hands – we cannot hope to achieve equal rights.

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Molly-Rose Medhurst