When somebody steals you from your land– or steals your land from you– they don’t just take away your ability to earn a decent wage. They take away your entire body, or the entire land mass which sustains your body, whether you are rich or poor or middle-class.
And, of course, it requires more than one person to remove you from your land, or to occupy your land, particularly when you belong to a people: to a population who shares an identity, a culture, a history. If one person– Jeff– showed up to steal you, maybe he would succeed, or maybe Jeff would get clobbered over the head for attempting to do such a horrible thing. So if Jeff, or any other individual, is going to take you from your land– let’s say, Africa– or is going to take your land away from you– let’s say, North America– then he will require a whole system of power to back him up, a system that is supported by a population, or an identity (let’s say, Europe and Europeans).
And now, let’s say hundreds of years later the population on this continent decides that such a system is not working out very well. It recognizes that the wealthy few at the top tend to control more and more of the wealth while everyone else struggles more and more just to get by. But if you are someone in this population who hasn’t had your land taken from you– that is, if you’re not indigenous to this continent– or you are someone who hasn’t been taken from your land– that is, if you’re not Black or African– you might have a difficult time recognizing that the inequality required by this system goes beyond wages. It’s a negation of the person that is total.
In order for this system to function, and for the few who hold power to continue enjoying the benefits of this power, each person has to be used as a means toward creating these greater benefits. But if you are white, you might not recognize the totality of this exploitation– this complete negation of the person– because part of the benefit of its exploitative power is the ability to sustain the white identity on a stolen continent, through the stolen lives, labor, resources and culture of Africans and all so-called people of color. Your struggle might be just to earn more wages, or have a better healthcare plan, or go to college, or enjoy a long retirement, and then play golf with your neighbor Jeff.
It’s not that white people aren’t oppressed by this system of power, and that our struggles to get by aren’t real or don’t count. But we are less likely to support (much less join) an anti-colonialist movement to overturn this entire system (and the nation-state that uses this power) because whites don’t experience the same negation of our identity as Africans/Black people and all colonized peoples do. And this is particularly true if you are a middle-class white cisgender person. It’s quite likely you are also struggling– more than ever– to pay the bills and to keep your head above water. That’s because this system of power in the United States requires that type of economic inequality. But this capitalist exploitation of humanity goes beyond wages, and beyond investments in property and retirement plans and other “workplace benefits.”
Capitalism uses the entire body of the exploited person to create greater profits for the wealthy few in the ruling class to enjoy. It’s not as if one person works all day and another person is transgender: the entire body is involved in this process of survival, in this struggle to gain access to resources. But cisgender whites may be led to believe that it’s just a personal choice on the part of the transgender person– let’s say, a trans woman– to have surgeries and procedures, so that she can, well, live. She saves up money for years and years to have these surgeries, not because “some man wanted to become a woman,” but because her body— the body that goes to work, that earns wages, that struggles to live– doesn’t match her true identity. And, since it would cut into the profits of capitalism, and contradict its very reason for existing (to exploit the many for the benefit of the few), the capitalist system convinces you that the transgender woman has these expensive surgeries only on account of some personal choice— as part of a “courageous journey” that is applauded in the office when she returns to work. However, under a system of power in which each person is treated as an end unto themselves– and not a means toward the goal of creating greater profits– society would recognize that these surgeries and procedures needed by transgender people should be paid for by the government, and that the ruling class ought to move in a positive direction to assure that each person can reach their fullest potential, rather than just the privileged few.
Once we place capitalist oppression in this framework– as a total negation of personhood– then we can recognize that the current system of power targets a person not so much on account of the ideas in their head, but because their body– their very existence– threatens the basis of this power.
If we disconnect the reality of racism from the physical reality of the bodies involved, then it becomes just an idea, an opinion– one that the good white liberal or white socialist doesn’t like, the same way they disagree with the ideas of transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, ableism and negative attitudes toward the poor and homeless. However, the ideologies of capitalist oppression are not primary– as powerful as they are. First the ruling class moves against a people and their land, steals their resources, their language, and their culture, and negates their personhood, occupies their space, erases their history, their religion and their belief in an independent identity, and in their place creates the “United States”; and then the ruling class fills their minds with all these ideas about hating women (transgender or cisgender), and nonbinary persons, and hating Black and Brown people and Muslims (or Black Muslim women)– because now it has the power to enforce these ideas.
First you get the power, then you define the conditions for this power. And one of the conditions of capitalist power is that a Black woman who is part of the African working class and has been misgendered since birth as a “man” is going to be a target of capitalist violence, not just because she has certain ideas in her mind about herself or the world around her, but because her body exists as a threat to the dominant power structure. And why is this so?
White people– and therefore whiteness and white supremacy– occupy this continent, empowered by the State power of the United States and its political, economic and social system: capitalism. The system’s control is total. You don’t just go to a job (if you can even get one) and then go home at night with one body working all day, then another body living in a house or an apartment (or on the street). You are one person, one body. And this system gained all its power and wealth by targeting certain bodies and the land that they occupy.
It’s a law of nature: two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In order to make space for European (or white) bodies, most of whom are cisgender, this system of power has been compelled to move against certain targeted bodies: Indigenous bodies, African bodies, brown transgender bodies. But once a force hits something, what happens? There’s a reaction. If you push down, it pushes back. So it becomes a threat. And the bodies– the identities– who are considered the most disposable by a system whose main objective is creating greater profits for the few (wealthy, white, cisgender) will then regard those persons who are brown, transgender, and unassimilated into the general, grayish mush of “American” identity as a threat, because they can’t be used for its objectives, they can’t be objectified.
Black transgender women aren’t targets of capitalist oppression because they earn low wages, or because they are unable to find jobs at all; they are targets because they occupy space as identities whose very existence goes against the objective of U.S. colonial power. And this same mass force is also moving to dislocate (or relocate) the bodies of Black and Brown people, when whites (cisgender, transgender or otherwise) gentrify brown neighborhoods, deport brown people, bomb brown people, and vote for the white supremacist Donald Trump (like so many white women did).
Whenever a white person calls the cops because a Black person “looks dangerous” or is “making too much noise” (in their neighborhood, mind you), what else is this but an effort to leverage the unequal level power that they enjoy– the power of whiteness– and use this power to request the security guards of the colonial state to target and remove Black bodies? And they probably believe that they “like” Black people, and love going to Afropunk with their Black boyfriend. Meanwhile, capitalism– a backward, inhumane system– doesn’t recognize people as people, but people as objects to be exploited or targeted, based largely on identifiable physical characteristics such as dark brown skin, or not “passing” as cis, or not speaking what it considers the “good middle-class white English” used in office spaces from New York to San Diego.
Now you might ask, “Why do you have to make everything about race, with ‘black’ this and ‘white’ that? Why do you always blame capitalism and use all these -ism’s? Why can’t we just respect the freedom of each individual, and get away from all these labels that only divide us, and just let people live however they want to live?”
The answer is simple. The conditions are complex, infinitely so. But the answer is: our life is always about a system of political power. It’s no coincidence that white people have taken over an entire continent (plus Hawaii). It’s not merely some random thing that the bombs of white countries tend to fall on Black and Brown people, that the prisons in the United States are filled with Black and Brown people, that the people who are the most impoverished in any state are usually Black and Brown. All you have to do is turn on your TV and watch a baseball game– the Chicago Cubs, for example– and you see all these white people in the expensive seats (which might be every seat), and now you see a hotdog vendor and they are Black or Brown. Or maybe you think this is also a coincidence. You might say, “You’re just focusing too much on race, and making a big deal out of nothing, to further divide people.”
It takes a very backward system– a tremendously divisive and inhumane system– to target people based on physical characteristics such as skin color or the shape of their nose, or the texture of their hair, or whether they “speak with an accent” or wear a hijab (with brown skin beneath it). But this system has to be even more backward and inhumane than that to convince people, after it has targeted communities of color over many centuries, that somehow this method of oppression is just random– that it is not systematic, and not based on the power of a system.
But let’s say you’re a beautiful woman in the United States, and you’ve enjoyed a lot of success– you’ve written two books, and hosted your own show on MSBNC Shift– and, at some point, you “passed” as cisgender (which this system considers the default for all womanhood), then cis people are just going to say you’re hot, and cis-het men will try to get you in bed or make you their girlfriend, or even their wife. Yet Janet Mock– the person in question– proclaimed her truth a long time ago, and told the world that she is a transgender woman, and so guess what happens now? Any cis-het guy can start using violent language against her, calling her “a man” and saying he will kill her. And that’s because her body– particularly as a Black and Indigenous Hawaiian woman from a working class background– makes Janet Mock a target for all these interlocked forms of systemic oppression. There’s nothing random about it. Otherwise, Janet Mock or another beautiful Black trans woman who attended Afropunk wouldn’t have become targets for the transphobic power of this system. This violence only seems random, and something that merely exists on an individual level, if your experience as a person who is white or cis has insulated you from this negation of personhood.
Only if you enjoy a certain level of power– as part of an identity or a class– can you avoid the negation of your person which is a requirement of capitalism in order for it to function. The freedom and power of an individual– under any system– is always a question of the status of their class, and how much autonomy or power it has. The power that capitalism uses to move against a person, by negating their personhood and then exploiting their objectified humanity in order to create greater profit (or by simply destroying them) is based on their class, their identity, and how much power it has to counteract its violent force.
Therefore, a system whose negation of the person is total must be counteracted by a force whose opposition is total. It seems tremendously important that we not attempt to place parts of who we are– under this system of oppression– into separate categories, as if the only battle to be fought is the one for equal wages, or better schools, or better healthcare plans, or investments in infrastructure.
Capitalism requires the total negation or occupation of our humanity. Capitalism requires the total negation of our bodies, and the total occupation of that which sustains our bodies: land. If we wish to negate this negative force– and thereby transform it– it seems that we must move against the colonial power structure that occupies this land, the United States itself. Unless we can invent some way for bodies to hover over the land and perpetually zoom around in the air like little birds or spaceships, we need to decolonize this territory, and conceptualize struggle in terms of free bodies on free land. After all, the United States didn’t just take away wages, schools and healthcare from Indigenous peoples on this continent (and Hawaii): the colonial power (and the white population who supports it, and is supported by it) took away their land, and the entire material basis for their survival and development, as independent nations/identities.
So how can we decolonize this physical space– for physical bodies– and (re)conceptualize not just the ideologies that are based in anti-racism, anti-transphobia, and anti-misogyny, but the all-encompassing political philosophies that move to reestablish the autonomy of each class or identity within territories that are currently occupied by the capitalist United States and the West? How can we maximize the protection and well-being of targeted bodies whom the U.S. judges to be a threat, and choose as the target of our anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-patriarchal struggle this system of state power, minimizing its damage until we overthrow it and replace it with a truly humane system, based on principles of equality and justice? Hopefully more and more European colonizers (whites) can start to ask these questions, and begin to discover that the system of power we are now under is based on the total negation of the person– as it moves against all humanity.