“And right now I’m just taking what’s mine till Elizabeth returns the diamonds.”
Gorillaz (featuring Tony Allen and Skepta)
Kimberley Jones is the particularly incisive social critic that we see in this short YouTube clip offering her analysis of Black protest, rioting and looting in the US today.
If one is attentive to what Jones is saying, it is clear that, while race is a central concern, obviously, she doesn’t make race into a fetish. Rather I would suggest that her commentary exemplifies Stuart Hall’s claim that “race is the modality within which class is lived.” In articulating this formulation, Hall draws on the Lacanian idea via Louis Althusser that ideology is “an imaginary relationship to the real conditions of existence.” In this sense, if we see what has been going on in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in exclusively racial terms, we miss something very important analytically. And this, in turn, can not only lead to tactical and strategic missteps, but it can contribute to fanning the flames of White identity politics. Indeed, far from confronting the structure of White supremacy, the failure to break with a fetishized idea of race, can lead to strengthening rather than weakening its iron grip on society.
Far from confronting the structure of White supremacy, the failure to break with a fetishized idea of race, can lead to strengthening rather than weakening its iron grip on society.
After highlighting a number of the points Jones makes, I would like to take a brief glance at Guy Debord’s reflection on the Watts Uprising of 1965 which stands in a certain relationship to the events of May 1968 and also, of course, to what happened in Minneapolis in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
What constitutes the axis, I would suggest, is that these are three events in the sense meant by Alain Badiou. For Badiou, the event signifies a moment at which the impossible becomes possible and the moments comprising this axis are three moments at which time capitalist society’s own fantasy or dream about itself is profoundly disturbed.
Here are four aspects of Jones’s analysis that I find especially noteworthy:
(1) Jones begins with an attack on the condemnatory response of wealthy Blacks to the uprising which is, to refer to Langston Hughes, “Go Slow.” Jones is clear that she is viewing things not from the perspective of Black people per se but from the perspective of poor Blacks. So, her focus isn’t simply on the difference between Identities, that is, Black and White, but also the differences within them, ie. the differences within the Black community which include substantive class differences and conflicts within this community over the very meaning of the event, itself.
I think it is possible to argue that those middle class Blacks who condemn the protestors, rioters and looters, and, in the process, offer an apology for an unjust and violent social order, like colonial and post-colonial elites, identify with the aggressor as a response to the traumatic material of history.
(2) Jones’s discussion of the boardgame Monopoly as an analogy for the failure of the social contract in the United States is powerful and her invocation of Tulsa and Rosewood show the extent to which Black socio-economic and political gains have resulted in what Terry Smith calls a White backlash or Whitelash for short. Donald J Trump may be regarded as the personification of this in his rancorous attempt to systematically undo the legacy of the Obama White House, including and especially the Affordable Care Act, even if, at the end of the day, as critics like Cornel West and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, among others, rightly point out, under Obama the socioeconomic conditions of Black Americans actually worsened to a greater extent than their White counter-parts.
(3) Jones claims that the social contract is broken. Here I would challenge her claim somewhat with reference to Jamaican political theorist Charles Mills’s concept of the racial contract. This is the idea that the contractarian tradition from Hobbes through Rawls is premised upon an unacknowledged exclusion of Black and Brown people and therefore a hidden yet no less consequential White Supremacy. One could say that this is the repressed content of political theory.
For example, the Lockean idea that North America was terra nullius – that the land was “nobody’s” – lent legitimacy to the settler colonial project – which, by the way, was a project that consisted of little other than looting on a grand scale. So perhaps it’s not a matter of the contract being broken at all but functioning as it should.
The point is not that the liberal-democratic social contract ought to be adhered to by way of equal treatment under the law but fundamentally rewritten to move beyond the premises of liberal-democracy, itself. Its deferred dreams are dreams deferred infinitely for Black and Indigenous peoples. Langston Hughes: “The prize is unattainable.”
(4) The last and, in my view, most important claim worthy of note is that her rejoinder to wealthy Blacks takes the form of a defence of the figure of the “looter,” which she defetishizes, by refusing a fixation on *what* it is they’re doing, ie. egregiously smashing and grabbing commodities, but *why* they are doing it. And this is an indictment of US capitalism, if not capitalism as a whole. Again, as Marx indicates with his concept of primitive accumulation in Chapter 26 of Capital, this is a system that is made possible by systematic looting (embodying the real primitivism that is then projected onto its victims):
“ The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”
This was first published in the October 1 Splinters edition.