of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time
of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality,
degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e.,
on the side of the
that produces its own product in the form of capital.
Marx, Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy,
women forget all those things they don't want to remember,
remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream
the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
posture caught my attention. It made him appear to be slightly bowing
forward from the waist whenever while standing before these two
elderly white colleagues, both of whom had been Peace Corp teachers
back in the day. Now these two senior citizens at the time along with
this young man and his age-wise compatriots and me, the oldest, in my
early 50s, are here in Ethiopia, with another government organization
receiving funding from USAID.
is black. So are the colleagues in his age bracket.
remember thinking of the days when blacks carefully constructed
postures of subservience. I should say, I remember hearing and
reading about those days. Sometimes I noted the residue of such a
posture whenever my father stopped to speak to a white man at a auto
shop or gas station. He would clasp his hands behind his back and
slighly bend forward.
I remember the grin, even today. This twenty-something young man with
the grin. And the nodding. Yes, sir, I understand. I understand. Nod.
Nod some more. This was in 2002.
events following September 11, 2001 are still unfolding. There's talk
of Bush, Jr. sending high-tech missiles over Iraq. But it's a year
later now. The war will come in 2003. March. The second half of the
school year would have already begun just a month earlier.
University of Wisconsin would have rid itself of the black
troublemaker. Or rather, the "black chick" the English
department hired two years before only to dismiss, or attempt to send
packing before the contract is signed. That's how it's done
sometimes. The "authorities" in power assigned a black
administrator do the job of assisting them with giving the narrative
a little twist: we tried, but she just didn't work out.
months later, it's an even younger black man who stands tall whenever
he's before me.
a good young man.
just keep it up.
don't need to be a troublemaker.
couple and the young man sat on the bus's back seat. I sat a few
seats ahead but just behind the two twenty-something, dread-wearing
female colleagues. I have dreads as well. From the way their heads
stayed still, each facing straight ahead, moving ocassionally toward
each other but ever so discretely, I could tell the women were
listening too. Could we avoid hearing what we're met to hear?
December now, and I'm leaving Alemaya University in Alemaya, Ethiopia
to teach at Addis Ababa University. The young man, having come by my
apartment to say goodbye, stops in front of a poster I have of the
writer, Zora Neale Hurston. Without warning, without any conversation
that would have prompted him, he looks at the poster and then at me
and says: If
you don't be careful, you'll end up just like her.
did this come from? But don't I know. And it's not necessarily
information imparted to this young man by the white couple.
based on material possessions, wealth—the accumulation of
nothing subversive here, only capitulation, resignation. You'll
end up like her. So give in. Be good.
is the extent to which what's shared between us is a reminder of what
binds us to what demands our submission. This is the extent to which
what's communicated between the younger generation and the older
generation beware: behave or else. You'll end up in poverty, buried
among weeds. Of our great aunt Zora's work, he has no words. Where's
it hard to imagine AI surplanting money, becoming god?
extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money's
properties are my properties and essential powers—the
properties and powers of its possessor," Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. There
are people invested in keeping money at the center of our lives. No
matter what. No matter how many die.
remember passing hundreds of people per week who I knew would, for
the most part, live and die without even a corrigated-roofed,
padlocked home. Much has changed in Ethiopia since I returned in
2003, but there's still the poor. Poverty. Hunger. Contaminated
water. Unafforable housing. Children dying young. Mother's dying
giving birth. It's the same story we hear here in the US.
yes, there is that buzz about "progress." And "progess"
in America has always been measured in terms of money: the
accumulation of wealth.
academics and journalists have been mulling over reports, including
those from the World Inequality Report and Oxfam, about the ever
expanding global wealth gap. One article from the Guardian,
22, 2019, begins with this statement: "A successful society is a
progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and
produces board human advancement. America's machine is broken. The
same could be said of others around the world." The idea of
"progress" has been taken in hand by the global elites,
billionaires, "who broke the machine," but who are now
trying to "sell us their services as reparimen."
of Americans on the left and on the right, the article continues, are
angry because they finally understand that "the game is rigged
against people like them."
article continues: "Elite networking forums such as the Aspen
Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative groom the rich to be
self-appointed leaders of social change, taking on the problems
people like them have been instrumental in creating and sustaining."
are 27 human beings who own more money than 3 billion other human
beings, and these wealthy few saw an increase in their wealth.
referred to Oxfam's find on how the rich got richer and the poor got
poor in 2018, in which the organization reports that the "wealth
of 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in
2018—or $2.5bn a day" (January 20, 2019).
to yet another Guardian
aside from the usual suspects, individual global elites, there are
the "B corporations" such as the Aspen Institute, the
Clinton Global Initiative, Ben and Jerry's, and Warby Parker—moneyed
people who want to do good (January 7, 2016).
are waking up to old news. Western nations as a whole are waking up
to discovery towering giants. They have always been there. They
determined what race would be subjugated to enslavement for the
benefit of Western and eventually the New World's conquest of
resources, land, and wealth. They were there along with Andrew
Jackson, slaughtering with impunity Indigenous people to expand the
possession of territory for white citizens in a land that would
become the United States. They were there in the Phillipines, in
Chile, under Pinochet, in Iraq, in the Congo. Any number of locations
in the world where there's oil and minerals of value to Western and
are there now; and they have grown. Expanded their reach. Americans
voted for president a man who could very well have borrowed money
from Russia or from Saudi Arabia. There are no borders, no walls to
prohibit the wealthy from accumulating wealth.
I was in Ethiopia, I saw them.
the end of an orientation session in Ethiopia, teachers and
organizational administrators are walking about, talking in small
groups. The mostly younger teachers have plans: the decorating of
"pads" in their assigned city or rural area and the saving
of income to take back home. I want to see for myself; I want to
understand. And as I look around the room, thinking about how I could
conceal that desire to know and understand, I saw one of the
represenatives, a Gambian, male, staring at me, sending me an
unmistakable message: Don't
come here to cause us trouble. Our friends are billionaires.
wealthy are visible in the way some individuals wanted me to know
they had "things." A television. A CD player. It's just
that my time in Ethiopia coincides with a bad time for them. I've
heard this same sentiment on a city bus for years. A young black, in
conversation with another, invariably will announce for all to hear
that he or she has a car, but it's at the shop now. It's at the shop
a month later.
the streets of Addis Ababa, it was evident that the philosophy many
of the slightly better off Ethiopians shared was that it was best to
be successful, at least one Ethiopian at a time. It's an idea once
shared by some blacks of my generation and older. It was best to be
the one upstanding black, climbing the proverbial ladder to economic
riches, replacing the diet of beans and rice for lobster.
Ethiopia, for the poor, it was a biscuit and tea per day with one
Birr—if the individual was lucky. It's not a matter of luck,
however. Yet, climbers clung to Western organizations, as these
entities represented the savior that hired and solved problems.
want to think that times have changed—among black people
people of color and anyone who finds in capitalism a profound
remember walking or riding around the rural town of Alemaya and the
city of Addis Ababa seeing hundreds of people, mainly women with
children, camped along the roads. Or along the streets, too. In plain
view. The destitute. As far as the eye could see. Humanity. How many
have come into the world since I left in 2003 and have died since
then? How many adults died, sitting on the earth, their only home,
for what, 20 years, maybe 30 years? What are these B Corporations
actually planning to do in Africa? In Ethiopia, the birthplace of
humanity? Will it be any different than the gentrification of
Chicago, New York, Oakland, Detroit?
there's Jeff Bezos, living well in the world (increasingly earning
his money, according to The
Greewald, from his "relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon,
and other surveillance agencies in the west" ("Jeff Bezos
Protests the Invasion of His Privacy, as Amazon Builds a Sprawling
Surveillance State for Everyone Else").
level of injustice and expanding inequality can't continue run amok.
think blacks have changed. A new generation is afoot. Young people of
color everywhere aren't buying the narrative of the authoritarians,
in which the worth of human existence is measured in the acquisition
of money and things. The current state of global warming and the rise
again of fascism in America requires more than a few standing on the
right side of history. The young people of color are becoming acutely
aware that the billionaires of do-good B-Corporations or Clinton
Global Initiative or the Aspen Institute couldn't care less about the
future of our planet anymore than the giants of the oil industry or
the pharmacuetical industry, irrevocably
destroying the ecosystem for the profits. Placing value on life—no.
There's more love for money. For the accumulation of money as this
frantic accumulation of money and resurces at all cost is the
only activity worth living for.
think today's young people of color aren't waiting to be acknowledged
as good and obedient servants to a system that can only increase the
suffering of the majority of humanity. According to a Washington
51 percent of millennials, American citizens between the age of
18-29, reject capitalism, April 2016. This challenge to capitalism
from younger Americans may be what scared white nationalists, white
supremacists, and xenophobes into voting for Trump as their fearless
people of color don't appreciate the vision of a future in which the
increasingly high cost of higher education leaves many straddled to a
payment plan with little income left for rent and
clothes—let alone electricity, heat, air conditioning, Internet
and phone services. That's assuming one has returned to a minimum
wage job. It might be worse, as it is for many, who are living, once
again, in their old bedroom under their parents' roof.
not the billionaires young people of color look to in their struggle
to liberate America from its culture of violence. And capitalism in
America, make no mistake, is nothing short of the promotion of its
citizen's acceptance of cruelty and indifference. Going about our
business while ignoring the suffering of others struggling to survive
within a mileu of systemic injustice, isn't pursuing a life worth
living. Nodding to white supremacy, the right hand of capitalism, and
agreeing to abide by its demands is a betrayal of our inheritance of
Bill and Malinda
Gates, the world isn't in need of billionaires; instead, life on this
planet could do with a socially democratic dream and creative and
committed activists. The world needs a just story.
does a young black arrive in the motherland and submit to thinking
himself superior to his ancestors?
we don't have to think about the "sunken" anymore, do we?