Thursday, June 18, 2020

Black Lives Matter Movement Is Mimetic Cover For A Neoliberal Program



nonsite |  Black Lives Matter sentiment is essentially a militant expression of racial liberalism. Such expressions are not a threat but rather a bulwark to the neoliberal project that has obliterated the social wage, gutted public sector employment and worker pensions, undermined collective bargaining and union power, and rolled out an expansive carceral apparatus, all developments that have adversely affected black workers and communities. Sure, some activists are calling for defunding police departments and de-carceration, but as a popular slogan, Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism. And the ruling class agrees.
During the so-called Black Out Tuesday social media event, corporate giants like Walmart and Amazon widely condemned the killing of George Floyd and other policing excesses. Gestural anti-racism was already evident at Amazon, which flew the red, black and green black liberation flag over its Seattle headquarters this past February. The world’s wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos even took the time to respond personally to customer upset that Amazon expressed sympathy with the George Floyd protestors. “‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter,” the Amazon CEO wrote, “I have a 20-year-old son, and I simply don’t worry that he might be choked to death while being detained one day. It’s not something I worry about. Black parents can’t say the same.” Bezos also pledged $10 million in support of “social justice organizations,” i.e., the ACLU Foundation, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, the National Bar Association, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Urban League, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, and Year Up. The leadership of Warner, Sony Music and Walmart each committed $100 million to similar organizations. The protests have provided a public relations windfall for Bezos and his ilk. Only weeks before George Floyd’s killing, Amazon, Instacart, GrubHub and other delivery-based firms, which became crucial for commodity circulation during the national shelter-in-place, faced mounting pressure from labor activists over their inadequate protections, low wages, lack of health benefits and other working conditions. Corporate anti-racism is the perfect egress from these labor conflicts. Black lives matter to the front office, as long as they don’t demand a living wage, personal protective equipment and quality health care.

Perhaps the most important point in Reed’s 2016 essay is his insistence that Black Lives Matter, and cognate notions like the New Jim Crow are empirically and analytically wrong and advance an equally wrong-headed set of solutions. He does not deny the fact of racial disparity in criminal justice but points us towards a deeper causation and the need for more fulsome political interventions.

Racism alone cannot fully explain the expansive carceral power in our midst, which, as Reed notes, is “the product of an approach to policing that emerges from an imperative to contain and suppress the pockets of economically marginal and sub-employed working-class populations produced by revanchist capitalism.” Most Americans have now rejected the worst instances of police abuse, but not the institution of policing, nor the consumer society it services. As we should know too well by now, white guilt and black outrage have limited political currency, and neither has ever been a sustainable basis for building the kind of popular and legislative majorities needed to actually contest entrenched power in any meaningful way.