By Savanah Mandeville
A society with racist roots that continues to value profits over people will never achieve total equality. Anti-capitalist feminism seeks to level the playing field by recognizing and enfranchising all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.
This article is the third in a series dedicated to anti-capitalist feminism based on the writings of Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in their 2019 manifesto: “Feminism for the 99%”
To recap, “Feminism for the 99%” comprises 11 theses, each pointing to how and why capitalism is at the root of the major issues plaguing the world today. Throughout, it discusses how these issues disproportionately affect women around the globe, how it’s largely women leading the charge against capitalism’s abuses of power, and how the next wave of feminism should reject neoliberal ideals in favor of a movement that benefits all women, not just the privileged few.
Today’s focus will be on Thesis 8: “Capitalism was born from racist and colonial violence. Feminism for the 99 percent is anti-racist and anti-imperialist.”
This month’s article coincides with Black History Month. The theme this year is “African Americans and the Vote.” 2020 not only is an election year, but it marks the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment which gave black men the right to vote and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.
Because America as an economic powerhouse was built on the backs of enslaved people and the stifling of minority voices, it’s important to discuss “African Americans and the Vote” through the lens of anti-capitalism. For many black men and women, the right to vote existed and exists only on paper. Jim Crow-era laws introduced poll taxes and literacy tests designed to disenfranchise black voters. Some of those laws remain in place today, such as those that restrict people who have been convicted of certain crimes from voting. Mississippi, for example, imposes a lifelong voting ban on citizens for a number of convictions including writing bad checks and stealing wood. Banned voters in Mississippi are more likely to be African American.
And it’s not just the Deep South. Since 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision in the Voting Rights Act (a decision which RBG dissented, by the way), numerous states have enacted measures aimed at suppressing the votes of people of color. These include the closure of nearly 1,200 polling places, purging of voter lists, photo-ID requirements, shorter voting hours, and heavily gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts that dilute the voting power of communities of color. You can read more about that here.
Another good resource to learn more is the Netflix documentary “13th” by Ava DuVernay (you can read about her in this Julie article). The documentary chronicles ways that discrimination of African Americans has been systemically perpetuated since the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, including convict leasing, the war on drugs, mass incarceration and for-profit prisons.
Which brings me back to “Feminism for the 99%.” Capitalism was born from and is perpetuated by racist and colonial violence. This is why anti-capitalist feminism must be anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
In today’s world, examples of unchecked capitalism propping up racist systems are plentiful. The choking of public funding in lieu of tax cuts for the richest 1% have hurt schools, hospitals, infrastructure, housing and social services in poor communities and communities of color. As wage inequality grows and low-waged service work replaces unionized labor, workers — oftentimes single mothers — are forced to take on multiple jobs and are targeted for payday and subprime loans. A corrupt justice system has resulted in police murdering people of color in the streets with no repercussions. We see sky high rates for imprisonment in for-profit prisons where inmates are exploited as unpaid workers and, upon release, have their right to vote revoked for life despite their sentences being served in full. Bought-and-paid-for politicians run on racist and xenophobic platforms, blocking entry to the United States for migrants and refugees and separating families at the border, even as capitalists profit off the cheap and unpaid labor of undocumented workers. We’ve seen a resurgence of white nationalism, neo-Nazis, and hate crimes since the election of President Trump.
Finally, millions of black and migrant women (often undocumented) are employed as domestic workers and are forced to work for extremely low wages, deprived of rights, and subject to abuses. Read more about how domestic workers are exploited today as the result of historically racist labor law provisions under the New Deal here.
As long as the powers that be rely on stifling voices of color to survive, we will never be a country for all the people, by all the people.
In summary, capitalism and racism go hand-in-hand. We will never achieve racial equality while unbridled capitalism thrives, plundering community’s resources and exploiting minority groups. Arruzza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser write in “Feminism for the 99%”:
“We understand that nothing that deserves the name of ‘women’s liberation’ can be achieved in a racist, imperialist society. But we also understand that the root of the problem is capitalism, and that racism and imperialism are integral to the latter. This social system, which prides itself on ‘free labor’ and ‘the wage contract,’ could only get started thanks to violent colonial plunder, the ‘commercial hunting of black-skins’ in Africa, their forcible conscription into ‘New World’ slavery, and the dispossession of indigenous peoples. … For systemic reasons, capitalism has always created classes of racialized human beings, whose persons and work are devalued and subject to expropriation. A feminism that is truly anti-racist and anti-imperialist must also be anticapitalist.”
The first part of this series: “Anti-Capitalist Feminism: Basic Principles of Feminism for the 99%,” can be found here.
The second part: “Anti-Capitalist Feminism: Saving the Planet” can be found here.
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