Once again, a black man innocent of any crime is dead, a city torn by outbursts of anger, but the nation hopefully pushed to acting on a reality. America has many serious problems, high among them de-humanized race relations. But none of those problems are removed from the political economics that make us a nation under the control of minority wealth in a system which enables some to do very well, some not very well, a small minority to live in luxury beyond belief and a larger minority to live in miserable poverty.
To believe that such a place is an exceptional democratic nation striving towards equality for all, as our bi-partisan leadership regularly claims, is to believe the tooth fairy created the world. What has been advertised as an American dream of comfort and security for citizens moves closer to becoming an American nightmare of, at best, unpayable debt for consumers, and at worst, being murdered by public servants.
The latest headlined tragedy in Baltimore should help us concentrate less on simply finding guilty individuals and institutional servants, all of whom can act no differently as long as the present system prevails, and more on total transformation of that system.
In the action taken to charge six officers in the death of Freddy Gray it is notable that three were “people of color” – presently acceptable divisive terminology even if implying they were green or blue - and one was a woman. This alleged gender and racial balance in the police force is a form of what is called affirmative action, but it did absolutely nothing to affirm the life of Freddie Gray. Changing the skin tone or sex of the work force in the military, at the bank, among our clerks, scientists, cab drivers, teachers or pet trainers does nothing to change the foundation of the system. Integrating our workforce so that more members of one or another minority and one majority sex occupy equal roles in dispensing the wonders, joys and benefits of the market place while also seeing to it that people remain homeless, alienated, poor, and too often, dead, only represent progress and equality to the demented.
Whether we murder people here or in far greater numbers in foreign countries, rest assured their loved ones don’t feel better because members of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, gay, straight or neuter minority may have played a role in killing them.
While Baltimore authorities initially reacted in near panic, calling for martial law over a serious situation that warranted thought and not infantile racism, the charges against the officers brought a measure of reason and an attempt at getting to justice. But the city in which a man was killed after being arrested for an imaginary crime having more to do with what he looked like to the police – three of whom looked like him – has suffered particular economic pain during a time in which Baltimore experienced the fate of many former industrial centers in America.
When corporations moved to cheaper, more profitable foreign labor markets and dumped workers and communities in the USA, we were told by economic servants of capital that manufacturing was an outmoded process no longer necessary. Now we had to develop computers, smart phones and apps to do everything for us and didn’t need old mechanical devices. Sure. So the industries went to foreign countries which also, coincidentally, produce the electronics we use to order pizzas, aim drones, open garage doors before we get home and make coffee before we wake up in the morning. The economic blight that was the fate of places like Detroit and Baltimore reduced once reasonably prosperous areas to near degradation, poverty, high unemployment, low social esteem and crime. This is often written off to racism alone but we need a broader view of america than one defined only by one or another minority, especially when that view excludes the most powerful minority which profits most from social destruction: the wealthiest tiny percentile at the top of the economy.
Given our wretched history of slavery and its generational impact still only dealt with by greeting card slogans and divisive programs, “people of color” suffer most. And even minimal affirmation for some has been accompanied by maximum negation for most.
Great improvement in social status and material standards have been gained through Affirmative Action programs, and these mostly to women even more than the blacks they were originally intended for, but there have been great losses and more suffering for those who continue to receive negative action from the system of private profits for a minority and public loss for most.
The professional and upper middle class population among African Americans – what people of color or blacks are called when they reach that state – has grown but at the same time the population of poor, unemployed, and imprisoned black americans has skyrocketed beyond the numbers that existed even under apartheid racism of the past.
Obama in the white house, blacks in positions of authority in government, in law and at the university mean nothing at all to the black men regularly shot dead in the streets, or in the Baltimore case who die while being taken to jail. Our prisons are so crowded we are among the most jailed population in what is called the civilized world. And the number of those prisoners who have darker skin are out of all proportion to their percentage in the population at large. Race looms very large in this ugly picture, but economics looms even larger and concentration on only one to the exclusion of the other means continued injustice, perhaps unequally distributed but universally felt.
Black lives do indeed matter, but they won’t if we concentrate on the police departments without noticing who and what the departments work for. War does not happen because armies decide to go to foreign countries to kill people and the police are the local armies of capital, composed of good people and bad, like bus drivers, teachers and the rest of us. They work for a living. At least if they have jobs. We need democratic control of that process to make all life matter.