There is a centuries-old socialist tradition of evangelizing the Church to be more attentive to the origin and structure of social inequality. In a 1908 interview, Eugene Debs, a socialist, trade unionist and five-time presidential candidate, said:
“For [socialists] believe in man and in the possibility of man’s love for man. We know that economic conditions determine man’s conduct towards man, and that as long as he has to fight him for work or fortune, he cannot love his neighbor.
Debs’ masculine language is shocking, but he’s right that we often don’t love our neighbor because of the historical, relationship, and material conditions that created our world. Loving one’s neighbor is always framed by the material conditions which determine who has power, who is in charge of society and who controls the means of production. Clarity of vision regarding this context is the first step in embodying a politics of love – which, as philosopher and activist Cornel West has often explained, is what justice means in public. But for the Church to practice the politics of love, she must first be able to situate herself in context. In other words, the church must not only identify its neighbors but also the systems and structures that oppress those neighbors.
According to Debs, Christianity is impossible in capitalism because it makes it impossible to love your neighbor. You can hope to love your neighbor, but capitalism places our relationships in a default state of conflict and enmity that cannot be overcome individually. Debs’ ideas are helpful, but his simple appeal for socialism fails to fully grasp what keeps us from loving our neighbors.
Deb’s economically short-sighted diagnosis lacks the racial analysis provided by radical black lore. Academics and activists such as Claudia Jones, Cedric Robinson, Robin DG Kelley, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and many others have analyzed how the material arrangements of our economy and the social structures of our culture have formed through racial division. and violence. There is no capitalism outside of racial capitalism, and as prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore said, “Capitalism demands inequality and racism enshrines it.”
Therefore, socialism does not have a monopoly on anti-capitalist analysis and action. Instead, socialism is one tradition among many when it comes to identifying the injustices that structure our economic and social relations. These other radical traditions – including the black radical tradition, eco-socialist feminism, Marxism, and indigenous anti-capitalist perspectives – are important because of the way they analyze violence, state power, and colonialism through the prism of marginalized people who have historically resisted. the injustices and inequalities of racial capitalism.
Capitalism and racism are united in their dependence on the hierarchies of social difference; these hierarchies act as sites of exploitation where conflicts of race, gender or even borders all strengthen our current political economy. Also, the very acts of living and working, which are structured by capital, put you in conflict with yourself and with others. Everyone is impacted by the relational flow and material forms of racial capitalism. And while it is true that everyone is affected, it should not be underestimated that those who are disproportionately affected by this system are Blacks and Browns.
COVID-19 has exacerbated these economic and racial disparities. Given this context, who is the “we” included in the now infamous phrase “We are all in the same boat”? As uncertainty and bottlenecks spread at the start of COVID-19, this phrase of “solidarity” and “commitment” was spoken by politicians, consumer brands, workplace supervisors and administrations academics. But who are we? Who is my neighbor?
Recognizing a collective âweâ is the epitome of the human predicament (Luke 10: 25-37). With life comes an intrinsic interdependence and reciprocity, and yet corporate attempts to appeal to this universal âusâ were nothing more than timely rhetoric. This piece of corporate and politician advertising copy ignores the existing inequalities of racial capitalism – with its racial division of wealth and labor – that have structured the disruption and death of the pandemic. Healthcare workers were labeled essential but were later treated as consumables, with Filipino nurses suffering disproportionately. Vaccines have been hailed as a miracle for mankind, but predominantly white countries in Europe and North America have been hoarding them. Wealth inequalities have skyrocketed, especially along racial lines. We were clearly not all in the same boat.
However, there were beautiful times when communities embraced the politics of love: networks of mutual aid flourished, historic protests for racial justice shook the foundations of white supremacist governance and the institution of large government programs has dramatically reduced hunger and poverty. One of those times was my family, as our second child arrived a few months after the start of the pandemic and family and neighbors helped with child care and meals. The moments of reciprocity, the political acts of justice and the shared struggle orient us towards a more rooted and more invigorating âusâ. But as beautiful as these acts of kindness and protest are, they are insufficient.
In the Christian tradition, the people included in the “we” go beyond the limits of the ecclesial community and into the public arena. Loving your neighbor requires attention to the context of our common life, to our political paradigms and to our socially constructed identities.
In view of this, Christians should not adopt an abstract and ethereal “we” that insists that the issue of inequality is due to personal sin; this individual framing fails to see how economic and cultural structures dictate the health and equity of a community. The political economy of racial capitalism creates and thrives on what academic Jodi Melamed calls “technology.[ies] of anti-relationality. The structural frames the interpersonal, and Melamed highlights the deadly and profitable ways in which racial capitalism separates and reconnects us. We are simultaneously separated and reconnected by educational apartheid, mass incarceration, segregated neighborhoods, the blue line, segmented labor markets and militarized borders. Instead of tackling these systemic injustices, scarcity and violence are blamed on the most marginalized – with rejection statements like “immigrants take our jobs “,” The problem is a society of rights “or” the neighborhood is changing. “An invigorating community, a common life built around the love of one’s neighbor, comes into conflict with the health and life of capitalism racial itself.
There are no interpersonal solutions to structural injustices; you cannot get out of systemic oppression. Racial capitalism excludes certain ways of practicing love, even capturing the ways in which we hope to relate to each other. As theologian Denys Turner notes, failing to understand these truths of US political economy means that the Church has “an ideological vagueness of moral judgment” which leads to a “performative contradiction.” In other words, Christians talk about loving their neighbor but engage in actions that are not loving because our life together is structured by racial capitalism. Loving your neighbor may be your desire, but its possibility is not in your immediate and individualized power. But this does not mean the end of the responsibility to love our neighbor, but a restructuring of him. Faithfulness to Christ’s call to love our neighbor requires seeking a more comprehensive transformation of our political economy.
Whether it is radical black tradition, Indigenous perspectives, Marxism, or eco-socialist feminism, these traditions can influence and guide the church in dismantling racial capitalism: providing an analysis of the world as it is. is, provide a view of the world as it should be, and provide strategies on how we might embed love of neighbor into the nerves and structures of our political economy.
Words of lamentation and transformed hearts are a start, but they are not enough. A vague and progressive messianism that proclaims that the church must be “with the marginalized” – which categorizes love of neighbor as a privileged gift – is paternalistic and misguided. Loving your neighbor is not an act of philanthropic charity, but a struggle to rebuild the world so that there can be new ways of relating to one another beyond the restrictions of racial capitalism. Love is only possible by working to transform our political economy. Love is justice. Love leads us to a new world.