By: Matt Thompson
You’ve done it again! Divided my community. A group of self-loving people speak up for the sanctity of Black Life and it gets interpreted as being against the lives of other working class people.
Gun sales are increasing and the rich profit while Blacks die; Black and White police are vilified and sometimes, yes…die. How many of the civilian victims or dead officers owned stock in the gun industry? Now we’re creating a situation where the rich manufacturers of military equipment are making money by selling their excess to the police. They created a need. They created the market! And we pay the price. Many working class people have found legitimacy, respectability and financial security through institutions like the U.S. military, police departments and fire departments. In my military service I met, and was mentored by, men who helped integrate those ranks and the opportunities made available to minorities. Many of them retired from military service and transitioned into positions in police and fire departments and other first-responder roles across the country.
The RE-commodification of Black lives is once again feeding the rich. First, as slaves, Blacks were cheap labor, creating wealth for wealthy landowners. The status of slaves also helped the socialization of poor Whites. In the 17th century, the concept of Whiteness as a racial classification was created, dividing the now-White and Black indentured slaves from each other as well as the Black slaves. By dividing their numbers and holding out false hope of “the illusion of inclusion” the newly minted Whites did not want to see the social structure changed. And no matter how hard their struggle, at least they weren’t Black.
The post-slavery Jim Crow era brought with it the legitimization of two-tier pay scales, exclusion from full citizenship and denial to financial and housing markets that began to open paths to security - not necessarily wealth - for those who managed to become classified as White. The educational system, once strictly for the wealthy, became a way for the working class to move up and create a middle class, which excluded Blacks for decades. Even the disproportionate distribution of resources between the Black and White public school systems was sanctioned.
The Civil Rights era highlighted the institutionalization of racism throughout our social and financial structures while creating the notion that Blacks could now earn their way into these systems. The “illusion of inclusion” began to lose its luster, and The System brought with it the commodification of Blacks once again.
Drugs brought illicit wealth into our social system but criminalized those who were on the tail end of the system. We didn’t fly the drugs in or own the cigarette boats that carried them to our shores, but our young people, for whom the educational system had failed, paid the price when they became a commodity for a criminal justice system that has resulted in for-profit jails. The system disproportionately entraps Black people who are only 13% of the general population but 60% of the prison population. To survive, the prison system sustains itself on repeat offenders, while schools - turned de facto penitentiaries - provide it with new fodder. $50,000/year could go to higher education but it might result in someone demanding part of “The American Dream” and diluting the wealth at the top. Whereas $50,000/year for the prison system can not only preserve the wealth at the top, it can increase the wealth with the generation of military equipment sales to paramilitary organizations, dividing communities by determining who is a criminal and who rides herd on those criminals or potential criminals.
Once again, poor working Whites have found financial security (but not wealth) through the first-responder system and poor Blacks have found modest financial security, but are still fighting for parity within this system. Now, poor Whites and Blacks are pitted against each other within the communities in which they have grown up.
America, you would have us believe that the people who have fought and served with honor now hate the communities they serve. This system calls for them to learn how to follow orders, unquestioningly and without fail. They are not allowed to stop and think about the impact of those orders; they must assume that those who gave the orders know what they’re talking about. And those who give the orders are bound by the policies, practices, and laws that commodify Blacks and perpetuate institutional racism.
The short term battle has some people believing that to love Back lives means you must hate first-responders. We get trapped into an “either/or” situation which fuels division and mistrust in our community. This also sells products (like guns to private citizens and more military equipment to paramilitary organizations) and further enriches the wealthy.
Now, my community - of Black and poor people - is divided once again. I am working to create channels of communication between the so-called factions: First responders, educators, public servants, elected officials and every-day citizens. Until we lift the veil on those who profit from our division and prevent us from uniting, I will continue to work to help us bridge those differences.