Over at the Village Voice website the provocative African American critical theorist and savvy analyst of U.S. society, Greg Tate, offers “Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folk Appear Down To Occupy Wall Street,” a humorous and sarcastic take on this issue. (See other comments on Tate’s piece here and here.) Most of the Occupy movements do appear to have been disproportionately white.
One barbed reason Tate offers is that African Americans want to see the OWS movement stay alive. If it got to be known as a “Black Thing,” then white officials like
Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly would feel compelled to set more upon the movement than decrepit desk sergeants with pepper spray.
Another point is that African Americans already have a “radical heart,” which has been shown many times. They are certainly not afraid to participate:
Protest history shows our folk couldn’t be turned around by deputized terrorists armed with dynamite, firebombs, C4, tanks, AKs, machine guns, fixed bayonets, billy clubs, K-9 corps, truncheons, or water hoses. Stop-and-frisk has prepped most brothers to anticipate a cell block visit just for being Slewfoot While Black.
That is, African Americans have never shown they were scared of fighting societal oppression.
Two of his reasons get seriously at the core issue of the relationships of contemporary capitalism and systemic racism. One more reason is that African Americans have long ago realized something that the OWS folks seem to be late in coming to understand–that is,
that American elites never signed the social contract and will sell the people out for a fat cat’s dime—hey, no news flash over here. Black folk got wise to the game back in 1865 when we realized neither 40 acres nor a mule would be forthcoming.
Then Tate’s number one reason gets even deeper into this issue. Capitalism, as usually framed in OWS discussion, is often of less immediate concern to black Americans than systemic racism:
Experience shows that racism can trump even greed in Amerikkka—especially in the workplace. White dudes with prison records get hired over more qualified bloods with not even jaywalking citations. You don’t have to be as high up the food chain as banker-scum to benefit from white supremacy or profit sideways from the mass povertization of the Negro.
Tate’s points about the need to consider the relationships of actual capitalism and racism brought to my mind just how Western capitalism got its first huge surges of capital and wealth, in the process Karl Marx called “primitive accumulation.” Recall this famous passage from Das Kapital:
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. . . . [They all] depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode . . . . [C]apital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.
Western capitalistic wealth and production thus began with the violent looting of resources and forcible enslavement of numerous populations. All these chief moments of early capitalistic wealth accumulation involve non-Europeans–indigenous peoples, Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans—those racialized as “not white” in the dominant racial framing of white Americans ever since. Capitalism is so intertwined with systemic racism in its distant historical origins and contemporary history that it has been a mistake for analysts and activists to try to separate them. To the present day. Capital today still often comes “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”