Friday, September 16, 2011

Individual vs. Collective Opportunity: which do we have in the US? (Answer: neither, really)

image of hurricane Katrina is from here
President Obama responded, in my mind cynically, to a criticism by Professor Cornel West and performer Tavis Smiley (see *here* for more). They charge, quite accurately, that he has ignored and been entirely unconcerned and uncaring, in policy and practice, to the plight of the poor in the US, and in particular to the struggles of African American males.

In the US currently, the reported (as opposed to actual) poverty rate among whites is much less than among African Americans. This is a consequence primarily of white supremacy fused to corporate capitalism. No other possibility exists in opportunity or in present life, than Black people in the US remaining significantly and substantively poorer than whites, collectively. Never mind Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama: it is not simply “opportunity” that got them where they worked very hard to be. It is also a white dominated society's wish to appease anti-racism critics who use individual successes as “proof” that the system can work for any one of us. It most certainly cannot.

The collective and systemic truth of the truly perilous and dire situation for African Americans, among other groups of color, is one that President Obama, for all his intelligence, seems unable to comprehend or at least publicly declare: his “solution” is to attempt to increase opportunities for individuals, never for the collective. (And however inadequate those proposals are [link to his speech] they will not be supported by Conservative elected politicians—every one of 'em voted into office with the great help of corrupt media and corrupt wealth, neither of which is available to poor US Americans as a group.

Unaddressed by any of them is what Black, Brown, and Indigenous women (especially lesbians) in the US face: the devastating combination of capitalism's cruelties heaped onto the other cruelties of white, male, and het supremacy. To hear most prominent Black men in the US speak, you'd think Black (het) men always have it worse than Black (het) women. But to believe that you'd have to pretend that patriarchy, male supremacy, misogyny, and heterosexism don't exist at all, both within Black communities and in the larger white-dominated society. Every manifestation of male power over and against women impacts the lives of Black women—not just white men's misogyny, for example.

But returning to the concerns of West and Smiley, how is it that a very smart US president—of any color—could not get it that the US is well-organised to ensure that some groups of people are held down and spit on while the same US leaders promote the power and interests of a few—and not a few “individuals” either? How is it that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama don't get it that corporate capitalism exists, deregulated or not, to crush the life out of the poor while exploiting their labor and other human resources?

Far more cynical and cruel than President Obama are the white, male, and het supremacist activists who comprise the leadership of the ultra-ConservativeTea Party movement, an extremist activist political organisation looking out only for the interests and power-protection of the wealthiest, whitest, and most heterosexistly male members of society? Among them is the current early leader in the bid for president, governor of Texas, (P)Rick Perry.

The Tea Party, including Perry, advocates a particular vision of the US in which Social Security and Medicare, as federal programs, no longer exist as humane mechanisms to support the lives of the most dispossessed (read: structurally, systematically oppressed) members of society. Dispossessed by intention and design, not effect and bad luck. Nothing is accidental about who is poor in this country, if we look at groups of people, not individuals only.

What the Tea Party, GWBush and Co., Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all have in common is the downright evil practice of extolling the alleged virtues of a “free” market economy tied to rampant militarism which imprisons most US Americans in debt and despair while horrifically destroying people abroad: particularly the people of Central Asia who happen to live in a region that has oil resources under what remains of its topsoil. The policies of these and other activist leaders are genocide, gynocide, and ecocide wrapped up in liberal platitudes.

Chief among the platitudes is this idea that our economic and social-political systems exist to offer meaningful opportunity to all US citizens. Contemporary forms of capitalism allowed to exist by the wealthy offer nothing of the kind; neither do contemporary forms of white, male, and het supremacy. All these well-organised and well-protected systems of power ensure that varied forms of gross violence and exploitation will be visited upon people who are not wealthy, white, male, or het.

Consider images brought to you by a weather reporter of a hurricane forming in the Atlantic Ocean as it makes its way toward the Caribbean, Gulf coast, and East Coast of the US. Consider how the weather is described as “a system”, sometimes a ferocious one merciless in its power to destroy what humans have constructed.

Consider how such a system, if well-organised, infused with enough energy, structured to swirl at great enough speeds with enough force, will do great harm. How much harm we cannot predict, as evidenced when Hurricane Irene swept up the Mid-Atlantic coast to the Northeast, cutting inland into New England. Consider how Hurricane Katrina, several years ago, in collaboration with ridiculous urban planning and construction along the Gulf coast, in collaboration with a woefully negligent US government, resulted in horror and pain that was thought to be impossible in the US, even in largely Black areas of the country.

The weather system called “a hurricane” in the US, has a structure—the visible structure is part of what constitutes such a system from other weather phenomena.

Corporate capitalism has a structure and it is hierarchical with a concentration of wealth among an elite few and a base of poverty shared among the many. Using the “right” to ownership of property as a means of control with State power backing it, the wealthy can and do exact great force against the poor and working people, exploiting them while telling them they have “opportunity” to also become as ruthless as they are.

In the US, this economic system with its earlier incarnations has resulted in an on-going genocide and has required on-going forms of slavery to be able to exist at all. Part of its structure is raced with white supremacy as one ruling ideology-in-practice. Male supremacy is another: rape and social subordination are two methods of its production: mass terrorism and submission are its objectives. Between the two is the spirit- and sex-shaming ideology-in-practice known as heterosexism. Braided, enforced, and enacted together, they strangle the power, will, and hope out of many of us, leaving us damaged, degraded, and depressed—if not dead. But—always more than the ruling oppressive forces would like—some of us keep fighting those virulently inhumane systems of domination and destruction with a vision of a world of unmilitarised peace, cooperative living, and mutual respect.

What is often missing in humane resistance movements is sustained, collective, group-based radical activism. Currently, struggles to make the US more humane are more like an occasional gust of wind than a well-formed lasting hurricane.

Using the ocean as a metaphor, single waves of activism can perhaps bring attention to horrible conditions and may shift the shape of a beach-front temporarily. But I look forward to the power of the oppressed forming into great unrelenting waves of revolutionary social, economic, and political transformation until the CRAP-infested shore is entirely washed away, allowing Indigenist ways of living to thrive again on this Earth.