With the events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, where white nationalists and neo-Nazis descended on the University of Virginia campus carrying tiki torches and chanting Nazi slogans, the existence of the profound and rampant racism in this country can no longer be denied.
For those naïve enough to believe that the election of former President Barack Obama signaled that we as a nation have moved past racism, the images of neo-Nazis openly marching in the streets should remove all doubt that the U.S. is still deeply entrenched in racism.
It’s been just 53 years since the Civil Rights bill was signed and just 152 years since the slaves were freed.
Even with all the progress we have made as a country, racism has not gone away — it never did. Rather, racism was simply masked by the façade of symbolic change.
While the country prides itself on the notion that "anyone who works hard can succeed," the reality is that for many people of color, the “American Dream” is just that: a dream.
Capitalism is supposed to lift all boats, but it doesn’t. To examine this, we must revisit the bold declaration from Malcolm X, “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” Is he right? Does capitalism create, foster and perpetuate institutional racism? Absolutely.
Take for example the recent incident between L’Oréal and model Munroe Bergdorf. On Aug. 27, L’Oréal announced Bergdorf as the face of its newest campaign championing diversity. Yet within days of that announcement, L’Oréal declared that it had parted ways with Bergdorf, dropping her from the campaign.
The announcement was a response to a discovered Facebook post Bergdorf made following the events in Charlottesville in which she wrote, “Most of ya’ll don’t realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege, and success as a race is built on the backs, blood, and death of people of colour … Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege.”
On Sept. 1, L’Oréal tweeted out that it had ended its partnership with Bergdorf, stating that her comments were “at odds” with the company’s values. The fact that Bergdorf, a black transgender woman, was merely calling out the very real nature of racism and white supremacy in society leads one to ask, just what are the company’s “values” she was at odds with?
Make no mistake, L’Oréal did not launch a new diversity campaign out of a desire to push real racial justice. They did so in hopes of cashing in on a new ‘trend’ by tokenizing and using Bergdorf’s identity, only to terminate her the minute she spoke out on racism. Thus, is capitalism.
Caving instantly to the right-wing media backlash, L’Oréal confirmed to everyone that its ultimate concern is and will always be its profit margin. The campaign was nothing more than another symbolic gesture by the cosmetics company to conceal the blemish of racism in society enabled by capitalism.
Certainly, capitalism is not the cause of racism, but to ignore the link between the two ignores centuries of history in which capitalism not only failed to extinguish racism but actively benefited and contributed to it.
Capitalism by its nature requires an underclass. Someone must work the “undesirable” jobs for depressed wages for the ruling class to remain rich. It’s no accident that after centuries of slavery, Jim Crow and our current justice system that people of color happen to make up much of that underclass.
By teaching us to base every judgement on the value of one’s worth and private ownership, the capitalist system unwittingly enables exactly that which its advocates claim it will fix.
Part of the problem is the false dichotomy where society sees racial issues as separate from economic issues. Often during the 2016 primaries, Bernie Sanders was chastised for his apparent deference toward racial issues. We are told that racial justice is somehow separate from economic justice when in reality, you cannot have one without the other.
By removing the distinction between economic and racial issues one begins to see how the very nature of capitalism, as Bergdorf says “consciously or unconsciously” perpetuates racism.
In an interview with Jacobin magazine, Seattle’s city councilwoman Kshama Sawant observed that, “the logic of the capitalist system is such that if you’re fighting racism, it forces you to reach anti-capitalist conclusions.”
Whether it’s slavery, Jim Crow, or L’Oréal firing a transgender black woman for speaking out against racism, the capitalist system has and continues to create an environment in which inequality and racism continue to thrive, while simultaneously claiming to be the only safeguard against both.
Max Van Dyke is a senior from St. Paul, Minnesota, studying communications and religion.
— Edited by Wesley Dotson