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No Lives Matter

No Lives Matter would be a catalyst for true consciousness leading all to reflect on their place in the system, as an exploited class of diverse peoples, the 99% if you will.

An essential feature of the capitalist system is the devaluation of life for the profit of a few. (Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

An essential feature of the capitalist system is the devaluation of life for the profit of a few. (Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

The band Body Count, led by rapper/actor Ice-T has returned in recent years. Very much unlike when they released the song “Cop Killer” in 1992 the band now garners practically no mainstream attention and hence no corresponding moral panic. In their recent 2017 release “No Lives Matter” Ice-T explains:

But honestly it aint just black, it’s yellow, its brown, its red, it’s anyone who aint got cash, poor whites, that they call trash. They can’t fuck with us, once we realize we’re all on the same side, they can’t split us up, and let them prosper off the divide.

The song is supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement but calls for the recognition of class as a shared experience that transcends race. This is something Ice-T has likely recognized firsthand among the band’s supporters. Body Count is a heavy metal band that performs for racially mixed audiences but the majority of which are alienated lower and middle-class white people. Body Count and other rock/rap crossover artists like Insane Clown Posse have long since brought together audiences that find unity from the shared experience of economic and social marginalization that transcends race. Coalitions like this do exist, but such examples are rare in mainstream popular culture. 

BLM resonates for mainstream youth brought up with multiculturalism and a politics driven by personal identity in school systems that refuse to mention the existence of class disparities. Officially BLM claims to affirm the lives of those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements, namely the disabled, women, trans, queer people, the undocumented, and lives along the gender spectrum. Important, yes, but this has no traction with the great majority of white people over the age of 35. Not only can they not see themselves supporting identity movements, they can’t imagine being supported by them either. White men, as it stands, don’t have acceptable identities in the age of identity politics. The very notion that white people have problems (too) cannot be taken seriously when the dominant movement trope of the day is Black Lives Matter. Middle-aged working and middle-class white men are committing suicide at alarming rates. Their lives don’t matter either. We should understand their despair, they and all the rest of us are cogs in the machine, yet the dominant movement of our time fails to offer them a seat at the table. It does this, not by focusing on black lives, but by failing to acknowledge that class and economics are vitally important mechanisms by which people are stratified and oppressed. Many white men understand this as betrayal. They see that Democrats, aligned with BLM, would rather “elevate minorities” than empathize with their reality of diminishing power and influence.  

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Winning demands that we dismantle systems of exploitation, namely capitalism, from the inside out. 

“No Lives Matter” as a concept is the needed evolution for the BLM movement, a movement that suffers somewhat from low expectations as it essentializes race. No Lives Matter should resonate clearly when the president refers to the 200,000 plus Covid-19 dead as “virtually nobody” and pursues a policy of herd immunity that would kill many thousands, or millions more. This is nothing new, it rises and returns in one form or another, an essential feature of the capitalist system is the devaluation of life for the profit of a few. No Lives Matter would be a catalyst for true consciousness leading all to reflect on their place in the system, as an exploited class of diverse peoples, the 99% if you will. The common ground found in economic struggle is the fertile place from which ancillary issues such as police brutality that disproportionally affects people of color, could be fruitfully addressed. The greatest threat to us all is of course the imminent decline of all life support systems on the planet brought about by capitalist exploitation. It shouldn’t need to be said but this is THE battle that should supersede all others. Losing it will make every other struggle irrelevant. Winning demands that we dismantle systems of exploitation, namely capitalism, from the inside out. 

BLM, because it has no mechanism to lay bare class domination, is furthermore a useful idiot for the bourgeois class. Corporations can spare a few pennies in the name of racial equality while continuing to exacerbate deadly economic inequalities and environmental degradation. Poverty brought on by late capitalism kills many more people of color than police ever could, and that same poverty kills many more white people. As climate catastrophes worsen the insecurity of the white so-called middle class will only intensify as well, and for good reason. As it does an even greater number of white folks will choose from a fascist movement that speaks to their loss of power and invites them to reclaim it (from the wrong people) by force, or a Black Lives Matter movement that literally ignores their existence. Which will they choose?

I understand that no movement can be all things to all people. Any attempt would dilute it to the point of complete ineffectiveness. BLM is important in its own right and should not be diminished, but the inertia it has created can be an engine to drive the more expansive collective effort that is required. Beyond its reliance on personal identity, BLM has been successful in large part because most people recoil at the torture of living beings, and there is plenty of filmed evidence as grist for that particular mill. Similar to how the animal rights movement of the 80’s and 90’s had been effective in attracting young participants who would go on to become anti-capitalists and anarchists, BLM is successful in bringing to light the ruthlessness of systems of power and domination. In turn it could ready a new generation for the struggles ahead and usher in a new period of contentious action. The kinds of actions that are needed, such as a general strike, must be inclusive and unified or they will fall short. The challenge will be, as it always has been, how to facilitate class consciousness as bourgeois forces endeavor to divide and conquer.

Kenneth R. Culton

Kenneth R. Culton is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Niagara University and musician.

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