One of the most irksome and often uttered refrains from so-called fans of Breaking Brown‘s Yvette Carnell is the shallow retort “Well, then what’s your solution?” or “So what’s your alternative?” Often, more than with any real openness to actual discussion or dialogue, these questions are posed combatively and dismissively.
Notwithstanding how idealistic and naïve the expectation is that there would even be, in the first place, an easily articulable, programmatic response to the myriad positions of disadvantage that descendants of slaves have been made to occupy in this country for centuries, the refusal to understand Breaking Brown as a solution in and of itself in fact signals a profoundly deeper and troubling predicament for the show. Namely, contending with the somewhat paradoxical situation of black people who, on one hand, clearly desire a dramatic change in the social order, but who, on the other, balk at, and regard as unproductive, the absolutely critical, indispensable and foundational work that is needed to begin effecting that restructuring: the formation of a new political consciousness.
How has such a rigid and obstinate mentality taken root within the group most disadvantaged by the present political-economic arrangement? It is no doubt a testament to the sheer efficiency and craftsmanship of our ideological production industry. And to borrow from the vernacular of capitalism—the economic system for which that industry is principally tasked with producing appropriate subjects—the process is now more or less automated.
Here’s a shitty, obvious fact of reality: Capitalism has always required a highly unequal social order. Historically, it’s been a lot messier preserving that. From the very hands-on beginnings of stealing black people from Africa and shackling them in chains to compel their free labor, to Jim Crow and the slightly more remotely-operated and “sophisticated” engineering of black disadvantage via redlining, the elites have consistently had to intercede and tweak the system as black people fought for and won modest, incremental gains toward some access to stability. And although policy now has a sheen of being not explicitly discriminatory, each permutation of the social order since the plantation has proved over and over again one very salient thing: an essential feature of the social order is a permanent underclass. There must be people at the very bottom of society for capitalism to maximally function.
And so with the fact of policy having evolved to where it is superficially sensitive to the fact that they can’t be so nakedly racist in their aim of maintaining a permanent underclass, those at the top faced a predicament. The question became, for them, how to effect that outcome despite that?
The answer is breathtaking in its simplicity: Encourage black people to now participate in contemporary American life.
What’s so insidious about this is that the realities of black life following the legacy of slavery, and decade after decade of anti-black practices, make descendants of slaves incomparably vulnerable to the most refined and deceptively ruthless systems of exploitation the capitalist machine has ever contained. Those at the top have merely opened up the playing field to an America that, in its present form, requires all sorts of instruments of entrapment—loans and credit— for everyone to participate in it, let alone succeed. And to extend those instruments to a people who’ve been systematically locked out of securing the basic stability needed to offset just some of the risk associated with borrowing, and to invite them to take part in the American Dream™, is to sit back and watch the return on the initial investment of slavery positively flourish.
From chains to so-called “choice,” the history of black people in the United States can be described as having had a legacy of ultimate disadvantage created for them, and then, later, after the conditions of that legacy had set, marketing the pernicious ideology to them that they alone can transcend it by mere individual volition. To be more exact, it’s not enough to tell them that they can transcend it, they must be compelled to believe they have no other choice but to try. And so that mentality—conditioned by capitalism and brought to bear on choices like whether or not to buy a home, go to college, or pursue success at the individual level, be it in the form of celebrity or even just careers that necessitate a greater degree of stability than black people have been permitted to attain—that mentality then becomes itself a mainstay in the mass (re)production of the instability and disadvantage of the underclass.
This is what makes what Breaking Brown is doing so urgent and essential. When you’ve designed a system so total that the people whom it has relegated to the very bottom of the social order are resigned to advocating as the only solution to their misery the very ideology that has ensured it, you have achieved a feat of social engineering that is virtually flawless. And by educating her audience on how those at the top have, in effect, now set up a mock auction of the American Dream™ primarily for and by which to further disadvantage the descendants of those who—beyond being forcibly denied the dream—were bought and sold at slave auction to build and make the dream possible for their traders and their descendants, Yvette Carnell is looking to stage an intervention at the very point of ideological production. That this would not be conceived as—not just a solution—but a fundamental solution, only reaffirms the difficulty and the absolute necessity of the task ahead for the show.
Yvette Carnell is not an oracle. She is the host of a black political news-media channel on YouTube. And so to the extent that fans of Breaking Brown want to know the specifics on how the new social order will be brought about, it’s worth taking a minute to think about the role and impact of traditional, mainstream news-media, one that has led many black people—even those who are sympathetic to the project of building a more just and equal social order—to reject or doubt the practicality of the sort of political consciousness that would help bring that vision of society closer toward its realization. No doubt the select stories of certain black individuals paraded out by traditional mainstream news-media are powerful and seductive illusions about the possibilities of black life in modern-day America. Capitalism requires a narrative of attainable success to help ensure its underclass will keep striving, and traditional media has promoted the lie with the zeal characteristic of a charlatan who preys on the unfortunate.
It’s the ideology in that sub-narrative of black stability in the 21st Century, hawked to a community rendered desperate by system after system of exploitation since they were first brought to this country that Breaking Brown is out to expose. And in so doing, disabuse the audience of the notion that—outside of organizing for a change in the political arrangement—there is simply no meaningful, capital-S Solution available to the black community for a way out of the abject condition into which they were put and under which they continue to languish. This is, critically, what Breaking Brown understands, and what it is setting out to do by shaping a political consciousness among African-American descendants of slaves that is informed first and foremost by their history and its enduring, persistent influence in their present-day reality. Because, as that history has shown, in the absence of that well-educated, politically-engaged and organized, collectivist-minded community, what is an absolute certainty is that the assembly line of Black Disadvantage ™ will continue unimpeded.