Activism, Race

The Cost of Whiteness

bourke-white

In America all too often to identify oneself is to indemnify oneself against the wrongs and crimes done by our ilk in the past. White America has convinced itself that whiteness brings with it a sort of dignity and wealth that is inherent, or at least self-evident, and this fact overrides the grievances and pain and struggle of other groups, specifically black people. No white, when it comes right down to it, will deny the privilege that comes with white skin but White America has a resentment towards those who would even suggest that privilege is unearned or built upon a foundation of violence and theft. We live in a nation built on the backs and with the blood of black slaves, on the land of Native peoples, improved with the labor of exploited and abused workers and immigrant laborers and the profits glide upwards into the pockets of those whose only hardship in life was having to decide which elite institutions one would be associated with. What began and continued as exploitation of black bodies continued into the exploitation of all bodies that had the misfortune of being born outside of the circle of inherited wealth and property. The white body politic has understood for a long time that the circle must be relaxed here and there in order to bring more people into the white “inheritance”: certain immigrants, certain economic groups, even certain people of color as long as the toed the line and gave up on justice for all and any sense of being wronged as a group. We arm ourselves against the “others” and we turn our homes into unassailable castles where there is no law and no respect for anything but our possessions and our sense of self-importance. We expected to be “protected” from…god knows what. Those who have the least to fear, fear the most, while those who have the most to lose, lose it all and are laughed at and spit upon while they lose it all. Every black body is a weapon aimed at our pure, white heart. Only an all powerful, unaccountable blue wall can save us from the fear of losing our place at the top of the pile.

As Steinbeck saw all too clearly, the American Dream (the dream of whiteness/wealth/power inherited and “earned”) is and has always been a lottery whose main purpose is to provide the illusion of meritocracy, of social mobility, of economic self-determination. Decades of government action on behalf of those who already had a centuries long head start, a welfare state for those who had all the welfare they could ever need, a bait and switch that gave the trappings of an illusory and always lily-tinted middle class to some in exchange for obscene and ever expanding wealth for the very very few who had always resided at the top. And when black or brown or female or gay or poor bodies dared speak up and question this moral foundation for the nation, dared to ask for their fair share of what they had built with their blood, sweat, toil and tears, when these wretched folk dared to make a peep the great white house on the hill, that home of the great beacon onto a dark world, would convulse with rage and self-indulgent fury. How dare those people imply we have not earned all of this largesse? How dare those people question our right to all that our forefathers gave to us, no questions asked? How dare those niggers and sluts and faggots and bums and illegals suggest that this system is anything but the most fair, the most amazing system ever created? All this self-importance, all this self-delusion, just so we can say “at least I am better than those people”, while clinging like barnacles to a luxury liner that steams ever more resolutely forwards, first class passengers popping champagne bottles and laughing at our pitiful pretensions all the way.

We sold our souls for whiteness; we sold our sense of decency, our sense of outrage, our sense of right and wrong, justice, intelligence, fair play, and brotherhood. And for what? For a chance to say that we are better because of what we own, where we live, and what we look like? We have made ourselves dunces, fools who can only nod their heads when their betters tell us who to hate and who to glorify. We vote against our own interest and the interests of our brothers and sisters and friends and family just so we can say we voted for the winners instead of “those people”. Whiteness has given us a culture of consumption and greed that eats us from the inside out like some sort of galling medieval blight. We are lepers whose only balm is the material we grasp at with fingers bloodied and broken in the fight for precious lucur and capital. Our wealth resides in things and our worth is derived from what objects we use and what people we choose to abuse in order to obtain them.

And the lies we have to tell in order to maintain this fragile facade! Decades, centuries of history distorted, edited, misplaced, erased, shoved like so much garbage down the memory hole. Every day has been remade into a relentless march forward towards this moment, this time, these purchases, these jobs, these trinkets and prizes and fixtures. In order to justify our empty consumption and greed we had to remake history into one grand and meaningless disney-fied ticker-tape parade, with white banners flying and patriotic odes sung with ever increasingly shrillness and desperation. We wanted whiteness, now we need it. We need it because what else is there? To reject our privilege, to even question it, is to look ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge all the crime and filth and dirty deeds done to our brothers and sisters. To reject whiteness is to reject the idea of America as a blameless, beautiful, god-blessed nation with nothing ahead of it but destiny and nothing behind it but laudatory deeds. But you can only deny truth and history and justice for so long before those you have stood upon, trampled over, begin to try and force you to confront reality. If we do not choose to look into ourselves we will be torn apart and forced to contemplate a shattered wreck of a body and spirit that never even gave itself a chance at decency or transcendence. The cost of whiteness is our humanity and that is a price that none of us can afford to pay.

Advertisements
Standard
Constitution

Thought on Constitutional Rights

Rousseau

In his Giles Hickory letters published during the debate on the Federal Constitution (and on whether it should include an enumerated bill of rights) Noah Webster wrote

I know it is said that other nations have lost their liberties by the ambitious designs of their rulers, and we may do the same. The

experience of other nations furnishes the ground of all the arguments used in favor of an unalterable constitution. The advocates seem

determined that posterity shall not lose their liberty, even if they should be willing and desirous to surrender it. If a few

declarations on parchment will secure a single blessing to posterity, which they would otherwise lose, I resign the argument and will

receive a thousand declarations. Yet so thoroughly convinced am I of the opposite tendency and effect of such unalterable declarations,

that, were it possible to render them valid, I should deem every article an infringment [sic] of civil and political liberty. 

 

Webster was a true critic of constitutional systems and a strong proponent of a more representative and malleable form of government and governing charter. His was not a libertarian view of government, at least not the anarchic and all but lawless form of libertarianism subscribed to by modern conservatives and Free Market cultists. This is the sort of libertarianism that errs on the side of protecting human decency and using the mechanisms of government to protect and expand upon liberties and rights, and to protect their exercise in the public realm. Not an individuated liberty, but a societal and collective one based on the philosophy of the social contract.

James Madison, on the other hand, had a very different view on the subject of rights. In the National Gazette he wrote

In its larger and juster meaning, [property] embraces every thing [sic] to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.  In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandise, or money is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

 

The equation of landed and capital property with intellectual, religious, personal freedom and the needs of common man for his welfare creates a system wherein the rights of man can be parceled, packaged, and negotiated over. Every court is a court of property, all law is property law, all rights are subject to constitutional justification, codification, negotiation i.e. all rights derive from a contract, being in this sense a contract concerning business affairs and services demanded and expected. The Enlightenment as applied through constitutional law by the founders turns man into a commodity and universalizes the notion of a liberal political economy. Man as merchandise, rights as property, laws as contract, life as waste land made civil and useful by exploitation…

Standard
Activism, Capitalism, economy, essay, Socialism

A Short Marxist Discourse on Land and Property Rent

John_Constable_-_The_Hay-Wain_-_WGA5191

            The system of tenant renter based housing has been at the center of socialist and housing rights movements throughout the world. The exploitative practice of collecting rent from a group of renters living on property owned and operated by a largely unaccountable landlord (the term itself a left over from the pre-capitalist feudal economies) has long been a plague upon the working classes. The structure of a rental property agreement is largely a pyramid scheme that can be manipulated and shaped to fit the needs of the landlord and his interest in making a profit off of the workers and families who rent his property. This of course is not all the fault of the landlord; the system of regressive and restrictive property taxation and the dearth of government participation in creating affordable safe housing. Though referring in particular to arable land rents, Marx  in his essay Rent of Land makes a general point about the landlord/renter system that is equally valid when applied to modern day rental housing: “the rent of land [or the property thereon] is established as the result of the struggle between tenant and landlord” (The emphasis is Marx’s). Marx goes on to quote Adam Smith:

               “The rent of land, therefore, considered as the price paid for the use of the land, is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportioned to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give.”  

            This goes to the inherent corruption in the rental system; there is no accountability or reckoning when it comes to how rental rates are established or how the income made therefrom is used to improve the properties or reduce rental rates. There is indeed an incentive built in to the arraignment that rewards the landlord for maintaining substandard conditions and a high or even punitive rent. The drive towards profitability, the capitalistic ethos that underpins the belligerent relationship between renter and landlord, and the bias in favor of the landlord and landowner inherent in most forms of local and state governments, makes certain that renters are always, or at least nearly always, the loser in the equation.

            It is a fact that much in the way of making a rental property habitable is taken up by the renter himself. In my personal experience as a renter, I have found that the landlord often will not take the initiative in improving the property or repairing appliances or utilities. Indeed, some landlords structure the rental agreement so as to put as much responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the property and appliances/utilities into the hands of the renter, without a commensurate reduction in rent. There is therefore no incentive for the landlord to repair property, as he controls the rate of rent totally, and a punitive mandate for the renter to maintain the property at a potential loss to his personal income. This situation is alluded to by Marx, once more quoting Smith:

“…Improvements, besides, are not always made by the stock of the landlord, but sometimes by that of the tenant. When the lease comes to be renewed, however, the landlord commonly demands the same augmentation of rent as if they had been all made by his own.” (From Rent of Land)

            In fact, the agricultural renter/tenant has the potential advantage of deriving some sustenance or income form the property rented. The housing renter simply does not have that option. What, then, is the renter/tenant to do to bring equity and justice to the situation? The answer is nothing, nothing, at least, within the confines of the current capitalist land renting/taxation/purchasing system. There must be a radical departure from the current way renters are treated and indeed how they rent. We cannot expect such change to come from above, indeed capitalist control over the governmental apparatus and political system precludes this. So the change must come from us, the renters and the workers. Since we do not have a viable democratic socialist system and structure with which to work in we must make do with the system we have, and to come at it from a revolutionary and counter-capitalist perspective.

            The cultural disdain extant today against the renting of property, usually purely for housing purposes in this day and age, is in America largely a result of the bias against the working classes and the poor in general. The renting of property is an implicit acknowledgement of defeat in the pursuit of the American dream of owning property and transcending the bounds of welfare state which as implemented is as much use for the humiliation as for the benefit of the working classes. This is of course a somewhat hilarious prejudice given the pitiful and criminal system of mortgage and finance available to the middle class. As the recent housing market collapse has shown us, renting is not the financially unsounds option claimed by so many gurus of personal economics. The renting system merely puts the renter in a more dramatic and visceral situation vis a vis the exploitative market forces at play; the landlord can find resource in archaic and punitive renters laws and has direct control over the circumstances and obligations that must be maintained in order to secure housing. The home owner, or rather mortgage owner given the realities of the system put in place for the purchase and financing of housing, has a few levels of corporate and banking bureaucracy between him and the visage of his exploiter, but he does exist to exploit him nonetheless.

            The state of affairs is of course violently opposed to the interests of the proletariat because there is no recourse available to the renter against the whims of the landlord. The landlord holds the deed and directly pays the taxes on the property, and as the renter has no legal right to negotiate a more equitable arrangement (nor is there even an expectation of such parity between the two parties) there can be no law but whim and personal greed. This is a remnant of a feudal system that never hid its intent to exploit and constrain the proletariat. Marx said

               “It is absurd to conclude, as Smith does, that since the landlord exploits [through the collection of rent] every benefit which comes to society, the interest of the landlord is always identical with that of society.” [Rent of Land]

            This of course begs the question, how can land be seen as property? Upon what basis does one man transfer ownership of fixed area of earth to another? And why should the basic human need of shelter be subject to the whims of those seeking to derive profit? These are question I do not presently have an answer for but it should be the pursuit of a contemporary socialism to puzzle it out and elucidate a theory upon whose foundation a new system can be created.

 

Standard