Two years ago today, Angola 3 icon Herman Wallace sat on his bunk in the solitary confinement cell where he had spent nearly 40 years of his life and penned me a letter in which he wrote:
"If we are to teach our children the need for social change, then we must ourselves have some understanding of what is taking shape – not only on Wall Street or in states around the country – but the fall of Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, and now the threat points at Syria. It is capitalism that is in a financial crisis, so what makes people think more capitalism or imperialistic rule is best for the world?
"There are people out there demonstrating and, for the life of them, cannot tell you what they are demonstrating for. That is because they lack real leadership. Conditions will create their leaders and the 1% is going to be in a world of trouble.
When he was released from prison and almost immediately passed to the other side last month, I spent a few weeks grieving and then began looking through the stacks of A3 papers in my office for a message Herman may have left me after the fact -- something he sent me before, but which might now take on a stronger meaning. I found it in the form of this handwritten missive which I'm posting here today in memory of Herman and his long-standing commitment to true justice for all. But I'm also posting it to give me an opportunity to discuss in fuller detail what he wanted us to consider about the connection between the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" and our current global economic system: capitalism.
Capitalism is a system that values money more than life. Across the board. No matter what. It's happy to poison food if it'll ripen faster. It's fine with blown-up oil rigs as long as routine maintenance can be staved off long enough to "save" a little outlay. It has no problem with making slaves of children -- even sex slaves -- for a hefty enough profit. And the CEO who "earns" 475 times what his average employee takes home sees no reason to apologize for his position, his privilege, or his paycheck. It's not his fault he was born rich and ruthless...and the others were not.
Capitalism is a promise of a Heaven that never materializes for the workers who make the Capitalists rich. Capitalism is the delusion that hard work always means a trip up the ladder when everyone knows that those who work hardest make the least pay of all. Capitalism is the shell game offered on the emotional street corner of America, the lottery ticket bought daily by exhausted workers who dream in vain of living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the online poker machine that never pays off at the truck stop on the highway to unpaid bills.
Capitalism is the pimp that introduces each subsequent generation to yet another level of credit-driven materialism and then pushes a fresh crop of addicts into the dark streets of their own souls to terrorize and steal from and laugh at each other. Capitalism is the vampire that hangs us all in her closet for ready feasting, telling us it's sexy in there and we will live forever.
Capitalism is the army of marauders well into the process of kicking in the doors of human habitat, leaving for last those that pay for the weapons the soldiers carry and will ultimately turn on those that paid for them. Capitalism is the Broadway musical that provides the soundtrack for the nightmare that life has already become for so many and will eventually be for all of us if we don't face the music and refuse to dance.
Capitalism is the Darkness at the heart of institutionalized oppression that uses skin tone or nationality or gender or sexual orientation or body type or religiosity to segregate us and set us against each other like gladiators trained to bludgeon and stab and slice and bleed and die for the enrichment and entertainment of the Capitalists. Herman Wallace wrote that people in the U.S. think capitalism is good because it has made us fat and foolish. But it is becoming harder and harder to pretend to be asleep, no matter how afraid we are to face reality.
I have written more than five hundred posts about race on this blog over the past nine years. Now I am telling you that the concept of "race" was concocted by Europeans and perfected by United Statians for the express purpose of feeding the Capitalist machine and its minions. Do not be deceived. Where there is life, there is hope. Where there is breath, there is life. "Knowledge of truth is a weapon in the struggle for existence." (George Simmel) "Every power relationship implies...a strategy of struggle." (Michel Foucault) And Capitalism is not God.