Borders of Racial Capitalism: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Isn’t This a Time!

Pardon beginning with jargon. Under racial capitalist social and power relations, stated policy intentions are inverted relative to social outcomes, and pandemic inequality reigns with a deadly life of its own. This is the rotten fruit of a poisoned neoliberal model of the relationship between the state and finance. We should dump it and live differently. Let me try to explain.

In life, timing and context are usually everything. For us today, the historic social breakdown around the novel coronavirus and its massive economic catastrophe for working People is a unique lesson to that effect. This political, economic, and public health crisis has revealed the basic contradictions in our society’s way of life. It’s up to us to decide what to do about it.

A March 2021 New York Times Op Ed piece by Rachel Cohen, marking one year of pandemic, frames the challenge very well:

“The public has a genuine but brief window over the next few months to make America a fairer, more just and more humane place. If people recognize that, seize that and demand that, they could reshape this country for decades.”

This will be an enormous battle for the future, and for the conscience of humanity. Answering the question posed by Grace Lee Boggs – What time is it on the clock of the world? – has become more urgent than ever in the wake of this fissure in our planet’s painful experiments with racial capitalism, settler colonialism, ecological extractivism and so many other preexisting plagues. The need for critical education that feeds the heart, soul and mind of the whole person as a form of direct political action has never been greater. The revolutionary social and educational implications of this multifaceted crisis demand our immediate attention and action.

The first curricular principle in the pedagogical principles statement of the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement (DIFSM) says: “Education is not a commodity provided to students by teachers who fill them up with information. It is a dynamic transformative process based on human relationships and collaborative learning. Learning is universal and inevitable. People learn something no matter what we do, where, with whom or how we do it. It’s part of our humanity. Freedom Schools build the learning experience around this inherent aspect of our souls and spirits.” Times like ours were made for pedagogical direct actions like this!

We move through 2021 amidst debates over ‘return to normality’, the appropriate depth and scope of policy changes after the coronavirus fail, and the huge implications for future challenges around climate, energy, health, violence, democracy, food, water and nature bubbling up all around us. Our nonviolent collective self-determination in these challenging times is indisputably necessary to our collective survival; first and always, we must participate in the revolutionary-social-movements-to-gain-power that have always been needed for real change. We’ve discovered and crossed a new frontier at the end of racial capitalism. There’s an urgent need to start redrawing borders, lines, boundaries and revolutionary transformational agendas, toot-sweet!

What does all this context have to do with the inverted social and power relations of racial capitalism? Everything. Just re-trace and invert the above principles, and you can see why we’re in this deep, catastrophic hole (and with courage and imagination what we better do about it!):

+ In a desperate effort to avoid the hard work of change and the democratic power transformations we need, dominant political, media and educational figures mislead People into seeking and returning to “normal” pathological preexisting systems and conditions that enabled this massive social and public health fail;

+ Facing a desperate, life-and-death need for relevant, practical, apocalyptic and revolutionary education , school authorities ponder renewed standardized test abuse of children to measure learning loss while schools have been closed during the pandemic;

+ Meaningful “education” is systematically abandoned for an authoritarian, top-down, commodified form of “schooling” that, I respectfully submit, lies at the core of our predicament; and

+ Our omnivorous, inescapable crises of climate, energy, health, violence, democracy, food, water and nature are the logical and inevitable product of the systems, institutions and social and power relations we considered “normal” in 2019 before late racial capitalism abandoned us to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic destruction.

If timing and context are everything, then our situation today is truly desperate. But our leading communications, media, educational and ideological systems and spokes-figures are working overtime to convince us that we can (and should!) soon get back to normal, that President Biden is FDR selling the New Deal, that the Republican Party is something other than a racist death cult whose expressed views should be taken seriously, that labeling the source of our oppression “racial capitalism” isn’t necessary, important, or perhaps even accurate, and all other manner of rank nonsense. This has to be refuted and defeated politically. That’s why I say we’re working with inverted policy intentions relative to social outcomes, because even in the depths of a pandemic that’s already killed more than a half million Americans and more than 3 million humans worldwide, those in power are still lying about how we got to this point, and until we straighten that out we can’t change it.

Inverted social relations dictate outcomes contrary to human rights, justice and common sense. Water shut offs instead of water affordability in Detroit. New recommendations in Michigan for face mask wearing instead of mandatory public health requirements, even in the teeth of our community’s latest infection spike as I write this, perhaps temporarily justified in this instance by the current death race with vaccine administration and the recognition that in terms of public health voluntary compliance may have greater effects than wasting more resources on enforcing mandates (this just one of the many open questions in our die predicament!). What I’m trying to get at is that when politicians and other authority figures lie and maybe even when they especially believe the lies they’re mouthing, the important question isn’t their personal belief. The vital issue is the force of the power institutions of the society, the revealed structural corruption of the failed state’s starved public health and public interest powers, after millions of pandemic deaths. At this writing now in a nation facing new rounds of alt-civil war decentralized gun violence in economic hard times. Time to take stock and make some moves!

The lies of Biden time may be a little more subtle, and to some extent even believable, than the grotesque garbage that dominated US corporate media for 5 years before and during the Rump administration. But they’re still lies. And indeed the racist and patriarchal Rump-era MAGA lies and scams are still very much alive for tens of millions of Americans, actively driving deadly conflicts in our communities! The very next thing we have to do, after recognizing and naming this awesome teachable moment of fundamental, transformational change Rachel Cohen identifies, is tell the truth and expose these lies so we can get at what we have to now. Without that grounding of information in reality that has been damaged beyond all recognition by the social media / fake news / Rump debacles of our times, meaningful political education and therefore real change are impossible! My title, “Borders of Racial Capitalism Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste” (with no punctuation) refers to capital’s historic, shape-shifting, world-changing ability to cross all manner of obstacles, standards, precedents, borders and limits whatsoever, to resolve the deep and painful chaotic crises like this that it regularly creates. These big changes will happen one way or the other. How should we deal with them?

Our potential real impact has increased – by trillions of debt dollars as one measure – in today’s era of leveraged recovery from the 2016-20 Rump/coronavirus failed state reality TV spectacle. The actually existing official American political leadership and the power behind it have abjectly failed, either to protect us, or of course to recognize that our mortal danger arises directly from the core functioning of our basic social institutions – and especially from their power. We must to a meaningful extent displace these wrongful, selfish leaders and create our own power systems to protect and develop our commons, social justice, ecology and economic welfare and equality. Easier said than done, but anybody who tells you otherwise is either confused, lying or both. That’s what capitalism as a total social system means. The vast, silent gap between the political blather in mainstream media and the essential reality of our lives today is one key measure of our society’s inverted power trip, as well as of the borders of racial capitalism we are crossing whether we know it or not. The quality of our futures depends on our ability to understand and deal with this oppressive reality. Now!

Alternative Analysis

Nancy Fraser astutely traces the real-world working-out of actually existing capitalism thru the pandemic and the response to it, in terms of “a general crisis of the social order.” Check that. Her recommendation of “an inclusive politics of recognition with an egalitarian politics of redistribution” is on target. Thinking optimistically at the national level, we should hope the Sanders effect, youth power and eco-socialist potential in our national politics, collectively presage “a transitional stage, en route to something more radical – a deep-structural transformation of our whole social system.” The very “movement which abolishes the present state of things” that Peter Linebaugh names “the real movement.” After E.P. Thompson and William Morris, the historic ruptures of 2020 put our feet on the pathway “between False and True Society” that leads to the “river of fire, the Revolution”.

Here by the river side, the so-called “normal” creek our leaders and crucial institutions are once again trying to lead us back up with inverted paddles has once again, very clearly this time, shown us what it is: Henry Giroux correctly sees “a savage form of capitalism that denigrates anything and anyone that does not fit in to the script of commercial exchange, to the systemic and death dealing forms of racism, sexism, nativism, and militarism that permeate every aspect of society and provide the fodder for explosions of violence that now define all social relations, including the destruction of the planet.” That’s the evil. Normal. The cracks in everything revealed by the pandemic as if dye were injected into the system. (Cohen) “Violence in America has become routine, almost expected as a new normal. … America has become a failed state, a country in which fascism now has a smooth edge”. (Giroux) When they show you who they are, pay attention!

The thing I can’t shake is what happened around this time last year, after the very first round of physical distancing, cancellation of sports playoffs and infection spikes. Last year in April 2020 we began to learn about the massive disparate impacts in American communities by race for both the virus and its economic depression. If you’re black, brown, indigenous, etc., the virus (and/or viral economic disaster) is 4 or 5 times more likely to kill you, with incomplete data still coming today refining the ugly numbers. Inverted authoritarian responses at that time featured heavily armed white men who besieged the Michigan legislature, some of whom were recruited into a conspiracy to kidnap the governor. Thom Hartman chronicled the weeks in April 2020 when white power embodied in state corporate leadership chose to reopen an economy, with the economic evaluation of the decision based largely on excess risks for black, latinx and native workers. Ugh. Reparations. Course correction. Revolutionary transformations all upside down the line. “Normal” no thanks!

The first part of this essay is partially adapted from the 2020 Annual Report of the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement (DIFSM), available upon request!