This is simply not the time to be talking about how Nelson Mandela fought ‘apartheid’ in South Africa or how Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, because that world was decades ago, fraught with exploitation, incarceration, brutalities, exclusion, all on the basis of a simple difference – skin colour. One may wonder that due to the efforts of these icons, the world, sixty years down the line, will be different, wherein all races are treated equally. Fast forward to 2020, does the phrase “I can’t breathe” ring any bells? If it does, congratulations, you’re not living under a rock. George Floyd, an ordinary American man, was pinned down on the road, with a knee pressing on his throat, by a police officer for allegedly using a $20 counterfeit bill, “allegedly” being the keyword here. George Floyd was killed and the accused officer got so much so as a suspension. Why? Racism.
Amidst the pandemic, the historic Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took place and #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd was trending all across the globe. Not just the black community, but people from all races came out in support of the cause and identified themselves as allies of the movement. Not only individuals and communities but even corporations, small and big, spoke on the cause and corporate executives expressed their contempt towards police brutality, establishing their coherence with the black community. So does this mean white supremacy has ended and finally there is socio-political and economic liberation for the black community? I think not.
When multinational corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Wall Street banks like CitiBank and JPMorgan Chase put out posters in support of the movement, the face value of it painted an empathetic picture. However, the harsh reality is that it was just a mere public relations stunt for them. Far from being the solution to systemic racism in America, these multi-billion dollar corporations have been actively perpetuating it. It is fair to say that corporate hypocrisy exists when on the one hand these banks, like JPMorgan Chase, claim to be inclusive by employing a few black employees and by giving press interviews where they urge everyone to be more inclusive in their respective workplaces and neighbourhoods, while on the other hand, they discriminate against their black customers by making them incur heavier costs for mortgage borrowing, and not addressing this form of discrimination despite recognising and identifying it. Not only customers but the figures show how JPMorgan Chase discriminates against its own employees by excluding black people from holding positions in the top tier of management. Barely about 4% of the bank’s top executives are black.
The reason behind this is that corporations profit off of racism. The historic oppression and suppression, for example - removing native people from their land through theft and genocide, enslaving African people for work and reproductive labour, and so on- are proofs of the fact that ‘racial capitalism’ has existed for ages and continues to exist in the status quo wherein wealthy elites are motivated to keep suppressing the economic vitality of people of colour. This initiates a vicious cycle of an ‘oppression economy’ wherein this economic suppression leads on to prevent these communities from having any form of social capital and hence, hinders their political power and their ability to bring about any form of a political change in the society. In the 21st century, racism is not just limited to the difference in skin colour, but extends to acting as a means to an end; the means being the black community and the end being the flourishing of these multinational corporations. Economist Darrick Hamilton explains that the pursuit of profit, not hatred of black people, is the real root of discrimination, “Racism is a tool, a mechanism. In many settings, it’s purposeful. Sure, bias can become implicit or unconscious through socialization. But that is a secondary effect from the initial tool that was used” said Hamilton.
There is also an extreme economic inequality among whites and blacks in the United States. This again stems from the fact that ‘racial capitalism’ or ‘oppression economy’ inherently functions by uplifting one community meanwhile pushing down the other. In such scenarios, when a community is discriminated against, there comes a paradigm of ostracisation wherein one community is never allowed to have equal rights, which leads to them being either unemployed or underpaid. Even governments, in the past, haven’t been able to tackle the effects of racism on the economy, and this was proved right when former US President Ronald Reagan asked black citizens to trust the marketplace in case they have distrust towards the government. And it is no secret how that panned out, considering the marketplace was discriminatory in its very essence, due to the existence of racial resentment and white supremacy. Even when some progressives wanted to bring about economic equality and infrastructural development, it meant that all races have to side with the government, and since racism creates divisions and distrust among citizens, siding with one government was not an option. Therefore, the progressives deemed it best to leave the reign of bridging economic inequality with the rich multinational corporations. And hence, the vicious cycle.
From economic inequality stems wealth inequality, which means inequality in the amount of money one could save from their incomes. This form of wealth could also be in terms of bonds or real estate properties. Since the black community has been historically oppressed, their chance at inheriting any prior wealth is negligible, but moreover, they face uncountable barriers to creating any form of wealth in the current scenario. These barriers are again due to the systemic discrimination faced by the community. This lack of wealth and savings has shown its effects during the COVID-19 pandemic for the black community since they are the ones that face the brunt of environmental injustice, implications of poverty, and systemic racism.
People from the black community are also highly criminalised and penalised, at least three times more than their white counterparts. This also means profit for the corporations since a higher number of criminals means a higher number of prisons, which are in fact constructed and funded for by these corporations.
All in all, the ‘oppression economy’ is not the need of the hour, but the ‘liberation economy’ is. And our only way to be able to get a ‘liberation economy’ is by firstly, supporting and electing candidates that will actively tackle issues of racism and better the economic policies for people of colour. Secondly, the unnecessary criminalisation of people from the black community has to end and the government has to tackle the root cause of the occurrence of such activities which may, in fact, stem from the socio-political or economic needs of these people. And lastly, the universal guarantee to have access to basic economic rights, healthcare and education should be made. Race is an inherent part of people’s identities and to deserve basic human decency, one should not be made to feel that they need to part with their identities. All communities together choose their governments and to simply leave the reign of controlling and dictating our lives in the hands of profit-driven corporations is a breach of democracy.
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