Black Lives Matter and the Nuclear Family

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).” —BLM website

To discredit Black Lives Matter the right and center point to Marxism and cultural Marxism as signs of Black Lives Matter. While the founders of the movement admirably identify as trained Marxists (and intersectional ones at that), I still contend that European models such as Marxism/communism and fascism do not explain everything about this state of global capitalism and the white supremacy necessary to maintain the order of this system. What the democratic socialism left is having to reckon with at this point in time is how has Black Lives Matter been able to organize the American spirit into collective action when the left generally thought of itself as small before this historic outbreak.

I will continue to contend that the left is too small for us to limit ourselves to an either/or approach. We must embrace all elements of the left project in the most intersectional way possible. That being said Black Lives Matter’s heroic exposure of the state has brought to light some contradictions amidst the electoral gambit of the largely white electoral strategy that in many ways ignored international governance of the black and brown poor through violence and authoritarianism rather than through democracy. This does not mean we should cancel this side of the left that is so essential but rather that we must begin to elevate those primarily black and brown voices who have effectively diagnosed the specifically American predicament.

With Donald Trump undemocratically elected at the helm, he is making clear to many with shut eyes that America is authoritarian and white supremacist. The next step is embracing a strategy that confronts his ruthlessness head on. Trump may try to win the vote this November but if he loses he won’t accept the the results. Does this mean we should ignore the election as he does? Not exactly but it means we must embrace what Cornel West calls an inside-outside strategy that aims to infiltrate American institutions while also recognizing this comes with a brutal reality check that at a certain point capital and the violence behind it always intervenes in purely political projects.

The electoral strategy Trump is playing to is most obvious in his reversal of Obama era anti-discrimination in housing initiatives, his bizarre claim that Joe Biden will destroy suburbs, his takeover of American cities with federal occupying armies and his advertisement of an elderly white woman being attacked by a burglar. All of these point to a recycling of his 2016 effort to demonize multiracial American cities by painting them as dangerous to the white American male as they could steal your job, your property, and your woman—the three defining ownerships of capital. All ownership itself is theft and violence upon the natural world.

How do white American women factor into this equation? Once again we must be careful to avoid easy answers and not reduce an identity group to a single coalition (Cedric Johnson’s insight) or one that is free from oppressive power dynamics (Andrea Dworkin’s work on right wing women being essential reading). Rather we can look broadly at the Trump strategy to appeal to the white nuclear family as a singular unit with singular value systems headed by white men in the name of protecting the women, children and the “way of life” which is just another way of saying protecting property and wealth theft taken from the environment and the poor and multiracial exterior heavily policed by American Empire and systematically defunded from by capital.

What Trump wants to do is paint a picture of lawlessness, violence and chaos in the American city in order to further convince white women that the race gambit protects them and convince white men that the race gambit is an extension of their interest. What is also explicit in Trump’s politics (specifically family separation of Latinx) and in America’s history more generally (from slavery to mass incarceration to war) is that in order to maintain order over poor people of color the man or “head” of the family, the most dangerous to the white man’s authority, must be cut off through his imprisonment, enslavement or colonization. Then in comes the propaganda against black men’s absence from the family and the propaganda against the black woman as a false authority in this absence, left both without the rights of whiteness to victimhood and the rights of man to agency. She is left at the intersection of what Henry Giroux notes is a growing number of disposable people in late-stage capitalism.

However it is here where the white man’s own crisis in his masculinity shines through. He is so insecure about his legitimate authority over all of the property he has stolen that he must destroy any parallel the man of color has in order to feel safe in his own skin. This miscalculation of the value of family and property to essential human experience has now left this group feeing vulnerable and even more willing to embrace violence in the name of civility.

What is going on now in America with an entire generation or two denied the American Dream we see a growing disillusionment. No longer are specific gender roles embraced that were always roles played in order to justify the theft and enslavement of the underclass. Man needed to be a man and pillage. Woman needed to be a woman and be protected. Gone too is the faith in property as younger Americans are renting, in debt and living paycheck to paycheck. Increasingly, and the recent boom in protests is a sign, young Americans are trying to bid goodbye to a racist past. Jobs too, especially amidst the coronavirus have become an increasingly alienated form of identity and community as unions are busted, pay is slashed and meaning is lost. The coronavirus has made the future of jobs uncertain and the desire to form a health care system and a broader economic system outside of the increasingly fruitless and precarious workplace is being seen as a necessity.

All this is to say that a long history of assaulting the black and brown nuclear family has made this moment of fear for the right inevitable. They are wise to be afraid. Erasing the false protection racket of the police is highly related to erasing the false protection of the ruling class white American male and the things he has stolen. Once the moral protectors are exposed as the cause of oppression new systems begin to form. The necessity of said group is questioned and the regime then turns to ugly propaganda and militarization to protect itself.

However a coalition of queer black feminist Marxists really can’t be stopped. The traditional family will crumble into multitudes of communal gender fluid multiracial cooperative coalitions built on dynamic definitions and installations of love. There will no longer be a need for a tyrant protector as community control of not only police but the entire society will flourish. Solutions to manhood involving war, jail and police will be exposed as solutions that only create the mythic man over and over again. Instead a new order that intervenes in the life of young people through education, empowerment and community will effectively shape societies into ones that solve humanity’s many problems through democracy rather than punishment.

The capital class is killing us all through ecocide, coronavirus neglect, unaffordable health care, poisoned air, water and food, pointless jobs and militarization. Donald Trump and company want to blame all these problems on the lawless person of color disguised in many post-modern rhetoric aversions that can never cover up overt racism in language of ruthless law and order. What this has unleashed is nothing short of chaos with a last ditch effort of the militarized police force to step in as a reactionary solution to a multitude of problems caused directly by the corporate elite.

We can only effectively resist this powerful well-funded and soulless class through an underclass overwhelmed by solidarity for each other’s humanity and unique histories, interests and goals. So is Black Lives Matter secretly a Marxist organization here to break up your family, property and all the ugly racist capitalist privileges assumptions behind it? Of course. But there’s nothing secret about it. That’s why the police open fire.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at