By: Ron Ruggiero and Patricia Johnson-Gibson
The Black Lives Matter Movement and the nationwide uprising for racial justice—happening in big cities and small towns and populated by Americans of every color—is very much a threat. To who you ask?
The power elites in this country, that’s who.
Since our nation’s founding, the wealthy elites in America have been terrified of people uniting across the color line because it has the power to upend the economic and political system that they benefit from. Bacon’s rebellion in 1676 was the first alliance across racial lines in America—between indentured servants of European origin and Africans—against who was exploiting them both; their bosses.
And, it scared the hell out of the ruling class of that time. The result then—and since—has been wealthy special interests and certain politicians spending enormous time, money, and energy to keep us divided. Why?
Those at the top of our economic pyramid: the super-wealthy, the 1%, the billionaires—call them what you will—understand that when Americans unite across our differences we can build enough power to take them on and win. This is what has happened when we abolished slavery, birthed the labor movement, won civil rights, expanded the right to vote several times—every major step forward for the common people in America has come when people have united across our different backgrounds.
The elites who have rigged our economic and political systems for their own benefit know this. It’s time we all learned it too.
But, let’s go one step deeper. Why is ending racism and police brutality against black folks so particularly threatening to the people at the top?
Starting with slavery which lasted 400 years through Jim Crow to today where black Americans have only been “free” for 153 years—America has dehumanized black people. Part of white supremacy in America is the way in which so many parts of our society are designed to teach the rest of us that black folks are “less than” and therefore not deserving of their full humanity or our full empathy.
It’s in our schools, our media, our economy, our economic system, in healthcare—it’s literally everywhere; often subtle and hard to spot or easy to pretend to ignore. Others have written far more eloquent essays and books on why this is true and how it plays out and there are many reasons why this is done. (We recommend The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander as one place to start.)
This is why ending the systemic racism against black people is so deeply threatening to those at the top: because every system of exploitation depends upon this dehumanization and denial of basic human empathy toward groups of other people. Racism is like a virus it spreads, it’s contagious, and it’s dangerous. We need an antidote; today the antidote starts with us.
You see, if America finally and fully recognized black people’s full humanity, extended full empathy—and then made the myriad of changes necessary so black people could live their fullest lives with full dignity and respect—who might want the same next? And, this is what terrifies those at the top.
With black liberation might then come workers demanding their full humanity and an end to their exploitation and oppression. Immigrants might do the same. Women might do the same. Do you see why this scares those at the top?
This is just one reason why it is true that we can only win economic justice without racial justice and vice versa. This is why the wealthy and powerful elites spend so much time trying desperately to keep us divided and fearing one another. They know our unity across our differences is our path to winning and improving all of our lives.
And, we will then build a society, an economy, and a political system that makes life better for all of us. This is why #BLACKLIVESMATTER today, and forever it is necessary to say it aloud to continue to make people uncomfortable. This discomfort can lead to fundamental change. It is important we do not stop this fight, as it is imperative to the lives of our fellow Americans.