Uncategorized, Breaking Brown, Yvette Carnell, Black Politics, Antonio Moore

On Africans ‘Figuring Out’ How To Be Economically Black In America

When Mkawasi Mcharo Hall, an African immigrant from Kenya, was teaching in New York City, she played this game with her “mostly black” students where she wrote the word “Africa” on the board and then had them call out whatever words came to mind.

The students’ responses left her bewildered.

“[T]he volley of uncensored words the students contributed,” Hall says, “were all negative.”

She had just recently arrived in America and was dismayed to discover the overwhelmingly dismissive attitude toward a people with whom she believes black Americans should find a natural affinity. Having come from Kenya, she was, at the same time, also aware that “black [American] identity [is] equally troublesome for many Africans,” and wondered whether these attitudes—which in her mind were self-defeating, solidarity-defying, and served only to frustrate the need for a unifying identity in overcoming their ultimately interrelated struggle—could ever be reconciled.

That’s the central question that Hall explores in her recent CityLab article, Fortress: ‘Black in America’: Closed to Africans?, a personal reflection on the writer’s experience of being an African immigrant in the U.S., and her anxious, multi-city search to find a “feeling of being stitched into the tapestry of the black identity.”

That feeling, described less abstractly, is one of group-belonging. And for Hall—who came to America with the belief that common ancestry is something that de facto confers one’s rightful place inside the group—it was a feeling she believed she’d doubtless be met with among native-born blacks.

However, after a set of experiences in black America that only reinforced for her the “complexities of American race relations,” and the limitations of having understood racism as a “concept that existed only in books,” Hall eventually had to concede that the “shared historical and cultural experience” of black America is something that ultimately places the African immigrant at a remove from ever fully identifying with the particular struggle(s) in the day-to-day realities of native-born blacks.

And while she is certainly correct in suggesting that the primacy of native-born blacks’ ‘shared historical and cultural experience’ (i.e. one defined exclusively by being the victims of American racism) precludes any easy claim to group identity by outsiders, Hall frames the distance imposed by that experience as being a predominantly social, or cultural, one.

“I watch and learn and laugh the loudest when I catch that one joke that almost got away, just to make up for all the others that went right over my head,” Hall writes, as she gazes from the outside onto what she calls the “inner sanctum of blackness.”

Insulting enough should be the implication that one’s ability to truly identify with native-born blacks is apparently through some being-in-on-the-joke aspect of black identity and American racism. Far more problematic, though, is the way in which Hall fundamentally misunderstands—or deliberately ignores—how the function of that racism as it relates to native blacks in American society has always been to effect a particular economic outcome.

Racism in America does not, as she argues, operate as simply a “caste system [that] puts melanin-rich humans at the bottom of the social hierarchy.” To describe it in those terms is not only a dishonest assessment of the actual, observable variation in melanin content that appears throughout the most subordinate group in American society, it evinces the sort of impoverished conception of U.S. racism that could only come from a member of a group whose arrival in this country postdates centuries of the most economically destructive policy geared specifically toward native-born blacks.

From slavery to Jim Crow, red lining and discriminatory federal loan policies, all the way up to the contemporary models of black disadvantage manufacturing like mass incarceration, the story of racism in America is not one of merely being perceived as inferior because of skin color, as Hall suggests. It is fundamentally one of native-born blacks being made inferior, lesser than, and deficient in the most dramatic and enduring sense possible. In the context of American society, this meant enacting laws and terrorizing that group out of the opportunity to create wealth, and—as naturally follows from that condition—permanently assuring native-born blacks’ compromised ability to participate as equals in American social, political, and economic life.

Hall’s overly simplified—and easily disproved—calculus on racism and social positioning crucially omits the ways in which a person’s place in the social hierarchy of U.S. society directly corresponds to their economic condition. The economic condition of native-born blacks is, and has always been, one that was designed to be the most destitute of opportunity, the most resource-deprived, and the most unstable. She affirms as much when she recognizes the singularity of the ‘shared historical experience’ of native-born blacks; namely, the centuries-long exclusion from wealth-building opportunity. However, she elides any discussion of that aspect of their experience for the sake of her argument that foreign-born blacks are, as a group, as socio-economically dislocated as the native black community by virtue of their black skin.

In fact, no.

All of the available data indicates the sheer fallacy at the core of that claim. To use but one example, the pronounced disparity in rates of admission into colleges and universities among native-born blacks and African immigrants is one which is frequently cited in order to demonstrate the systemic obstacles faced by the former group.  Those hindrances—as Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier wrote in a 2004 op-ed for the Boston Globe—are decidedly absent among children of African immigrants: “Like their wealthier white counterparts,” Guinier writes, “many first- and second-generation immigrants of color test well because they retain a national identity free of America’s racial caste system and enjoy material and cultural advantages.” In that same vein, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, points out in her study, The Admission Legacy of Blacks, how the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 limited visas to “exceptional professionals.” The ways in which such a proviso more favorably positions foreign-born blacks to succeed in America relative to their native-born counterparts should be obvious enough.

Beyond the imprecise understanding of racism’s function in America, Hall’s argument completely fails to take into account how African immigrants—while apparently having a ‘troublesome’ relationship with black identity—have traditionally felt little to no compunction about being the beneficiaries of policy crafted specifically to try and meliorate the consequences of that black identity in American society. And whether it be through African immigrants fulfilling affirmative action requirements, corporate diversity initiatives, or minority set-asides in government contracts, the protest movements of the civil rights-era have seemingly paved the way for a group of foreign-born blacks and their children to capitalize on the gains won in the name of native-black descendants of slaves. This warped outcome is owed to precisely the kind of mentality—like Hall’s—that prefers to see all oppression of black people as essentially equal, and which then encourages those victims to adopt a shared identity based on skin color. That identity is one that assumes exactly none of the tension that has marked the relationship between native-born blacks and African immigrants in America’s resource-driven society, and is one that is wholly disinterested in the obvious fact that not all melanin carries the same historically specific consequences.

To the extent that Hall is able—or willing—to acknowledge that fact, she nonetheless clearly extols the virtues of a black politics that identifies all black people of the world as collectively responsible for each other’s uplift. She cites the ways in which “[t]he black American has been actively engaged in emancipation on the Motherland,” and uses this to encourage her fellow African immigrants in the U.S. to act in kind and to take up the cause(s) of native-born blacks. “Melanin identity goes beyond skin,” she writes, “It courses through our separate histories and through a collective unconscious that causes blacks to reach out across continents for each other. It is wise for Continental Africans to figure out how to become black politically and economically in America.”

The fact is, though, a person cannot become economically black in America. This is the whole point. It is not something a person can “figure out” how to be; it is something that a person is made to be. Being economically black in America was figured out for native-born blacks from the very outset of the United States’ trajectory toward its status as the richest country in the world. It was then something that was continuously reconfigured throughout the country’s ascendancy in order to guarantee that the failure of being economically black in America would continue to perform that same function so that the rest of capitalist America might have the opportunity to succeed. That is, in effect, what it means to be ‘economically black’ in America.

And so despite Hall’s directive to her fellow immigrants to exercise allyship with native-born black descendants of slaves—to become politically black, as she says—it’s extremely difficult to see how without that group’s insistence on a separate identity of native-born blacks—and of what is owed to them as a result of having borne the consequences of being made economically black—African immigrants can participate in the sort of political advocacy that will meaningfully bring about their material uplift.

“Let there be only lineage,” Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown once said. And if that command feels prophetic and almost biblical in nature, it’s because the story of native blacks in this country is also fundamentally a creation story. As a group, in respect of origin, there can be no doubt that they were a people who were principally created on American soil; dragged here for the express purpose of being used as chattel slaves to churn out profit for a national—and then eventually globally dominant—economy.

Following centuries of laboring in that wretched condition—and several decades of an all but equally degraded existence as victims of lynch mobs, convict leasing, and being forced to live in crowded urban slums amid abject poverty—they have since struggled from an unfathomable disadvantage to try and create for themselves an improved status, one more in keeping with the basic promise of freedom and well-being that is supposedly conferred upon all citizens of this country as a matter of right, but which in fact all observable evidence seems to confirm only follows from one’s economic means of securing them.

As both Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore continuously emphasize, it is lineage and lineage alone that unites native blacks in both their history and present state of being excluded from acquiring those economic means. And as we enter further into an era of national decline in which opportunities for prosperity are steadily receding from the reach of working class America, it is now—more than ever—urgent that native blacks heed their call to recognize how lineage must form the foundation of the group’s political identity. Only that will illuminate the way forward and enable them to create their next chapter in the struggle for reparative justice. Because before native blacks can, as a group, meaningfully make themselves—before they can be asked to identify with and take up the separate plight of the global black—they must be made whole in return for how in the same way they were originally made incomplete.

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Not Mine: The Povichization of Ideology and the Transactional State

Yes but how to pneumatically bolt pistol the skulls of a recalcitrant American populace so that the free market can proceed with its requisite bloodletting?

That being a slightly more figurative version of the question—forever worried over by neoliberals as they try to engineer a fully market-oriented society—that Philip Mirowski attempts to answer in his article, “Neoliberalism: The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” which appears in the spring 2018 volume of the quarterly journal American Affairs.

As Mirowski shows, there’s been a constant tension between what he terms the “Neoliberal Thought Collective’s” belief in the market as an “information processor more powerful and more efficacious than any human being was or could ever be” and the public’s natural and basic resistance to the highly unpalatable idea that, in a society wholly ordered as such, humans are fundamentally classifiable as mere subjects in a defined and well-managed process. So they’re told.

Or rather, not told. Because that is the whole point. The very illiberalness at the core of the neoliberal project—its recasting of ‘freedom’ to mean, as Mirowski notes, “the freedom to acquiesce to the imperatives of the market”—forecloses on any real discussion of its true aims to the masses it means to atomize and sort into useful instruments of various market economies. Its actual agenda is one that must be constantly sublimated and abstracted out of the public consciousness: “The elusiveness of neoliberalism,” Mirowski writes, “ultimately stems from denials that neoliberals themselves have made about their efforts.”

In a lot of ways, reading Mirowski’s essay calls to mind The Maury Povich Show. In particular, the show’s singularly degenerative contribution to U.S. popular culture: the paternity reveal.

Even casual viewers of Maury will recall—I’m sure—the segment’s unmistakable production aesthetic: the frenetically spliced footage of the Possibly Father, shot from about five or six slightly different angles, standing by himself in the pitch black backstage area, next to a lone ladder or a bunch of set boxes. Maybe he’s outside of the studio leaning against a wall, ice-grilling the camera that zooms woozily in and out on his face. Unfailingly there is the delivery of his impassioned and often angerlaced monologue of his absolutely non-filial relation to the child.

In the Mirowski essay, the neoliberal emerges as a similar Maury-esque figure, one preoccupied with repudiating in name what they’ve doubtless helped conceive. As Mirowski writes, “While we can fairly well identify the roster of who should be acknowledged as a part of the [neoliberal] movement…we are confronted with the fact that, in public, they themselves roundly deny the existence of any such well-defined thought collective, and stridently resist the label of neoliberalism.”

The label of neoliberalism here being like the dribbling toddler, gnawing on a nubby teething ring in the studio’s green room and looking blankly and sort of sad-eyed into the camera that feeds the video out onto the TV monitor on the stage over Maury’s left shoulder. See Cory Booker backstage with his arms folded across his chest, fervently wagging his head as the control room rolls a montage of the toddler throwing tantrums in a Bain Capital onesie. A dramatic celluloid burn effect to a stankfaced Kamala Harris, backlit underneath a tall studio light, reacting in total disavowal to a side-by-side comparison shot of her next to one of the toddler, its arms outstretched, gleefully receiving a new toy from Steve Mnuchin. Joe Biden, filmed close-up in slow shutter speed, brooding through a chainlink fence, glowering into the camera. Biden in total disbelief as Maury unseals the manila folder containing his role call votes in the U.S. senate.

But while the pack of leading 2020 Democratic hopefuls certainly offers a useful set of examples regarding the habit of neoliberalism’s most abiding practitioners to deny its existence, Mirowski stresses how this disconnect between doctrine and identity is anything but a recent development. It must be understood, rather, as a permanent feature of the “Neoliberal Thought Collective,” one which has been evident since the movement’s ideological inception, which he locates over half a century ago at the Mont Pèlerin Society’s inaugural convention in Switzerland in 1947. Moreover, Mirowski’s primary aim is to show how, despite the apparent referentlessness of the concept, its seeming non-status, something very recognizably like neoliberalism has become deeply entrenched in daily American political and cultural life. A predominance which—given the predictably hard sell of its antidemocratic and coercive, dehumanizing logic—is all the more slick and impressive.

What accounts for this sleight, for Mirowski, is the Thought Collective’s prescribed nostrum to sequester personas; the private, which would in effect always be working to tinker policy so that the interests of business are not overtly threatened and can ultimately be made to advance apace, and the public, a persona with endless feel-good bromides to buoy the spirits of the masses while their material conditions worsen, encourage complacency, and distract from the structural task at hand. To highlight the point, Mirowski quotes from a 1973 private correspondence between Milton Friedman—a ‘classical liberal’ and free market acolyte—and conservative Pat Buchanan: “We are talking at cross-purposes,” Friedman writes, “because of what I regard as the important necessity of keeping clearly separate the long-run ideal goal and the tactical steps that may be appropriate in moving toward it.” Forty-three years later, during the 2016 presidential campaign, that macro-strategy’s exigency to the neoliberal project is still just as evident. Described in extremely Friedman-esque terms by Hillary Clinton in a famously leaked speech to top banking executives, she explained the neoliberal position: “If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and a private position…You just have to sort of figure out how to—getting back to that word, ‘balance’— how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically.”

The implication is obvious enough: the more politicized a society, the greater the threat to the operation of laissez-faire liberalism. Paraphrasing Will Davies, Mirowski provides a concise description of how—maybe to the surprise of many Leftists—neoliberalism avoids the disruptive forces of the former: “[Neoliberalism] depend[s] upon a strong state to pursue the disenchantment of politics by means of economics.” The suggestion here of a muscular state actually abetting neoliberal doctrine and policy should raise some eyebrows, since a climate of unfettered free enterprise (it is basically accepted prima facie) generally entails a bloodless state that is institutionally incapable of intervening in today’s financialized economy.

However, it is precisely this discrete mobilization and repurposing of the state—that while carried out in concert the co-project of inuring the general public to the idea of its inefficacy—which Mirowski argues conforms exactly to the duplicitous nature of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. For Mirowski, the ability to replace public schools with vouchers, fill the prisons with inmates, conduct surveillance on citizens, arrange investor-state dispute settlement schemes in international trade agreements, bail out the banks, and pass Citizens United, all attest to—and require—”an extremely strong state.”

Mirowski’s claim is provocative and compelling, and he’s not the only one making it. Citing many of the same examples (policing the working class, bailing out large firms, and opening up overseas markets through military action), William Mitchel and Thomas Fazi also argue in their article, Make The Left Great Again, that neoliberal economic policy “require[s] the presence of a strong state.” It seems, though, somewhat questionable—at least strategically—for the Left to talk about the state today in these terms: weak/strong. These are, after all, pretty ideologically loaded descriptors, and for any Leftist to offer an account of the contemporary state as ‘extremely strong,’ without appending a serious qualification to that portrayal, seems very disingenuous.

Far worse, described as such, it seems readymade for the Right—a group that wants nothing more than to shrink government—to exploit in their argumentation. If in a capitalist society a strong state that can genuinely defend the public’s interest against free enterprise’s endless glut-drive, but is being framed as actually enabling it, then it’s unclear how that distortion furthers anyone’s agenda except the libertarians who actually do want to remove government from the lives of U.S. citizens.

Provided the decisive and outsized role that private equity plays in all of the aforementioned examples of the ‘strong’ state (from private firms running charter schools to privatized arbitration under ISDS in international trade agreements), then perhaps the more apt descriptor of the contemporary state is—quite simply—”bought.” And if a way forward out of neoliberalism in part involves a repoliticization of the public in order to properly recognize—and popularly contest—the current misuse of the state’s regulatory apparatuses, it would seem a considerably more galvanizing indictment of the system that its leaders have simply commodified and sold off the state at the expense of the working class, rather than argue that they have discretely made it ‘stronger.’

 

 

 

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Checks and the City: Cynthia Nixon’s Reparations Proposal & the Not Exactly Productive Response.

Ever see a horse grazing tranquilly and then a nearby tractor suddenly backfires?  Even before the echo fades the horse has like basically teleported to the opposite end of the pasture, and chances are slim it’ll wander back anywhere even remotely near the noise so long as it thinks there’s still a threat there.

A politician’s startle-reflex is sort of similar.  And, after this week, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Cynthia Nixon’s eagerness to talk openly about reparations has waned a bit.

Which is too bad because there’s a sort of comet-like infrequency to the appearance of the word ‘reparations’ in mainstream American political discourse.  To the extent that it gets talked about at all, it’s for the most part a rote observance of Left orthodoxy (i.e. how it is fundamentally incompatible with building an electorally-competitive Left) rather than in terms of what such a targeted effort might actually accomplish, the basic moral imperative, and how—given the profound difference in quality between white poverty and black poverty, and the desire for even the most tolerant of poor whites to simply not want to be near the bottom stratum of society—universal programs without reparations may in effect end up preserving one of the most disgraceful and degrading features of American society: its racialized hierarchy.

This was how it played out in 2016, the last time a high-profile political figure was asked to weigh in on reparations.  Bernie Sanders—then running to be the Democratic nominee—voiced his opposition to the idea, citing its appreciable potential for divisiveness among the imagined coalition, and the virtual certainty that if such a proposal were actually put forward for consideration it would summarily come up against a congressional impasse.  Sanders’ remarks were met with a number of black activists and intellectuals who were all quick to take umbrage with, and denounce his position, seeing it as either confirmation of (or that which portended) the candidate’s more general inattentiveness to the nation’s ongoing and pretty-much-worsening-by-the-dashcam-recorded-execution-of-black-people racial justice issues.

This time around reparations found a spokesperson who is clearly much more sympathetic to the idea.  Cynthia Nixon—a prominent candidate in New York’s gubernatorial race—was speaking to Forbes magazine and remarked how she’d like to see business licenses in the emerging cannabis industry prioritized for the drug war’s principal victims, and that doing so could be “a form of reparations.”  Reaction, again, was swift and declamatory.  The #BlackLivesMatter chapter of Greater New York has demanded that she apologize.  Al Sharpton got onto Twitter to inveigh against the recommendation.  And current NY County Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright said that Nixon should “cease and desist.”1

Seemingly prompted by concerns over her insufficient understanding of what reparations is meant to address—that is, the near total scarcity of wealth among Native Black Descendants of Slaves owing to sustained discriminatory policies over hundreds of years—critics rushed to check Nixon’s admittedly inelegant deployment of the term this past week in the narrow context of criminal justice reform, and to chide her for mislabeling what ought to be a more comprehensively-conceived and directed effort.  And while there’s no doubt lots of merit to that argument, it’s difficult not to see the mass incarceration of black males in the U.S. as anything other than a modern example/extension of the sort of policy that has always been aimed at perpetuating the economic underdevelopment of the black community, precisely the sort of thing that reparations is definitionally meant to redress.2

Moreover, a somewhat clumsy handling of the term probably shouldn’t be misconstrued as an entirely corrupt intention, or seen as a cause for raking a candidate over the coals and demanding they issue a public apology for a proposal aimed at economically benefitting black people.  That response seems much more likely to frighten a politician into avoiding any further discussion of the subject rather than encouraging that politician to reevaluate their position based on the available facts, and to move toward a more exact understanding of who gets reparations and why.3

What Cynthia Nixon proposed would no doubt be insufficient given the staggering divide in the U.S. racial wealth gap.  That’s a fact.  But it seems more than a little irresponsible on the part of people who are supportive of reparative policy to upbraid someone who is evidently sympathetic to pushing that agenda forward, rather than trying to engage with and show that politician all the very apparent ways in which their idea—though crucially needed—is conceptually deficient.

Beyond that, suggesting—as #BlackLivesMatter of Greater New York has done—that regulatory efforts aimed at assisting black businesses in the cannabis industry do a “disservice to our community…and play[s] into harmful stereotypes of African-Americans as drug users and dealers” seems to allow an overweening concern about a statistically false rate of racialized drug use and dealing to stand in the way of policy that might actually economically benefit the very communities that they claim to advocate for.

Hopefully there will be more opportunity up the road to revisit the issue more thoughtfully, and to then move a candidate toward not only the matter of who gets reparations and why, but—critically—how.  Specifically, as it relates to business licenses, prioritizing access to industry should be understood as a very minor and ultimately inadequate measure given that Native Black Decendands of Slaves are far and away the most capital-deficient group of people in the United States, and how—because of that—banks can compound difficulties for business owners who will inevitable require funds to operate and stay competitive, and engage in all sorts of highly unethical lending practices, should they choose to lend at all.4

Importantly, a meaningful dialogue on reparations can help to demonstrate how the conditions that led to this extremely precarious, and in a way almost helpless, economic situation for Native Black Descendants of Slaves were not ones that occurred by accident or by chance, but rather by deliberate design.  And that because that economic situation finds in the U.S. government its original manufacturer, it is to that entity which claims on that uniquely defective product of black America must be answerable.


1. Keith Wright being, of course, a total fucking shill

2. The obviousness of which cannot be overstated. And in case you’ve been inside of a sensory deprivation tank since 2010, please refer to Michelle Alexander’s sensational The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness for a pretty much unassailable argument on how the prison-industry complex amounts to a white supremacist institutional achievement pretty much on par with the southern plantation

3. That Cynthia Nixon does need quite a bit of help in this ‘who and why’ area is particularly apparent, having invoked the highly dilutive ‘people of color’ catchall in what must be an always historically and lineage-specific conversation about reparations. 

4. Which is of course just *one* of the consequences of lacking capital.  To that end, though, here’s a rather, um, stark example of what’s required to obtain a loan even when you’re a(n extremely connected and obscenely qualified) black business owner.  Pierre Sutton, whose father was the Manhattan Borough President, principal owner of the Amsterdam News (a leading Black newspaper in New York), and an owner of a cable television company, had this to say on his ordeal in trying to secure financing:

“We didn’t have access to capital.  We didn’t.  We had an opportunity to purchase but we were unable to find a bank that would back us in [1971].  In fact, we went to some 30 banks in New York looking for backing and this was to buy an AM daytime radio station in Harlem . . .(W)e were fortunate in that one of our shareholders had saved the life of Bunny Berkley, who was then the [child of the] Chairman of the Board of Chemical Bank, and that’s how we got additional financing.  But it was just dumb luck.  He [the shareholders] was a counselor at summer camp and he had saved the life of the [child] from drowning, saved the life of this man’s child.  It’s kind of extreme access.”

Compare this to Jeffrey Hutton, a white, small radio station owner, whose experience with his bank was a dramatically different and basically pretty breezy-sounding one:

“I went down to the bank [in 1983] and got a loan.  And they gave me a loan based on two criteria.  Number one, the collateral I was able to put on the table, and number two, my personal credibility because I was employed as vice president of a local hospital in town when I went to my bank.  And so as a result, I was what they call an upstanding citizen of the community, and you know, served on a United Way board and things like that.  So they were really, as I was told later on, they were loaning the money to Jeff Hutton because of Jeff Hutton, not necessarily because they thought that this business venture was going to fly and make money.”

And here’s Dorothy Brunson, a broadcasting pioneer in black-owned television stations, discussing the kinds of lending disparities that exist for African-Americans as a result of their creditworthiness:

“Every time we’ve had to borrow money, we’ve had to borrow it at 15%, 16% interest rates because the history and the growth of the station and the level of profitability was not there in thee early stages.  So people still look at us as high risk. . .And so you, you’re constantly paying extra dollars to be able to do the basic things that most people can do with 5 or 6 or 7% dollars, and the same dollars would cost us 12%, 15%.”

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The Glass Ceiling’s Smudge

Because Hillary Clinton’s always been one of capitalism’s most ardent, enthusiastic and prominent defenders. Because Hillary Clinton appears to genuinely love and believe in free market capitalism. Because of this, a person might remark on there having been a very, very tiny element of pathos in her acknowledging the other day how such a commitment to that economic system “probably” hurt her during the election.

The pathos is maybe like that of watching an enfeebled Magneto at a dinner party, dejectedly juggling his silverware with his mind for his fellow table guests and sighing to them about the scope of his dominion in the pre-thermoplastic days, or lamenting the impending Super Wood transition. The people sitting at the table clap at the spinning cutlery. But it’s a sad applause, weak and sparse, then gone. Magneto disconsolately twirls some spaghetti with a levitating fork and brings it to his mouth to feed himself. He takes a long swallow from his fourth glass of Spatbürgunder. The guests all avert their eyes downward at their plates and grope at something else to talk about.

Magneto is, though, a far more sympathetic figure in decadence than Hillary Clinton. Just watch the clip. It is vintage HRC. Which is to say, not a tragic supervillain. Not an anti-hero. Just a supervillain. Just anti.

Just a sort of vaguely cadaverous looking woman in a summerweight scarf or like, maybe it’s a linen neck cravat spooled over what could be an extrication collar she’s so unnaturally rigid-looking from the shoulders up. Just a general, faint aura of despondency while fielding—from an obviously giddy-headed, sycophantic, hashtag-still-with-her type of creature—the question of whether or not her clapping her pom-poms together and doing toe-touch jumps for capitalism during the height of fucking income inequality “hurt” her.

Then the response. And it’s like we watch as another, more insufferable Hillary hatches out of that Hillaryshell.

The lording of that pragmatism, the basic imperiousness. And of course—as always surfaces whenever she’s asked about the factors that may’ve occasioned her participation trophy in the 2016 presidential election—a just barely suppressed, roiling, seething, rage-contempt coupled with a beyond-weary frustration at whom you’ve just gotta suspect will forever be the one thing she’ll clutch onto as the reason that she actually lost the thing: that is, the lunatic and slobbering mob-republic who all packed a lipper of Skoal and went into the voting booth to hand over her cache of bombs and missiles to a game show host. An addleminded, Big Bird-physiqued, political fucking neanderthal who managed to capture the country’s vast interior because his opponent was too busy workshopping insults about those very same people in front of the chic donor crowds in the Hamptons to go and visit fucking Wisconsin.

Because it was how Hillary Clinton went about answering the question on the consequences of her pro-capitalist stance that’s arguably far more revealing of what may have actually discouraged U.S. voters from supporting her.

Her answer naturally made no sincere attempt at acknowledging the very real ways in which capitalism has absolutely devoured and razed opportunity throughout the American working class. How it fully siphoned off what it needed of their labor and then left many of them and their families to simply languish in poverty in the country’s now gangrenous regions of dead and used-up industry. To say nothing of the capitalist wasteproduct that is the inner-city. And how here in the U.S. that economic system was deliberately racialized in order to manufacture black failure and consolidate all of capitalism’s lossmaking into one primary group of darkskinned people. Or how the preservation and continuation of that racialized failure was to then be strongly incentivized at every level by capitalists in their beloved system’s rapacious, centuries-long development. Nothing of its terrific adaptability and its demand for evermore failure; everfurther accentuation of the divide(s). And how so now that system’s bottomchurn is becoming a little bit white even, too.

Only a disdainfully amused commentary on the stupid, screaming, careless hordes who failed to appreciate—even consider—the nuance of her position on capitalism. “Appropriate regulation.  Appropriate accountability.” Those aspects that she stresses went unheard.

“That probably gets lost in, ‘Oh my gosh! She’s a capitalist!” Hillary scoffs in the clip.

Ignorant, clownish rustics. The apparent swathes of left-of-centrist Democrats all standing abreast of one another outside the Iowa caucusing locations, stamping their spears on the ground in unison and chanting “Marx! Marx!” and drowning out the gentleness and mildness that Hillary’d been trying to communicate she would have restored to the capitalist system.

Vintage HRC. A fling at being direct and upfront, but almost instinctively, unavoidably, offensively evasive and disingenuous where it matters most. Responding to a question about your position’s maybe being well out-of-step with the party’s base, and not feeling the need to account that beyond ascribing a baffling thickheadedness and blunt recalcitrance to opposing position holders, is exactly the sort of rote and insincere political dialogue that U.S. voters have come to expect from basically all elected officials, but one which Hillary Clinton is especially apt at deploying.

Maybe in defeat it’s even harder to fake empathy. Probably. Nonetheless, it’s astonishing to observe someone whose political mind—hailed as legendary throughout the beltway!—routinely fails to do that one very basic thing, which, after all, was something that even Donald Trump—in his awful, fucking clumsy doddering lurch toward the presidency—could apprehend was necessary in order to win the election.

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Give Me Some Wheels: Breaking Brown and Overcoming the Black Media Crisis

The accusation that either Yvette Carnell or Antonio Moore have been somehow deficient in providing a solution for the black community is a lot like complaining about a gas station attendant who, after filling up your tank, didn’t then convene a meeting with multiple agencies to coordinate municipality-wide road closures and personally escort you on a swift and hassle-free route of passage toward your destination.

In the analogy, it’s important to recognize what a veritable desert black-owned media has become in the U.S. since the 1970s.  And how on a very basic level, the existence of an entity like Breaking Brown—by which information and matters relevant to the black community can be promulgated and discussed—is a vital, agenda-creating plank of the multi-institutional structure that, if full equality is to ever happen, will most certainly be the thing that produces it.

As Antonio Moore, co-author of a recent report which effectively laid to rest the persistent myths surrounding the racial wealth gap, had noted back in 2016: “Joseph Torres and Derek Turner of the media watchdog group Free Press put the current grand total of black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in the United States at zero.” Also declining apace has been a national black-owned radio presence, which, over an 18-year period— from 1995 to 2013—saw a 53 per cent decrease in company ownership.

To understand how this relates to one of Breaking Brown’s central arguments; namely, the essential role of government in creating opportunity for black businesses to be successful by protecting them from being shoved out by larger capital holders’ ever-expanding capture of marketshare, it’s significant to note the year—1995—in which the national presence of black-owned media began to vanish.

The decline coincides with a landmark Supreme Court case, Adarand vs. Peña, in which a minority-owned business had been awarded a subcontract for a guardrail construction project along a highway.  Adarand, a white-owned business and the lowest bidder in the guardrail project, argued that the Department of Transportation—which had offered the primary contractor of the highway certain financial incentives if they subcontracted to disadvantaged (i.e. minority-owned) businesses—violated equal protection under the unconstitution.

The Court sided with Adarand, maintaining that “these programs stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority and may cause them to develop dependencies or to adopt an attitude that they are ‘entitled’ to preferences.”  And so going forward, the Court’s notoriously difficult-to-meet standard of “strict scrutiny”—which had heretofore applied to (and hampered) local and state affirmative action efforts—would, for the first time, also be applicable to federal affirmative action programs.  Consequently, this ruling then directly challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s having established race-based provisions in its competitive bidding procedures for obtaining broadcasting licenses, a decision which was intended to help “disseminat[e] licenses among…businesses owned by members of minority groups and women.”

According to a 2000 reportWhose Spectrum Is It, Anyway? A Historical Study of Market Entry Barriers, Discrimination and Changes in Broadcast and Wireless Licensing, “From 1978 to 1995, the FCC granted approximately 356 tax certificates to promote minority broadcast and cable ownership (287 radio, 40 TV and 30 cable licenses).”  Post Adarand, though, the FCC did away with all of its race-based provisions in competitive bidding, and those credits and deferrals on capital gains taxes that had once been available exclusively to members of minority groups were now made available to all small businesses.

The effect—like all colorblind policy in America—was to simply abandon to their fate black people whose unique history of centuries of wealth exclusion made them disastrously ill-equipped to withstand such exposure to the brutal forces of the market, and to couch this new form of anti-black discrimination in the race-neutral language of equal opportunity.

This legislative pivot away from race-specific corrective measures, and toward an apparent principle of impartiality embedded in the constitution, ensured the vitality of an economic system that to this day depends on the legacy of race-specific punitive policy being left intact.  That legacy—a vastly economically-underdeveloped class of people as a result of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining—is the successful design of  U.S. capitalism’s permanent underclass, the repository and source of its necessary failures.  And while an earlier phase of American capitalism required a fantasy of race to crudely and murderously forge this group, its latter and contemporary phase merely needs that group’s descendants to remain mired in the swells of economic privation.  To be—in other words–overwhelmingly represented and pooled in the category of high financial risk: the modern, ‘race-neutral’ disqualifier for access to wealth in the Adarand-era, wherein the discourse around policy became fully unanchored in the wealth-depriving realities of the past.

Greg Davis, a black radio station owner and industry veteran, speaks to how those historical realities—even if one is able to overcome the initial barriers to access—make obtaining the capital to then invest in the company a grueling endeavor and a stark reminder of how blackness in America signals, above all, financial liability:

“I found it extremely difficult—and even with my 25 years in the business, and even [with my] proven record [of] having been there for 12 or 15 years—it was still very difficult to get conventional financing.  So the cost of capital has always been a very strong deterrent for minorities participating in the broadcast industry…I want that to be very clear: that it’s not only the accessibility, but it’s also the cost of doing business. It’s been extremely difficult for us to come ahead.”

James E. Wolf, Jr., another black radio station owner who secured a broadcasting license in 1983 and who eventually sold his business, has a story that’s also consistent with the obstacle of capital acquisition being a matter of perceived credit unworthiness.

“(W)e tried unsuccessfully so many times [to raise capital]. . . . (T)hese are the pressures really that made me actually sell at this time, you know. It’s because I just got tired of begging people, even though you prove yourself over and over. I’m on the Chamber [of Commerce’s] Economic Development Board. I’ve won the pinnacle award of the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve won the small business award. I’ve won every large award—industry award—that you can win here, but I’ve never proved myself to banks.”

For Mr. Wolf, the reason is obvious: “The color of the skin I am in is the problem. It has been and still is.”

In this light then, the ‘badge of inferiority’ is not a thing ‘stamped’ post-factum by the programs aimed at ameliorating the legacy of being black in America, as was suggested in the Court’s Adarand decision.  The badge of inferiority—which is to say what black skin was made to economically signify in America—was branded onto slaves and their descendants as an economic necessity from the nation’s very inception. Crafted as such, race became the most prevalent and observable feature of what poverty and instability look like in American society, rather than—as it must necessarily be understood in order to fully eradicate the divide—the conceptual tool behind those conditions.

It is in this framework that the sheer paucity of black-owned media—that is, how virtually all of what black America watches, listens to, and reads on a daily basis is all increasingly being curated by and manufactured from a non-black perspective—is entirely correlated with decades of government deregulation and the legacy of capital-exclusion.  Critically, this deregulation is undergirded by the insidious idea that by giving preferential legislative treatment to a group of people who were for so long the victims of explicit, discriminatory policies, we sustain and keep alive certain notions of inequality rather than work to materially close them.  As a black-owned media company, Breaking Brown stands as not only an actual entity in opposition to the collapse of its kind, but as a vehicle that can work in concert with other black institutions—ones that also recognize the complete impoverishment of modern efforts at improving the material conditions of Native Black Descendants of Slaves—to intervene in the apparent collapse of the black community more broadly.

For those critics of Breaking Brown who characterize its position on the need for reparative justice as beggarly—that is, insofar as black institutions are pipelines into the community, then government must be understood as the primary valve through which subsidies and policies flow and fundamentally decide whether those institutions are able to adequately provide their services for the community—or that such a position is somehow unbefitting of a group of people who were for hundreds of years deliberately deprived of securing the chief means to make a dignified life in America—access to wealth—it’s worth considering the words of Erskine Faush, a black television station owner who acquired his license in 1989:

“. . . (I)t’s that access to capital. It’s that barrier. And, you know, you’re not necessarily looking for preferential treatment—and, yet, I could make a strong case to justify some [of it] because of past practices in the marketplace. I could make a strong case for that, but I won’t do that. What I will say is this: that once you remove the barrier that’s there, without help, you cannot move.  And that’s the one of capital.  You know, everything else, once you do that—give me the wheels to put on my chariot.  Do you understand what I mean?  I’ll drive it. I’ll run it.

“I don’t mind getting in the race with anybody else at any other level.  And let it be on initiative, your drive, and all those things that you ought to have to be a good, viable business enterprise, you know.  You don’t have to do that—you don’t have to go out and get the business for me.  I’ll go get it.  Do you understand what I’m saying? But the one thing I can’t get over is the fact that I’m starting at the starting gate and I’m expected to make the chariot go and there are no wheels on it. Give me some wheels and I’ll get at the race line with everybody else and line up, and let’s see who can run to the finish line.”

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The Color of Law & The Continuum of Native Black Lockout.

Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law, recounts—among many other examples—the successful re-segregation efforts that took place in the city of Helena, Montana. It is but one of a great many other instances the book uses to describe how, during the 20th century, local and federal government enacted policies specifically intended to place black and white people in isolation from one another. The detrimental consequences of these efforts with respect to Native Blacks in this country cannot be overstated. They unquestionably constitute an essential component of the now yawning racial wealth gap, as whites—who previously lived in mixed communities but were afforded access to homes via FHA loans that were denied to African-Americans—clustered together in the suburbs. As black communities were left to languish in the wake of this re-segregation, The Color of Law shows how the present ills of urban black America—contrary to the claim of a pathologized blackness—are a direct, functional disorder of the racist handiwork of the real estate industry, state courts and the federal government.

What becomes apparent when looking at Helena—while never exactly being a very dense African-American city—was how the black community that was there had in fact prospered in a milieu of integration. There was an “established middle-class,” Rothstein writes, an African-American police officer patrolled one of the town’s wealthiest white neighborhoods, and there were “black newspapers, black-owned businesses and a black literary society.” However, as anti-black attitudes began metastasizing throughout the country, whatever harmony and stability had existed was soon shattered as African-Americans started being “systematically expelled” from Helena and other predominantly white communities. Between 1910 and 1970, the city’s black population declined by 90 per cent as a result of white mobs terrorizing the black community—abetted by local law enforcement—and anti-miscegenation laws.

To look at Helena today, one observes what seems to be a town that has—despite its  unconscionable history—made progress in its  stance on anti-blackness. After all, this past year, the city of Helena elected Wilmot Collins as its first black mayor. Collins is a 54 year-old refugee from Liberia who came to the United States at the age of 31, and is someone who, we are told, has “the most American of stories.” Presumably—for someone who is unaware of the specifics of Collins’ story—this language is meant to indicate and emphasize his embodiment of the idealized refugee experience; his ascendancy from the archetypal destitute arrival to his eventual attainment of the highest-ranking position in a municipal government. However, as with the preponderance of those “most American of stories,” a closer look at Collins’ actual experience shows how describing it in these terms conceals more than it reveals. Moreover, to conceive of Collins’ election as constituting some kind of meaningful leap forward for race relations in Helena, Montana is to misunderstand the utterly devastating legacy of the coordinated assault on black life that The Color of Law describes having taken place in the town, and on black America more generally. Those deliberate actions of re-segregation guaranteed the kind of instability that precludes any community-based, agenda-driven politics, and which could only ever allow for a future scenario in which a black candidate who “never felt that his race was a factor” might win the mayoral race.

It seems there could not be a more perfect expression and realization of the government project to keep Native Blacks at the bottom of society than to systematically engineer their place there and then have as mayor a feel-good symbol of blackness, and America’s enterprising spirit, say that his win was “not about race or anything.” Certainly, by now we must understand such a familiar proclamation as code for—and reassurance that—his tenure as Mayor will, too, not be “about race or anything.” However, a bit of digging on the Internet reveals just how powerfully race has in fact operated in Collins’ own “most American of stories.”

In 1984, Collins’ wife, Maddie, had been a Liberian high school cultural exchange student living in Helena. Her host family was a white family named the Nachsteims—Bruce and Nancy—a couple who would prove absolutely integral to both her and Wilmot’s futures. In 1988, Maddie graduated from Helena High School and returned to Liberia, which was then mired in a civil war. After fleeing the violence to Ghana with Wilmot, Maddie placed a telephone call from a shelter there to the Nachsteims and explained to them her situation. The Nachsteims quickly strategized a plan to get Maddie back to Helena. “The only way we could get [Maddie] into the U.S., was if she applied for a student visa,” Joyce Nachtsheim said. “So we explained to Carrol College what the plight was, and the college said, `We will pay for it, don’t you worry.’ It helped us tremendously, and so Maddie came on a student visa.” Maddie received a full scholarship to Carroll College, where she would study nursing.

Maddie arrived pregnant in Montana in 1992. Wilmot had to remain in Ghana. Immediately, the Nachsteims set about trying to reunite her with her husband as expeditiously as possible. Bruce Nachsteim—who was a former FBI agent—contacted state Senator Conrad Burns and Senator Baucus, along with Congressman Pat Williams to initiate the process that would eventually bring Maddie’s husband over to Helena. “I talked to everyone who was anyone,” he said. In the interim, Maddie gave birth to a daughter in a hospital that, according to Nachsteim, “didn’t charge her anything…everyone pitched in to help this African girl from a war-torn county whom they had no connection with. It was really very spectacular.”

Throughout, Nachsteim continued “trying tirelessly” to get Wilmot to the United States, and in 1994 Wilmot finally secured a visa to come to Montana. Here’s a description of his arrival in Helena from a Public International Radio article:

“When [Wilmot] first arrived to Montana in 1994, the community had already rallied around his wife, who arrived more than two years earlier. He got off the plane to find a welcoming party put together by students at Helena High School and members of The First Lutheran Church. They held sheets of paper that together spelled out ‘Welcome home Wilmot.'”

As much as the media would like to wrap Collins’ story in the mythos of American opportunity that we’re repeatedly told is available to the very least of us, a scenario like this is inarguably atypical of the experience of an average refugee. And insofar as we take Collins’ story to be emblematic of a certain notion of opportunity and improbable success which is only accessible here in America, it’s important—it’s essential—to note how Collins’ success is one that is predicated on, and made completely possible by, proximity to whiteness. Without the Nachsteims, there is no Mayor Collins.

This imperative to be afforded the opportunities occasioned by proximity to whiteness is what the Breaking Brown project has repeatedly stated is one of the absolutely critical ways that the United States government can begin providing adequate redress for the economic devastation that has defined black life in America since the arrival of the first African slaves in the 17th century, and which is catalogued at length and in vivid detail in the pages of The Color of Law.

Indeed, the very fact of Mayor Collins’ election in Helena takes on a particular valence in light of Rothstein’s account of how the city was able to all but completely vanquish its black community in the mid 20th century. In many ways, Mayor Collins—who is already using his platform to extol the virtues of refugees and other immigrants—represents a new point in the continuum of black disadvantage that was being established during re-segregation. Breaking Brown has demonstrated at length the detrimental effects of the non-U.S. citizen labor stream on black workers (and U.S. labor more generally), and the need to prioritize jobs and protections for American workers and to shore up the wage floor. And so what does it mean to have a black Democratic mayor now advocating for the replacement to native blacks? Not just in the labor market, but also as potential affirmative action slots in higher education, and the many other ways in which the ushering in of new diversity functions to assist the United States in continuing to mask the predetermined, inevitable failure of African-American Descendants of Slaves—and by extension, the United States’ failure to heal the wound that it inflicted centuries ago and then proceeded to keep open? What does it mean to understand the sort of race-neutral politics of Mayor Collins as that which filled the vacuum left in the expulsion of Helena’s native black community? What , we have to wonder, in those intervening years could have been different—in Helena and elsewhere—if the government hadn’t ordained and done everything possible to keep Native Blacks at the very bottom of the social order?

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