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, socialist, trade unionist and five-time presidential candidate Eugene Debs argued:
“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 is correct that we often dislike our neighbor due to the historical, relational, 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 Explain, that’s what justice means in public. But for the Church to practice the politics of love, she must first be able to situate herself contextually. In other words, the church must not only identify its neighbors but also the systems and structures that oppress those neighbors.
In the same 1908 interview, Debs said: “Christianity is impossible under capitalism. Under socialism, it will be natural. Because a human being loves love and he loves to love.
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 a prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore noted, “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 affected 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 Black and brown people.
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 onset 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 “we” 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 “us” were nothing more than timely rhetoric. This piece of advertising by companies and politicians ignores the existing inequalities of racial capitalism – with its division of wealth and labor according to racial criteria – which structured the the pandemic disturbance and death. Healthcare workers were called essentials but were then treated as consumables, along with Filipino nurses disproportionate Pain. Vaccines have been hailed as a miracle for mankind, but predominantly white countries in Europe and North America amassed them. Wealth inequality skyrockets, 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: support networks flourished, historical protests for racial justice has shaken the foundations of white supremacist governance, and the institution of major 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 “us”. 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 borders 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 “Technological[ies] of anti-relationality. “The structural frames the interpersonal, and Melamed highlights the deadly and profitable ways that racial capitalism separates us and reconnects us. We are both separated and reconnected through educational apartheid, mass incarceration, segregated neighborhoods, blue-lining, segmented labor markets, and militarized borders. Instead of tackling these systemic injustices, scarcity and violence are blamed on the most marginalized – with blame-shifting claims 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 racial capitalism 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 a theologian Notes from Denys Turner, 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’s black radical 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. The vague and progressive messianism that proclaims that the church should be “with the marginalized” – which categorizes love of neighbor as something of 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.