When it comes to systemic oppression the tendency is for us to focus on the individual or the institution performing the oppression. We tend to do this rather than focusing on the basic function being performed that promotes the ideological aims and material interests of the system. These aims and interests of the system are– all at once– racist, patriarchal, imperialist, and capitalist, and they remain the same regardless of who in particular is carrying them out.
Capitalism doesn’t care who performs the basic functions of its oppression, just as long as these functions are being performed. In fact, it may be more beneficial to capitalism if individuals within an oppressed group carry out the ideological aims of the overall system of power, because this diverts attention from the main enemy: the bourgeois ruling class.
We can go even further: capitalism’s control over society becomes even more oppressive, and its ideological stranglehold on our lives grows even tighter, when the individual within an oppressed community internalizes this ideology and, in effect, oppresses themselves, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. What often happens in this case is that the oppressed person– the one who destroys themselves or commits horizontal violence against people in their own community– is blamed for the primary vertical source of this violence: the white-controlled bourgeoisie.
This system doesn’t care if the President of the United States is white or Black, as long as they are carrying out the aims of European imperialist capitalism. This system doesn’t care if the person in the blue uniform of the police is white or Black, just as long as they are performing the ideological function of capitalism in order to achieve its aims.
And what are these aims? More and more profits for the white-controlled ruling class through greater and greater oppression of Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples, and the majority of humanity (people of color). The function of legalized violence within the current system is to maintain the basic hierarchical or tiered structure of bourgeois society: capitalist, patriarchal (transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic), and white supremacist.
Patriarchy certainly existed in societies around the globe prior to Europe’s invasion of Africa, the Americas, Australia, the Pacific, and Asia, that took place six hundred years ago, an invasion that gave birth to white supremacist, patriarchal, imperialist capitalism. Reactionaries like to focus on this argument that patriarchy existed before capitalism, along with greed and imperialism.
However, societies are not static. The natural tendency of society (as part of nature) is to evolve through its internal contradictions from one stage to a higher stage. But European imperialist capitalism locked the entire globe into an economic system that stopped the growth of these individual societies.
All the resources, lives, labor and culture of the world, for the past six hundred years, have gone toward the advancement of European interests (never more in evidence than at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week). So these societies outside Europe are stuck— they can’t move forward. Even worse, Europe continues to drain their ability to move forward, sucking the resources, labor and energy out of these colonized communities.
Capitalism is a system whose very reason for existing is based on a hierarchical structure of power. Any system will work to preserve its existence, and it does so through its institutions, and individuals within these institutions. The system exists– often in the shape of a nation with borders– as an expression of the material interests and ideologies of its ruling class which have been imposed on all other classes and colonized subjects within this system or nation.
The framework of the nation, imposed by the system of the ruling class, exists only through the subjugation of other classes and oppressed peoples (for instance, the original inhabitants of a land mass: Indigenous nations). This system must promote its own material and ideological aims in order to keep the overall framework in place, and this is achieved through further violence and oppression (such as genocide, impoverishment, gentrification, mass incarceration, and so forth).
Since Europe was patriarchal at the time it invaded Africa and the Americas, the hierarchy that grew out of this invasion of the globe was also patriarchal. The bourgeoisie started out as racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist, ableist, and capitalist. Capitalism requires this hierarchy to remain intact because its very existence is based on the few in the ruling class enjoying more and more profits through the violent oppression and exploitation of the many. So this tiered structure to bourgeois society was locked into place on a global scale. Capitalism, by definition, must always be racist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist and ableist, because the reactionary ideology of the ruling class within its rigid hierarchy must always be promoted.
As long as the basic aims and functions of capitalism can remain the same, the ruling class doesn’t care who helps make these things happen. The agents for promoting the ideology of the white-controlled ruling class can vary in terms of gender, skin color, sexual orientation, and disability, provided that this increasing diversity, in turn, increases profits for those who have been sitting on the top since the beginning of capitalism: wealthy cishet white men.
It doesn’t matter if a President is a woman or a man, and it doesn’t matter if a police officer is Black or white, as long as they perform the functions of capitalism in the U.S./European empire. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if an individual who is policing society is wearing a blue uniform or not, as long as they are performing the functions of the state. If capitalism doesn’t care whether George Bush or Barack Obama drops bombs on colonized peoples, then it makes sense that capitalism won’t care if the police, or anyone else besides the police, are performing the same function of controlling and terrorizing transgender women.
Since capitalism was born as a rigid hierarchy, and must remain hierarchical in order to maintain its reason for existing, then it should be clear that the most marginalized communities within this system are the identities who are forced to survive multiple and intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and impoverishment (that is, economic exploitation). These identities, at all their intersections of oppression, are judged by the capitalist hierarchy to be the least profitable to its system, and therefore the least valuable. Because capitalism views them as the least valuable within its hierarchy, it must control and destroy these bodies. So Black transgender women are viewed by capitalism as, simultaneously, the most disposable bodies within its hierarchy, as well as the biggest threat to its reason for existence.
As a result, capitalism weaponizes all potential agents of oppression to carry out its ideological aims against Black trans women and (more generally) trans women of color. Of course, the police are already armed to carry out violence against colonized communities. The police are armed not only with guns but with the legal authority of the property-owning class, and the (sometimes silent) approval shown by the masses of whites who benefit from (or depend on) this class’s violent domination of Africans/Black people.
Yet European imperialist capitalism could not exist– considering how white people are the minority of the world– without individuals who are part of oppressed groups also carrying out this system’s violent aims against people in their own group. So capitalism, which is maintained through the dialectical struggle of class antagonisms, reaches into these oppressed communities and works on the internal contradictions of individuals.
The system of capitalism is built and maintained to benefit wealthy, heterosexual, cisgender white men, but any individual who has even one of these identities (rich, straight, cis, white) can be used to promote the ideological aims of the bourgeoisie. Through a series of threats and incentives, and through the use of employers, media, schools, churches and political campaigns, capitalism works on the contradictions of anyone who is wealthy or heterosexual or cisgender or white to promote the ideological aims of the system.
It’s important to recognize that the overall framework of capitalist oppression, the one that violently holds this global system of power in place, is– above all else– white. So we wouldn’t want to suggest that white women and Black women share identical experiences of oppression within the same tier of the capitalist hierarchy. Far from it.
And the same is true of white transgender women like me: we don’t share identical experiences with transgender women of color (specifically Black trans women). In fact, the very idea of being a cisgender woman in this bourgeois society is a product (quite literally) of the white, cishet, male-dominated ruling class. And this cisnormativity (merged with the idea that white is the default “race”) is further promoted by white transgender women, because our experience has been shaped– by corporations, media, schools, churches, political campaigns and all institutions within capitalism– to promote this ideology.
These oppressive institutions of the capitalist system shape the experiences of everyone in our society. Yet the relation of each individual to these institutions depends on their class status. In the system of European imperialist capitalism that exists in the United States, class and race are forever connected. So the way an individual is shaped in this society depends on their placement within the tiered structure of racist, capitalist oppression. The ideology of the ruling class– at the top– permeates all these tiers, and works on the contradictions of entire classes/communities, as well as individuals within each of these tiers. Therefore, capitalism can go to work on the contradictions of a Black person– even a Black person who isn’t in a police officer’s uniform– and can use this oppressed individual to carry out the functions of capitalism against other people in their group.
Just as capitalism works on the white woman’s contradictions in order to promote the ideology of white supremacy that is essential to the existence of this system, capitalism works on the contradictory identity of Black cisgender men in order to promote necessary cisnormative aims. In other words, as long as the aims of capitalism are being carried out, and its hierarchy is being promoted for the sake of greater and greater profits, this system doesn’t care who is performing these oppressive functions against the oppressed. Once we recognize this material reality (getting beyond the subjective interpretation of who is performing oppressive acts, and what their intent may have been), it should become clear that “black on black crime” is yet another lie told by capitalism.
Furthermore, this objective analysis hopefully makes clear that the violence committed by cisgender men (white, Black, or any “race”) against Black transgender women is rooted in the same cause as police violence against all Black people. Since capitalism is patriarchal at its core, the murders of Black cisgender men (and, less frequently, Black cisgender women) by the police are centered in the media. But the murders of Black transgender women, and other forms of violence against them– by law enforcement, by men in general, or even by suicide– are all based on the need of capitalism to police Black trans bodies. All these forms of violence promote the same ideological aims of capitalism because they all go back to the maintenance of a rigid hierarchy of power that places wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, white cisgender men at the top.
This hierarchy of power that is necessary for the very existence of capitalism works on the contradictions of any individual or institution to carry out its aims. So any cisgender man– whether a cop, of any “race,” or just any cis man– is shaped and weaponized by transphobic capitalism to police Black trans bodies. Even white transgender women like me are weaponized by capitalism to police Black trans bodies. When we take up space in nonprofit organizations, or political advocacy groups, or use up resources, or speak in forums and conventions about the overall oppression of trans women, and when we promote cisnormative, white supremacist standards of beauty, white trans women are committing violence against our sisters in the Black trans community. This erasure, both material and ideological, by white transgender women is also a form of policing, as we carry out the same function as the state did when it murdered Mya Hall.
It’s not my place to question or condemn the anger, hurt, and other feelings of Black trans women when it comes to the violence committed against them by Black cis men. I have no desire to do this. Black trans women can and should speak their own truths and tell their own stories, whatever these may be. But white people– and white trans women in particular– should not allow ourselves to be excused from our complicity in genocidal violence when it comes to the murders of Black trans women and (more generally) trans women of color.
Nearly all the trans women who have been murdered in the U.S. in the last two years have been trans women of color. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is age 35. The system of capitalism is designed to exploit and destroy people of color. And capitalism is most violent against identities existing at these intersections of systemic oppression: racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, misogynoir, ableism, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, the “war on drugs,” the dehumanization of sex workers, the hateful disregard of the homeless, gentrification, and many others. And who are the most marginalized people within these intersectional forms of oppression? Black transgender women.
Therefore, when we promote any one of these forms of oppression, we are policing trans bodies. It is actually far easier for capitalism to target Black trans women by weaponizing people who are physically located closer to their specific oppression. Since the United States is colonizing and terrorizing the entire Black community, it makes sense for capitalism to use Black cisgender men as weapons of transphobia against Black trans women in their own neighborhoods and homes. The actual police are used mainly to protect white people and white property. These other “police” can do the rest of the killing– with the same result.
So the same aims as the police have– to brutalize and murder for the expansion of capitalist power– can be carried out by anyone. Capitalism uses the entire hierarchy of the society it controls to police the most marginalized identities in this society: transgender women of color. If an actual cop is used to commit violence against trans women of color, that’s great for capitalism– although cops cost money, and perhaps can best be used to put down this rebellion over here, rather than being sent to that location to kill a trans woman of color. Above all else, profits matter to capitalism. Certainly, not “blue lives.” Not even “all lives.” And it’s expensive to maintain a domestic occupying force in the U.S. like the local police departments are. It’s far easier to arm the occupied against themselves, and not always with guns (and supplies of drugs, also directed by the ruling class into occupied territories of the U.S. settler colony, and beyond). In this system, both the colonized and the colonizer are weaponized with an ideology shaped by the capitalist hierarchy according to its original structure: white, cisgender, heterosexual, property-owning (and “Christian,” in the imperialist sense).
Capitalism weaponizes cis bodies, white bodies, middle class bodies– any identities it deems to be more valuable than their dialectical counterparts– and uses these bodies to commit violence against Black trans bodies. This violence exists in many forms, but its goal is more or less the same: exploit, control, erase, kill.
The capitalist ruling class would never enjoy its material advantages if the colonized peoples of the world weren’t violently suppressed. Yet capitalism can still use these peoples to achieve its aims– often in the form of neocolonialism. Black trans lives are regarded by capitalism as lacking all value, especially if they are impoverished (a condition brought about by capitalism itself). So capitalism arms the entire society against Black trans bodies, including the weaponizing of Black cis men.
As the two year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson approaches, we should honor his life, just as we should say “Black Lives Matter” and honor the lives of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Sandra Bland. All Black lives matter.
But hopefully the reasons have become clearer for white people (who are the intended audience for this article) why we should look at the murders of Black trans women (even by their own hands) as being rooted in the same cause– the same system– as these murders of Black people by the police.
It doesn’t always take the trigger, or stranglehold, of the police to kill colonized Africans/Black people. This system begins murdering oppressed communities from the moment they are born– and not just in “America” with its illegitimate borders on stolen Indigenous land, but also in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia, and throughout the world. And the bodies of trans women of color are the most vulnerable in this system of global power controlled by white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism, because this system arms everyone against their bodies. We all become cops who are weaponized by transphobia to carry out the aims of capitalism against Black trans bodies. Capitalism works on the contradictions within each of us in order to embed its anti-Black, anti-trans, misogynistic ideology so that we carry out its violence for it, freeing up the police and military to carry out the same goal elsewhere.
On social media, and at protests, and in “anti-racist” organizations, white people (including white trans women) hopefully can begin to think less in terms of “the police are killing Black people” and more in terms of “we are policing and killing Black people, and the people most marginalized and most endangered by our reactionary violence are Black trans women.”
White people will hopefully recognize that “Black Lives Matter,” as a movement, is not just a response to a problem created by cops, where the main villains are the police. Hopefully we will no longer believe that Black men killing Black trans women is just their problem– a separate problem. The police murders of Black people and the specific murders of Black transgender women (by the police or anyone else) are very much connected by the need of this hierarchical system to promote its ideological aims through weaponizing all people to commit violence against the people who are most vulnerable.
There will be no justice, peace, equality or freedom in this world until we assure that Black Trans Lives Matter. When Black trans women are uplifted, and paid reparations, or resources for survival, organizing, and art, then all of us will be able to say that we are rising together (rather than at their expense).
Since most white people will likely ignore this material reality, hopefully white trans women can recognize it and dedicate ourselves to the revolution whose aim is to overthrow racist, patriarchal, colonial capitalism.