Occupy Wall Street: from anti-corporatism to attacking racist-capitalism

Perhaps, as they are reduced to a fraction of a citizen, other Americans now catch a glimpse of what it means to be codified as only three-fifths of a person. Melissa Harris-Perry, “Are We All Black Americans Now?”

In March of this year, Melissa Harris-Perry poignantly observed that much of what has fueled widespread political outrage–whether rising unemployment, intrusive security screenings, or lack of democratic representation–has been normal life for African-Americans. To put it even more strongly: the situations that outraged White citizens only came to Black people after decades and centuries of struggle. As Harris-Perry says,

Few events more clearly demonstrated the blackening of America than the standoff in Wisconsin. Like the nineteenth-century leaders of Southern states who stripped black citizens of voting rights, public accommodation and civic associations, Wisconsin’s Republican majority dismantled the hard-won basic rights of Wisconsin workers. Like those Confederate leaders, the Wisconsin GOP used intimidation, threats and even the police against demonstrators and rival officials. As the saga unfolded, many Wisconsin citizens felt stunned that their once-secure rights might be eliminated. For a moment, perhaps, they glimpsed the experience of black men and women who watched the shadow of Jim Crow blot out the promises of emancipation.

The key phrase falls at the very end: the promises, not the once secure rights, were lost.

Janell Ross has recently written that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t adequately represent the “struggling Black population.” The ambiguity of the phrase is important, for she claims both that struggling African-Americans are not represented as leaders in the movement and also that their struggles were and are not adequately taken into account as the movement formed and continues to progress.

The problem is not one of “identity politics,” whereby for a social movement to be valid it has to include representatives from every possible configuration of marginality. The problem is that, as Harris-Perry alludes to in the epigraph, representative American democracy was forged as a slave holding state. Reigning in the gross inequality in wealth and the undemocratic power of multinational corporations could happen and the end result be the rescue of white persons from their brief experience of Black life.

I support Occupy Wall Street; I am thrilled to see people fighting against the ridiculous inequalities in income, wealth, and political power. However, for Occupy Wall Street to “adequately represent” African-Americans–in both senses, I suspect–it’s going to need to see Wall Street not as the endgame or focal point but a strategic symbolic location to pry open and attack racist-capitalism. I’m sure you might spark some more non-white interest if you stated that any attempt to fix the wealth gap between “the 1%” and the “99%” has to be structured within a project to fix the racial disparity of wealth.

The median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the analysis released…by the Pew Research Center. (Wealth Gap between Whites, Minorities Widens).

If Occupy Wall Street can be seen as a forceful protest against the descent of “the social, economic and political conditions that have long defined African-American life…onto a broader population” (Harris-Perry), then the goal should be clarified: it’s not an attempt to restore representative democracy but to attack the racist-capitalist state. I put it as a negation to do justice to the difficulty of coming up with a positive list of demands: one is not trying to restore a lost past, reclaim a tarnished ideal, or tweak a fairly functional system that has gone awry; one is trying to overcome an anti-Black world. As Césaire wonderfully puts it:

What can I do?

One must begin somewhere.

Begin what?

The only thing in the world worth beginning:

The End of the world of course.

I suggest that demanding the U.S. address the racial inequality of wealth–including the various structures, institutions, codes, policies, and powers that reinforce it–is a place to begin this ending (and focusing on the racial disparity of wealth forces us to deal with the patriarchal and heterosexist norms that undergird racist wealth creation and transfer in the US and abroad).

What do you think? As is wonderfully clear from Occupy Wall Street, we can’t even think, let alone address these problems alone.

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8 Responses to Occupy Wall Street: from anti-corporatism to attacking racist-capitalism

  1. annecan(n)on says:

    Oh Tim, this is so incredibly RIGHT ON POINT, and I just adore you…. I have been thinking about these same issues, and struggling because I am so afraid of dampening the movement with any criticism. This only because I have been waiting and working for this revolution for so long and have been incredibly frustrated that people are under such a spell of television, celebrity gossip and partisan/single issue politics that we haven’t been able to build a cohesive movement. Now a movement is building that is spreading widely and encompassing thousands that I believe represent an ever-expanding spectrum of political belief. BUT, I cannot be fully in support of this movement unless there is a critical analysis of oppression, inequality, and injustice that includes more than just a “class”/economic analysis. There must be a way to educate people who are part of this movement who do not already have consciousness around intersecting oppression (race, ability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation/preference, etc…). Blogs like yours are definitely a way to spread this awareness. I have also been thinking about trying to form a workshop on these systems of privilege, power, and oppression AT the Occupy Protest in Denver. I know workshops are happening in NYC, but I’m not sure if people are covering this extremely important topic. You are right. Our demands can NOT exclude a demand for racial justice, a demand for justice for immigrants, a demand for decolonization, a demand for EVERY SINGLE person to be treated like an whole person.

  2. Tarig Anter says:

    In all countries, including the USA, Greece, and Spain, there are considerable portion of the population of each generation that might be labeled as the “Half-wayers”. These are the unsuccessful but still they are grateful and defendant of the socio-economic system in place. They are mostly of older ages, but still you can find them in less ambitious youth.

    The Half-wayers are middle-classers who feel indebted to the unjust and corrupt system because deep in their hearts and minds they believe that they have achieved and acquired more than what they fairly and normally deserve. This kind of people might not be corrupt; but they assume that without such system they would have been ruined and abject losers. This is the only reason why they defend the system meekly and brutally; or at least fear and reject any movement that might bring possible change.

    http://tariganter.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/wall-street-half-wayers-of-generations/

  3. jeczaja says:

    Am I missing something? if black citizens feel unrepresented, why don’t they simply join in? Make their own signs, whatever? Lest you think I’m being an insensitive cracker, I might point out that I have a bi-racial child and live in the south. I’ve seen it. Still, victim-hood is a position of weakness and why volunteer for that position? Just get down there and speak up.

    • Tim McGee says:

      If you take seriously the point that one cannot address the problems without addressing race, then you can’t just say “hey join in” but must instead ask and listen as others (by the way, I’m a cracker too) tell you the way to go. In other words, the question isn’t “why won’t they join in” but “how the hell are we going to figure out what to do unless they help us.” or, to try one other way of saying it, if the movement really is a protest over people being positioned more closely to the social status of Black Americans (enormous wealth disparity, violations of citizenship rights, unemployment, etc), then we cannot try to understand what this means or what needs to change without “adequately representing” (in both senses) the struggles of African-Americans.

  4. Tarig Anter says:

    There is a good chance that Ron Paul will not win the Republican ticket. And even before that I would advise him to quit the Republican Party and run as an independent after negotiating deep reforms program for his presidential campaign to create the New USA with all the different components of the Occupy Wall Street movement. People have to remember and appreciate his clean and strong opposition record. If he succeed then the new government of new USA will be formed from among the 99% and they will bring the real changes.

  5. Pingback: Freedom Not Yet: Ch. 3 & Occupy Wall St. | veeritions

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