11/28 Bianca Williams

Bianca Williams is professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and a co-founder, in 2015, of Black Lives Matter 5280 in Denver, Colorado. Williams began her presentation by showing a clip from the group’s MLK Day 2016 action, where co-leaders demanded Denver cops release recordings of the murder of Michael Marshall. Their analysis linked mental health and police brutality to the city’s homelessness and housing crisis (including a 200% rent increase over five years) and its criminalization of “urban camping.”

The broader Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is now five years old, and has had up to 45 chapters in the United States, as well as in Toronto, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Various chapters have a high degree of autonomy, differing approaches to prison abolition, bail abolition, and a critique of capital. BLM is one network within the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), which comprises over sixty groups organizing together. In August 2016, M4BL released its platform, a year in the making, titled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice.” This document addresses the relationship between Black labor and premature death to the exploitation of capitalism, presenting a transformative vision for the future. The set of demands includes: demilitarization of the police, bail abolition, the decriminalization of drugs and sex work, an end to the criminalization of youth and trans and gender-nonconforming people, divestment from fossil fuels, investment in universal healthcare and education, community control over police and schools, protection for unions, and a universal basic income. Williams shared Robin DG Kelley’s overview of the platform’s document, claiming it is not just wealth that will be the cure to poverty but justice.  

In describing BLM 5280 as an anti-capitalist formation, Williams emphasized the constant negotiations the group undertook to establish an everyday anti-capitalist organizational practice. Decision-making protocol features centrally here, with members acknowledging the limits of simple majority rule, as well as discussions around fiscal status, childcare at events, payment for organizing, and members’ class positions. When a Black woman landowner offered the BLM 5280 a reduced rate on a derelict plaza and Denver’s Black mayor offered to cover the difference in exchange for a say in what the plaza was used for, the chapter ultimately refused the deal. For Williams, these kinds of decisions and discussions – often less-visible and more quotidien than protests or direct action – were are important ways of “denaturalizing” capitalism practically.

Discussing her time organizing with BLM, Williams highlighted the everyday tensions that arise between theory and practice, especially as it regards managing money. In deciding to pay one of the organizers for her work as an administrator, BLM 5280 members differed in opinion on whether it was fair to pay just one person in the group. Similarly, by attaining fiscal status as a non-profit, the organization was constantly figuring out what sources of funding would or would not compromise their goals.

Williams also described the dynamics between BLM and other groups. Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) was a mostly white group that often took part in the riskier aspects of actions in order to minimize the vulnerability of people of color during protest. BLM members trained SURJ members, who then participated in actions, directly using white privilege as a strategy for attaining political recognition in spaces where black bodies are the most vulnerable to police prosecution, violence and murder.

While Black churches and the Nation of Islam were uncomfortable with some of the gender politics of BLM, they nonetheless showed their support during actions and offered their security services during public actions. BLM activism was in this way a lesson in building solidarity within and across groups through an ongoing, and at times exhausting, negotiation of individual race and gender power dynamics and politics.

Williams addressed how fundraising and grant proposals as well as general organizing led to a tension among group members between the theory of Black equality and resistance and the everyday practice of fighting for it. They would often refuse to accept certain grants because of where the money came from while fighting for the fact that people lacked everyday necessities of food and shelter.  BLM 5280’s participation in the Mother and Father’s Day bailouts was also a point of contestation as it reinforced in the power of the carceral state while aiming to solve the more pressing need to free people from jail. BLM was also criticized more broadly for not recruiting enough non-college educated working class people of color, claiming that BLM fights for Black equality while excluding those most marginalized groups,  reproducing an exclusive membership of black excellence. Williams also expressed frustration at the graduate student member who would bring up the history of Black resistance and revolution when needing to confront the everyday urgency to protect oneself from poverty and police violence.

The political pursuit of Black owned and controlled capital as a means to attain social and political autonomy was brought up in class as a debatable form of Black progress.  Only placing and extracting wealth from Black-owned businesses, organizations and banks directly increases economic power to select black communities and generally perpetuating capitalist inequality. The strategy of using capitalist competition to level the playing field for Black people’s participation in the system may neglect the need to undermine capitalism’ role in maintaining unequal access to resources as well as racial justice according to Robin Kelley’s understanding.

Considering the gender and sexuality politics that arose through the confrontation of Black patriarchy, such as with Black preachers and Nation of Islam as well as in organizing meetings, Williams pointed to the need in both academia and activism, to address how paying attention to emotions can be a means to achieve pedagogical and emotional justice. Both within the classroom and the activist spaces, the emotional body is an often neglected yet crucial means to help us understand how systems of race, class, capitalism and power embed themselves onto the body and shape our everyday experience.

Discussion questions:

1. The BLM economic platform invokes a concept of democracy that is separate from capitalism. Does democracy have potential beyond capitalism, and/or as a strategy in anti-capitalist movements?

2. One of the things BLM supports is Black Christmas, an event encouraging consumers to spend their money only at Black-owned businesses and to bank with Black-owned banks. This sparked in class discussion on whether this could be an anti-capitalist strategy or not. Can it? Can a historically informed strategy of racial justice be achieved through capitalist means?

3. Should BLM, a movement firmly based in social media networks  have a more centralized national platform for black equality or should strategies be shaped by the particular racial and economic dynamics of each local community?   

4. What are ways that personal emotions be used as the content of anti-capitalist and anti-racist intervention, thought and action?

13 thoughts on “11/28 Bianca Williams

  1. Laura E. Rivas

    Thank you for a great summary. I think question 1 is very important because, in some ways, it forces us to confront some of the negative precedents established by previous socialist and communist regimes in the past—such as the Soviet Union (in all its distortion) or Cuba, for instance—in terms of leadership: verticality, authoritarianism. Of course, these regimes were not ideal or even accurate representations of communist/anticapitalist systems at times. One must also contextualize and highlight that as anti-hegemonic social and economic systems it is very difficult to remove violence from the equation. In any case, these circumstances remain. We do not know exactly how an alternative economic system will function at a large scale—it will require trial and error—and no one is nor will pave the way for revolution—it promises to be a difficult transition. This certainly complicates the idea of having any type of democratic process unfold, even if disengaged from capitalist influences. Dr. Williams experiences also suggest that there will be other limitations in terms of time and resources available when it comes to the everyday logistics of leadership/organizing and a consciously anticapitalist decision making process. Building an anticapitalist, localized infrastructure that remains applicable and relevant beyond the here and now requires a lot of creative and invisibilized labor.

    1. Karen

      I agree, especially with the point on creative and invisiblized labor. One thing Professor William’s lecture really prompted me to think about was this point on how imagining anti-capitalist spaces and/or movements have to occur in real-time, and how that creative labor occurs not only in the dreaming up of the long-term solutions for, but also in the everyday realities of how we contribute to change. Professor Williams outlined how her experiences with the male activists’ unwillingness to compromise led to the hijacking of safe and productive spaces. As the semester comes to a close, I invite our class to think about how we, collectively, have conducted ourselves, and what it means to practice anti-capitalist thought and action not only in the realm of theory, but also in our own classrooms.

    2. Aus Mil

      I think the question around Black Christmas is a good one and could be connected to other points in the discussion. I am thinking of when Bianca asked us to imagine what the world would look like, even short of reparations, if people simply stoppe profiting or exploiting Black labor and creative practices. Specifically, she mentioned hip-hop as something that belonged to Black people and that other people were making a profit off of the Black creative labor that went into the development of hip hop.

      These questions make me wonder what it takes to be Black owned. Given that Blackness is indeed a historical how are the boundaries of drawn and redrawn? What does it mean for a group to claim intellectual property rights based on their understanding of history? This raises questions around the criteria for racial belonging and the inheritance claimed through it. It is also a potential opening to thinking about property as something diffusely owned by a community that labored it and those conceived as related. These claims around hip hop seem to be doubling down on property but with a different ontology

      1. Nicolas Benacerraf

        I wanted to quickly offer some reading on this topic. In “Hatred of Democracy” the French aesthetic/political philosopher Jacques Ranciere reconsiders the notion of democracy in more emancipatory terms. He thinks that each standstill snapshot of purportedly “democratic” structures always appear hierarchical, but it achieves equality over the long term by virtue of every (type of) person getting to take control, lead, and change things. He prioritizes the value of social/political movements like #BLM to achieve this process of continual betterment, calling “the police” as (often Capitalist) forces that resist change/inclusion, and extolling “the political” as the moment when a group–who is underserved by the current “democratic” order–demands change/control in the name of the greater good. It’s a short book and worth the read.


    Hi all,

    Great questions! I would like to respond to prompt one, because I think it’s important. I also think that Lenin provides us an answer to this question in State and Revolution (S & R)–at least within the historic and geographic context in which he was writing–that we might consider.

    Lenin wrote S & R in 1917, where he absconded after the Bolsheviks were blamed for orchestrating the armed worker/soldier demonstrations in Petrograd, Russia known as the July Days.

    The publication of S & R is situated between the February revolution and the Bolshevik revolution. Nicholas II had abdicated his position as emperor of Russia and a provisional government was put in place. In broad strokes, the primary political contradiction at that time was between the politicians within this newly formed government, who sought reform and an ushering in of bourgeois democracy, and the Bolsheviks, who criticized democracy as benefiting only the minority (i.e. wealthy) and advocated for the working people of Russia to seize state power and institute a worker’s democracy in the interests of the majority, as Lenin puts forth in S & R.

    Critics of the Bolsheviks, some of whom are referenced in the document, claimed that they were utopians, attempting to win workers to the idea that an egalitarian society could be introduced immediately after the seizure of state power by the proletariat. Chapter 5 of S & R sets out to push back against these criticisms by delineating a dialectical process through which Russia could move from capitalism to communism via two distinct phases, or stages, of communism: entering into the first stage immediately after the proletariat seizes state power and gradually moving towards a “higher” phase once some of the primary inherent contradictions of capital and bourgeois democracy have been resolved, such as government by the few and the separation of mental and manual labor. Building upon Marx’s Critique of the Gotha program, Lenin positions the “state” as performing a fundamental role during the first phase of communism: suppressing the bourgeoisie and initiating workers into a more democratic and participatory government. However, Lenin notes that the “state” is a bourgeois construction, and as such, presents it as a mechanism for suppression that will cease to exist once its reasons for existence have been abolished through revolution and as society adopts communist economic relations over a period of time that cannot be known. That said, as this happens, democracy itself, according to Lenin, becomes so fully realized that humanity is able to move beyond it. Lenin, drawing on Marx, calls this the withering away of the state.

    For Lenin, democracy is largely illusory under a bourgeois dictatorship because the state only serves the interests of the capitalist class. The goal of a revolutionary party would be to bring the masses into a more direct democracy through actual participation in the governing process. For Lenin, this notion of democracy is antagonistic yet dialectically related to the bourgeois conception of the state; in many ways, the worker’s democracy Lenin proposed was intended to fulfill the actual promise of democracy, a promise that had never been realized under capitalism, by actually allowing participation by workers in the affairs of the state. However, the strategy here was to develop democracy to the point where it and the state became superfluous as the new egalitarian, “communist,” economic system of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” emerged.

    Of course, this whole withering away of the state business, as well as the stage-ist approach Lenin prescribes, issue a whole litany of other questions and concerns, which I won’t get into here. That said, when we consider the potential for democracy to become part of an anti-capitalist movement, as BLM has, then we always need to keep in mind, and I’m speaking from a U.S. context now, that we’re not living under a direct democracy. Bourgeois democracy does not represent the interest of the many and mainly offers a justification for state suppression/oppression in order to maintain capitalist economic relations; however, within a movement intended to liberate the oppressed and exploited masses within this country and on a global scale, democracy can be made to represent the majority as long as it takes a more directly democratic form; and there are plenty of strategies that we might conceive of for bringing this into being, particularly considering the types of communication technologies we have available in the digital age.

  3. Erik Forman

    Professor Williams’ lecture had me reflecting on how race and class have intersected in labor organizing efforts I have been a part of in the past in the US fast food industry and elsewhere. I wrote about this a couple years ago, you can read my reflection here: https://thenewinquiry.com/making-black-lives-matter-in-the-mall-of-america/

    I’d like to respond to the fourth question here. In my experience, emotion– or as Professor Maskovksy has told me it is called: affect– determines how we experience the world. Emotion is what motivates us in interpersonal interactions, it is the single most important element in building any kind of organization– from union to party to business to dinner date. Emotion is the experience of power or oppression, lack or abundance, satisfaction or agitation. In union organizing, activating emotion is literally the first step in moving toward action. And yet it remains almost entirely untheorized in the Marxist cannon, at least to my limited knowledge.

    While the left leaves emotion largely untheorized and only semi-consciously instrumentalizes it in organizing, our capitalist masters have developed an entire art and science of domination based on emotional manipulation. That is what public relations, advertising, and human resources management is. They literally write scripts for how to achieve consent in the workplace, sell products, bust unions, and mollify public opinion. You can read more about the history of this here, in the words of Freud’s nephew, the inventor of the modern art of public relations: http://www.historyisaweapon.org/defcon1/bernprop.html.

    From what I have seen, any kind of class-based organizing will be doomed to failure without an active engagement with emotion, and in particular a careful engagement with the realities of race and racism in the workplace and community. I worked at another chain called Jimmy John’s from 2009-2011, where my coworkers and I attempted to build solidarity across the ~200 workers in one franchise and launch the first certified union in the US fast food industry. The hope was to spark a mass movement. The employer manipulated racial divisions in the workforce, redbaited the organizers, fired key people (including me), and ultimately smashed the unionization effort. Basically everything we had done had been about emotion– mostly building trust, particularly across racial lines. It wasn’t enough, or maybe we weren’t good enough at it. Or maybe it was doomed to failure because it had originated with a group of white workers in a multiracial workplace, and I am sure that we inadvertently reproduced racialized power relations, as much as we tried to undermine them. We did not know what we were doing, but no one was able to give us much advice. The fast food industry remains almost entirely non-union to this day.

    Perhaps greater attention to the subjective dimension of human experience on the left– how we feel in the world, the structures of feeling as Raymond Williams said– would yield new understandings in how to confront and destroy domination and exploitation, and more effective praxis.

    1. Kathryn Alessi

      Capitalism profits from the manipulation of emotions, as stated above, and what capital prays on are deep-seated, emotionally-connected biases we have about others and the world. People are able to be manipulated by racist policies as long as racism still exists. Continuing to harbor biases that we’ve come to believe are true and/or natural keep us vulnerable to manipulation. I wouldn’t agree that the attempt at union organizing at Jimmy John’s did not work because something went wrong (although I admit I have limited information here), but rather it didn’t work because transcending innate biases is difficult and takes a lot of trust and understanding from all parties involved. We, as a global people, have not come to that point where we’re ready to understand how we’ve been wrong our whole lives. It’s easier to be validated by manipulation tactics than it is to overcome internal bias. To paraphrase from Beyoncé: you can give everything you have and still lose.

  4. Patrick

    I’m interested in the above conversations about democracy and anticapitalist antiracist liberation, and particularly the relationship between means and ends of establishing formal and substantive democracy on antiracist, internationalist, and anticapitalist terms.

    Black internationalist contemporaries of the Bolshevik revolution like Hubert Harrison (see Heideman 2018), and later socialists like Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, and Walter Rodney (Rodney 2017; see Boyce-Davies 2008; Prashad 2017) were often drawn to socialism because of what economic democratization of the Russian Empire allowed in terms of overthrowing racist imperial hierarchies that Tsarist feudalism and nascent capitalism had reproduced and exploited. In particular, Jews, a population viciously stigmatized under Tsarism, had suddenly won emancipation through joint struggle in the overthrow of Tsarism and bourgeois democracy, even assuming roles of leadership in the revolutionary government (Trotsky only being the most prominent example).

    The ensuing degeneration of the USSR into Stalinism and Stalinist antisemitism requires careful explanation, and can’t be taken as an outgrowth of either one act of arguably anti-democratic behavior (the violation of voting rights and/or property rights) or of a transhistorical prejudicial mindset. The role of reimagining what counts as democracy, and the apparent necessity of armed force to hold that experiment in place, is likewise central to “Black Folk[’s] … Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America” after the US Civil War that W.E.B. Du Bois recounts in Black Reconstruction (Du Bois 1935).

    In her reflections, Williams was describing something like a “tyranny of structurelessness” (see Freeman 1970 https://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm ), where the apparent hyperdemocracy of consensus allowed specific members (especially straight men) to hold group decision-making hostage, due to their confidence and comfort in vetoing decisions. Williams sought to experiment with decision-making methods that centered the voices of Black women, and Black queer women in particular, methods that consciously moved away from “one person, one vote” or “group consensus” approaches.

    The debate between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on related questions in the postrevolutionary years is a particularly interesting (and surprising) comparison: Lenin, who came from the dominant ethnic group in the Russian empire, defended his decision to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, and supported the right of colonized nations within the Russian Empire to self-determination (up to and including secession from the Soviet Union). Rosa Luxemburg, who was a Polish Jew who grew up under the occupation of the Russian Empire, harshly criticized Lenin’s dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, but just as harshly argued that “the famous ‘right of self-determination of nations’ is nothing but hollow, petty-bourgeois phraseology and humbug”—striking given her doubly minoritized status within the Empire, and the regular threat of her deportation from Germany, where she lived (Luxemburg 1940 [1918]). Two very different, and very complex, visions of what proletarian democracy would mean, especially for workers subjected to group-differentiated marginalization within the Russian Imperial working class.

    Our earlier discussion in class of the structurally antidemocratic (and now anti-Democratic) nature of the US Senate, overrepresenting rural states and vastly underrepresenting populous states, seems today like the inverse of the concern for protecting the voices of minoritized, oppressed populations. The two are in fact often conflated in mobilizing language about “coastal elites” vs. the “Heartland.” Suffice it to say, there remains a lot to be said and tried regarding the question of how even radical (or proletarian) democracy will deal with historical and ongoing group-differentiated access to resources, inter-group domination and mistrust, and protections of outnumbered groups and outnumbered views. As Williams’s comments highlight, this is an ongoing question both during the struggle to overcome capitalism, and the morning after. Examples we have, from Cuba, the USSR, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Brazil, the US, China, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Canada, India, and Singapore, all leave us with as many questions as answers about it. The classic paradoxes of liberal democracy don’t sublimate quite so easily in practice. Supporting or dismissing democracy (or self-determination) itself is fun to do in the abstract, but incredibly thorny in practice. It’s easy to support democracy and oppose coups, but it’s pretty hard not to support the military administration of the post–Civil War US South.

    Boyce-Davies, Carole. 2008. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. Durham: Duke UP.
    Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Black Reconstruction in America. New York: Harcourt Brace.
    Heideman, Paul. 2018. Class Struggle & the Color Line. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
    Freeman, Jo. 1970. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” jofreeman.com.
    Luxemburg, Rosa. 1940. The Russian Revolution. New York: Workers Age Publishers.
    Prashad, Vijay. 2017. Red Star over the Third World. New Delhi: LeftWord Books.
    Rodney, Walter. 2017. The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World. London & New York: Verso.

  5. Erin Ward

    One issue that interested me from this week’s presentation that I would like to raise for discussion here was the topic of philanthropic funding and its impact on grassroots activism like the Black Lives Matter movement. Professor Bianca Williams explained that in the case of the Denver chapter of BLM that she led, her co-leader was adept at raising money with no strings attached, and that the chapter only took money from funders that did not require them to change their strategy or report back on the outcomes of their organizing efforts. She mentioned that one potential funder had asked that the chapter involve more socio-economically marginalized people in their organizing than were involved at the time, and that for this reason the chapter decided to turn down their potential offer of funding. I was left wondering why this decision was made, as I imagine it was not simply a matter of their policy of not accepting money attached to requirements from an outside organization, but instead a question that the chapter periodically ran into and felt compelled to in some way address. Professor Williams mentioned, for example, criticisms of the movement as being about “Black excellence.”

    We can relate this criticism to the first question raised by the bloggers about democracy—I am wondering if the BLM chapter chose to turn down this particular offer of funding because members saw the conscious effort to involve more socio-economically marginalized people as not organically “democratic” in the sense that the newly involved poor members would not have come to the movement of their own volition. Here, I’m engaging the term democratic in the sense of direct democracy. As another blogger has already suggested, invoking Lenin’s understanding of democracy complicates the above questions about whether democracy has potential beyond capitalism or as a strategy in anti-capitalist movements. For Lenin, the bourgeois state is inherently anti-democratic and it is anti-capitalist revolution, the revolution and “dictatorship of the proletariat” that would accomplish true democracy in which all people would participate in a governance of common good. As a different blogger mentioned, Williams’ discussion of her experiences with BLM highlighted the many difficulties in practice that the production of social difference under capitalism presents for such a task.

    Lenin, V. State and Revolution.

    1. Anna Rebrii

      I would like to respond to one of the points above: I agree, it was interesting to hear from Prof. Williams that the group felt compelled to deviate from the standard one person/one vote or consensus approaches that come to mind when we think about democracy.
      The question for me is: how do we deal with the fact that there are historically under- or unrepresented segments (non-heterosexual, women, ethnic and religious minorities, etc.) alongside individuals from relatively privileged segments (white, male, heteronormative in this country) when it comes to democratic decision-making? I would like to offer an example from a different context on how this is dealt with in practice. The project of democratic confederalism that the Kurdish movement has been implementing in Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan is centered on the the construction of direct democratic mechanisms of decision-making to ensure people’s self-governance of their affairs on various geographical scales—from a neighbourhood to the entire region—thus attempting to retake power from oppressive ethnonationalist states. Since there are internal inequalities within the population itself that participates in the project—the most prominent being patriarchal treatment of women—the movement has set up quotas for women (40%) practically in all kinds of structures and organizations. Parallel to mixed-gendered bodies, there are special women-only structures that have veto power when it comes to dealing with issues directly concerning women. The movement has also adopted a system of co-leadership, that is, any administrative level must have one woman and one man as its chair. In Northern Syria (Rojava), they have also set up women-only military force that acts independently and does not answer to any male-headed body. At the same time, women take part in the mixed army as well, often in position of commanders. Part of the argument is that this approach relieves women from insecurity and pressure they may feel when being among men—in a public space that has only recently opened up to women—and empowers them as a group that has to defend its rights, even as the movement as whole explicitly subscribes to a rhetoric of gender equality.
      A similar approach has been taken in regards to the ethnic and religious diversity. While the Kurdish movement is the initiator and main driver behind the project of democratic confederalism, they envision a system that would ensure peaceful coexistence and equal representation of all the ethnic and religious groups that populate the region. To this end, they set up quotas for ethnic minorities and ensure that they are equally represented in the leadership. (ARTE has recently released an on-the-ground report from Rojava— if anyone is interested)
      I find similarities between this approach and the techniques that Williams shared about creating safe spaces for and centering the most oppressed when organizing, making decisions, and protesting. These practices help to ensure that our organizing against one kind of oppression does not reproduce others.

      Saed. “From the October Revolution to Revolutionary Rojava: An Ecosocialist Reading.” Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 28, no. 4 (2017): 3-20. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10455752.2017.1409403

      Mylene Sauloy, director. Syria: Rojava, the Revolution by Women. ARTE in English. arte.tv.

  6. Emily Holloway

    1. The BLM economic platform invokes a concept of democracy that is separate from capitalism. Does democracy have potential beyond capitalism, and/or as a strategy in anti-capitalist movements?

    I’d also like to discuss question one. I think that the invocation of democracy by liberal capitalism has completed misinterpreted and miscommunicated democracy’s capacity for freedom and justice. Democracy is not literally meant to be a free-for-all, a race to the top, majority rules – it ought to be interpreted more literally, as self-government. I also am going to make the disclaimer that I don’t mean this in the libertarian sense. Perhaps all these caveats are indicative of how deeply misunderstood democracy is now. It has become saturated with market principles, racism, and exploitation. Self-government as an expression of self-determination is at the root of radical democratic thought and does not inherently mean, “limited government.” (Nancy Fraser offers a great explanation of the tensions of self-determination vis-a-vis recognition and redistribution). I’d like to put forth this tenet of self-determination as the vision of democracy Dr. Williams describes

  7. Hilary Wilson (she/her)

    I would like to address question 2. Certainly, Black Christmas and other “buy black” campaigns do materially benefit particularly black business owners, and to the extent that socially-constructed racial hierarchies have historically served capitalism, Black Christmas may challenge dominant notions of black inferiority and subjugation. At the same, it is important not to imagine or portray “the black community” as a monolith, as Professor Williams’ discussion about class dynamics in BLM 5280 made clear. At one point in her talk, Professor Williams asked, “How do we reimagine what we think we want?” I think her question urges us to think more carefully and critically about campaigns like Black Christmas. While I think that efforts to buy black are limited in their ability to change the material circumstances of most black people, I would caution against viewing these efforts as rooted in a desire to mimic, reproduce, or replace capitalism with yet another hierarchical system. Rather, what I think Williams was getting at is that while campaigns like Black Christmas may reflect a genuine desire to challenge the disparate outcomes of capitalism, the means for truly doing this may be missed by framing solutions within the parameters of capitalist relations and (neo)liberal ideology. While I think the question of whether black-owned businesses are different from non-black-owned businesses (in terms of worker pay and other benefits to the broader community, for example) could be an interesting empirical one, I also think that Williams and her fellow BLM members were under no illusions that buying black necessarily benefits all black people equally. What we was not really discussed in class was the fact that there is a long tradition of non- or anti-capitalist thought and practice stemming from black communities that still serves as an alternative to both black capitalism and capitalism at large. Whether referring to the Black Radical Tradition (Robinson 1983) or the Blues Epistemology (Woods 1998), black scholars have documented how black workers, farmers, and intellectuals envision and enact more egalitarian and collective social and economic formations (e.g. see W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction, Robin DG Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, and Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s Collective Courage).

    Robinson, Cedric J. 1983. Black Marxism. The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Lon- don, England: Zed.

    Woods, Clyde . 1998. Development arrested: The blues and plantation power in the Mississippi Delta. London: Verso.

  8. Anthony Ramos

    I want to engage briefly question 2, which touches on the political imaginary of “banking black” that Williams talked about. On one hand, I was forced to rethink my own ideas about what is considered radical practice, and to the extent that I have not considered that how black people, and black women specifically, moving around their monies as under the rubric of radical practice. And I agree with her that “socialist movement is always gender”, and by implicated what is deemed to fit within the rubric of the radical. On the other hand, I was struck by her honesty, in sharing with us that their BLM chapter struggled when trying to think about banking in radically different ways with radically practical ideas. As she noted, when you follow the money, it is always tainted at the end. To do this, in seminar, I had suggested the community banking might be, perhaps, a more radical step because such a practice would foreground the makings of class by disinvesting from the major contributors of fictitious capital: investment banks. However, Williams was right that when you follow the money it’s always tained at the end. Community banks, actually, support the markets of investment banks by providing a release valve for capital and a point of access to capital, while I am not sure in the history of community banks that they ever functioned outside of the markets created by and for investment banking. I mean who do they sell their mortgage notes too?


    Still, I wonder if the idea of “banking black” can be pushed a bit further. Could it be frame from which to reasses which historicize banking practices of the banks, and thus those move money away from banks that participated in red-line districting or those banks with similar practices in sub-prime mortgage markets, or maybe from banks participating in derivate markets.





    or maybe extend the practice of banking black by moving money out of insurance banks that built themselves by providing insurance to southern slave masters.


    But then, could we push this further and think about radical ways to re-engage local politics in South Dakota and Delaware. There seems a sentiment among people that the banking system needs be brought under control. And that the Federal Reserve is part of the problem. Do we need to democratize or nationalize the banks? or do we simply have to politicize the process through which corporations file for their chapter, in the first place, and, as well, democratize the wording in the charter which ultimatley shapes the parameters and necessary policy at the core of each corporation’s constitution?




Leave a Reply