George Floyd’s murder has ignited such outrage across the country, and the world, that it is imperative we remember this is a weekly occurrence for Black America. And while Floyd’s murder was simply the latest in a long line of gross injustices, the fact is that one, terrible, viral video can often spark a movement.
Incidents of police brutality and deaths like that of George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Trayvon Martin have the power to galvanize nationwide support in a matter of days. People flock to social media or to protests because they care, but also because it is what everyone else is doing. While this can have negative consequences in the form of superficial performative action, at the end of the day a movement is built on numbers, and constant and in-your-face activism can be powerful in educating others .
On the other hand, issues like wealth inequality, access to healthcare, climate injustice, or educational disparities—all of which disproportionately affect Black people—are not so easy to see or realize, let alone build a movement around. A study in 2013 found white households ($144,200) held 13 times the wealth of Black households ($11,200). In 2018, the rate of lacking health insurance for Black people (9.7 percent) was almost twice that of white people (5.4). And just last year, nonwhite school districts received $23 billion less than white districts, while serving the same number of students. These statistics do not tend to go viral, but the reality is that they are the bedrock of the systemic oppression against Black Americans.
Not only do they lack virality, these issues also lack a clear antagonist. When we see an officer kill an unarmed Black man an enemy instantly appears—the police. And while the true enemy is far greater—the policing institution, and the larger structure of systemic racism that fuels it—that is not the enemy that draws crowds and evokes anger and frustration in people. No, it is the cops that ignite a flame in people, and shift the conversation nationwide; Fuck the police. Fuck 12. ACAB. Blue Lives Murder. The driving slogans of the movement all implicate the police, and while they refer to the greater system, the enemy remains clear—the cop.
But who is directly to blame for Black people (13 percent) being almost 6 times more likely to live in a high-poverty neighborhood than white people (2.2 percent)? Or Black people being incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white people? Or Black people dying from the Covid-19 virus at more than three times the rate of white people? Someone or something where people can direct anger and frustration is important to galvanize support, and unlike police brutality, poverty and inequality have no easily visible enemy. But I think this enemy is becoming increasingly exposed—unfettered American capitalism and the wealthy corporations that profit off it. Because at the end of the day racism and economic inequality are different issues, but inextricably interconnected. Healthcare for all, guaranteed affordable housing, free college—these policies are just as racial as they are economic. Just imagine an incarceration system incentivized to rehabilitate, not profit. Or a Green New Deal where corporations create jobs in poor minority neighborhoods instead of filling them with pollutants.
If I log into instagram right now I guarantee I will see a post about George Floyd or BLM. Almost every individual I follow has posted at least once. And while this moves me immensely, I also know that many of them don’t support universal healthcare. Or a drastic increase in the minimum wage. Many of them are a part of the private school system that reinforces wealth and racial inequality. Many of them aspire to work in finance, at somewhere like McKinsey, a firm which pays extraordinarily well, but also actively perpetuates inequality. Most think that the US does not need structural change—reform at most, and in no way, radical change. Perhaps most tellingly, many of these instagram posters will go on to happily vote for Joe Biden. Like individuals—but on a much larger and more influential scale—almost every major corporation has expressed solidarity with the BLM movement. But many of these companies are also leading the fight against labor unions, selling racist tech to the police and donating enormous amounts of money to politicians given an F rating by the NAACP.
So when I see the countless posts on instagram about how to be anti-racist, or march in the streets in one of the BLM protests, I wish I was also seeing posts about taxing the rich, defunding the military, or ending corporate greed. I wish people were also protesting wealth inequality, and voting for candidates that support distributive policies. But not only must people support economic justice on a systemic level—they must support it personally.
There is a lot of talk about how we must recognize our white privilege. But we must also recognize our wealth privilege, an advantage, in our society, intrinsically linked to whiteness. White privilege cannot exactly be undone at the individual level—it can be recognized and understood, but until white supremacy is gone, whiteness will always afford white people greater privilege, no matter their actions. Wealth privilege is a little different. We must not only strive to recognize our wealth privilege, we must actively undo it because unlike our whiteness it is something we can change now. We can actively make choices to address economic injustice—refuse to attend private school, choose to work in industries that benefit us all, and if you can, give and give generously to causes that are making a difference. Undoing wealth is a big step in undoing whiteness.
So think twice before sending your kid to private school. Reconsider your aspirations of working at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. Maybe don’t accept that internship at Amazon. Try not to laud billionaires for their BLM posts. If you claim to support BLM, recognize that means radical economic reform at a level that is systemic- and personal.
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