Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Those Without a Voice

The ongoing debate between All Lives Matter (ALM) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) is currently one of the more aggravating spectacles in the American political arena. It is another clear example of how easy it is to trap reform movements with rhetorical subterfuge, and how quickly they trap themselves with stubbornness.
I want to state clearly that I understand and agree with BLM's position about the use of their particular mantra. There is nothing particularly wrong with their assertion that black citizens ought to have the right to live unmolested by the police, just like white citizens. BLM is also probably correct when they say that ALM is just a reactionary group that doesn't actually believe its own mantra, after all I haven't seen any ALM protests against police violence. I may be wrong, but the only time I see ALM appear is as a counter demonstration to BLM protests.

Where I agree with ALM, and disagree with BLM, is on one very important point. The strategic value of the mantra “All Lives Matter” far outweighs that of “Black Lives Matter,” and instead of co-opting this gift like smart revolutionaries, BLM chose to dig in their heels and expend energy bickering about the mantra. The claim that one mantra has greater strategic value than the other does need to be justified, and the justification can be found in the dusty corridors of our country’s countries history.

The divisions that are currently tearing our country apart have their source in decisions made by the elite of our country in the distant past. In the early days there was one major social schism in the country, between those who were wealthy landowners and those who were not. Indentured servants and slaves, both black and white, lived and worked side by side. There were legal differences between the two, but in practice they were more or less the same. Over time the commonality between poor blacks and whites caused the two communities to grow close to each other. Interracial relationships began to form, leading to marriages, and child-birth. This development didn't go unnoticed by the elite of the era, and they quickly realized that a united wage class could compromise the elite's power. The solution they devised was to simply grant privileges to the poor whites, effectively separating them from poor blacks. The goal was to create a cultural and economic division between blacks and whites, which could be exploited to the benefit of the elite. The psychological impact of having someone lower than oneself in a social hierarchy is profound, because no matter how bad your social condition you would always know there was someone who had a worse lot. Describing blacks as inferior only made the process easier to sell, for their condition became a matter of nature rather than oppression. Poor whites became the defacto warrior class that helped control the slaves.

Even the end of slavery did not help alleviate the subjugation of blacks and, by one measure, made conditions worse. Where previously the black community could point to the institution of slavery as cause for their poverty, it was far more difficult to point to laws and institutions of discrimination. The elite took full advantage of this difficulty and reinforced prejudices that poor whites held against poor blacks.

As we walk from the remote corners of our country's history to the recent past, and then on the present, a clear trend emerges. Each time the black community made gains by hammering away at one layer of institutional injustice, a new more subtle layer was added which made it harder for the black community to achieve full equality. When people speak about institutional racism they are referring, in part, to this pattern, but that is a subject for future exploration.

The strategy of divide and conquer was easy to see, and many scholars did see it. One such scholar, a civil rights leader by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not only saw the division but also understood how it supported the elite's power. He also noticed a failure in the elite's strategy, even though granting privileges to the white wage class created an economic division, it did not create a cultural division. The economic differences were easy to maintain, all the elite had to do was favor whites for education and employment, but ultimately American wage earners watched the same sports, ate the same foods, dressed the same, and structured their families much the same way. That is to say that the differences between the black and white wage class communities were only skin deep.

King worked and his associates started the Poor People's Campaign to bring poor whites and blacks together to fight for economic justice. Senator Robert Francis Kennedy supported the campaign, since he was running for President by wooing wage class Blacks, Hispanics, and Catholics (whites). The campaign kicked off in the spring of 1968 by establishing a 3000 person tent city on the Washington Mall. On 2nd April, 1968 MLK was assassinated, and three months later on 6th June, 1968 RFK was also assassinated. The campaign, demoralized and afraid from having lost its two most powerful leaders, dissolved. I'm not one to advocate conspiracy theories, but it is suspicious that assassination of two prominent public figures occurred within months of launching a campaign to undermine the power base of the elite. 

From 1968 to the present day, the elites have governed unchallenged doing everything in their power to maintain the wedge between the wage class communities. They are secure in their power because the white and black wage class are at each other’s throats, class issues remain largely forgotten. However, during the same time period the elites made two mistakes that have opened the door to their defeat. The first, oddly enough, was hiding the language of racial prejudice behind the language of economic prejudice. Blacks stopped being classified as poor because they were naturally inferior, and began to be classified as poor because they were lazy, irresponsible, or any number of other reasons. The language, once it became detached from racial baggage, stopped being a barrier between poor whites and poor blacks. Classist slurs that can be used with equal effect toward poor whites, who are the elite's power base, and poor blacks are a thin barrier between the two communities. After all, how long will it take two groups to realize their commonality when powerful oligarchs address them with the same derisive words? The second mistake was that the elites began shipping high wage jobs overseas. Off-shoring eroded the economic divide between the two wage class communities, and as the economic advantage of wage class whites disappears so too is their loyalty to the elite.

The new level field should be obvious to anyone who notices that the majority of those shot by the police are poor. That blacks are disproportionately shot comes as no surprise either, since they have historically been trapped in poverty by the writ of the elite, and are the underclass which draws attention away from the elite. The power of the elite comes from the divisions they create in society, and enforcing these divisions violently. Anyone who can find a way to bridge the divisions in the wage class will weaken the elite's power, as MLK realized. BLM was handed a perfect opportunity by ALM to finish the work King started, handed an opportunity to become a voice for the voiceless, an opportunity to bridge the divide by challenging the violence. Instead of taking the opportunity they doubled down on their rhetorical choice, expended precious time and energy defending the choice, and played into the divisions that strengthen the elite. Is it that difficult to hold two signs, one that says ALM and one that says BLM?

No comments:

Post a Comment