The Global African: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Black Politics

This is fascinating. It’s an attack on Neoliberalism from a Black American perspective, talking about the harm it has done to Black communities, churches, politics and people’s personal psychology and sense of self-worth. In this piece from the Global African, there’s a discussion between the host, Bill Fletcher, and a professor of Black Studies at Johns Hopkins university, Lester Spence about the harmful effects of Neoliberal economics. The second segment talks about the Paris conference on Climate Change, and the implications this has for communities in the Developing World.

They’re both important issues, but the piece that interested me was the first half, the critique of Neoliberal economics. Lester Spence, the professor being interviewed, has written a book about it. Apart from the economic theory itself, he also wanted to correct and supplement some of the ideas in Cornel West’s book, Racial Matters, and a work on Neoliberalism by a White academic. He admires both books, but states that the leave out vital issues, like the way Neoliberalism has corroded Black people’s ability to organise and their sense of self-worth for Cornel West’s book, and the racial dimension of Neoliberalism in the study of it by the White academic.

For the benefit of their viewers elsewhere in the world, Spence defines what Neoliberalism is. He states that it is the view that people should organise themselves as a business, and that politics and public services should also adopt the methods of private industry, including libraries. This has resulted in the destruction of the notion of ‘the public’. In the case of the churches, it has resulted in a mentality that sees the Bible as a business manual, which if adopted will not only spiritually enrich you, but also materially as well. In this it resembles the teaching of some of the earlier Black cult leaders. This is in line with Neoliberalism generally, which despite the part of the word being ‘neo’, Greek for ‘new’, takes much of its doctrines from the 19th century.

The result of Neoliberal economics, as pioneered by Milton Friedman, has been massive income inequality and the economic devastation of the working class. This has affected all Americans, but African-Americans have been particularly hard hit, in places like Detroit. Spence and Fletcher point out that Neoliberal economics was rolled out when Black Americans were first being elected to positions of political leadership, particularly in the communities that were worst affected. Thus, Black politicians and leaders became the scapegoats, charged with the failures that the economic system had produced.

Spence states that some Black people have prospered through Neoliberalism. These were middle class people, who had the education and affluent background, which gave them the entrepreneurial qualities prized by the system. People like himself. But those less privileged, like citizens with special needs, it has been devastating. They have got poorer.

He also talks about the ‘Black Nihilism’ that the economic system has spawned. This was identified by Cornel West in Race Matters, which was written about the time of the Rodney King riots. In the words of the two conversing here, it’s the lack of love Black people have for themselves and their fellow Black Americans. This takes away their power to combine and organise politically, and replaces it with therapy. The result is that Black politics has been enervated, and the ability to bring about political change nullified.

There is also a distinct racial dimension to the economic theory and its political appeal to specific American demographics. He criticises the White academic’s otherwise excellent study because it ignores this. Spence states that some of the people, who vote overwhelmingly for Neoliberal policies are poor Whites, who are suffering as much as Black communities. This needs to be explained.

Spence has also taken the unusual stem of publishing his book with a small press publisher, Punctum. It’ll be available at the price of a few dollars for about five years as PDF, then free on-line after that. Spence states that he wanted to break out from the ‘honeyed noose’ of academia, and make the book’s publishing, and not just its contents, a political act. He also disliked the appellation of ‘scholar activist’, despite his actions.

This is a very thought-provoking piece from the perspective of one of the racial groups hardest hit by the wretched brainchild of Milton Friedman, von Mises and co. It’s a perspective that needs to be taken into account when addressing the poverty and despair this pernicious theory has created.

Regarding the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, there’s an increasing movement away from it, and some of its worst preachers have attacked it. One of these was the American right-wing Evangelist, Jim Bakker. Bakker was one of the televangelists that emerged in the 1980s, with Swaggert, Jerry Fallwell and the rest of the corrupt crew. Bakker was criminally corrupt, as well as morally bankrupt, and ended up going to gaol for defrauding his church. He has since written a book criticising and denouncing the very theology he used to preach as heretical.

And the doctrine of self-enrichment through religion or spirituality isn’t confined to Christianity. It’s also in the New Age movement. Deepak Chopra, one of the movement’s leading writers, has said that he promotes ‘Prosperity Consciousness’. You can see the same corrupt ideals at work in The Cosmic Ordering Service, another New Age book that told you if you wanted something, you could get it, so long as you went through the proper New Age mental rituals. The Qabbala cult Madonna belongs to is also part of it. This isn’t much like the original Qabbala, which is a complicated system of Jewish mysticism. It’s a radically simplified version of it, which again promises its adherents worldly wealth through practicing a few basic spiritual formulas or exercises. It’s been strongly criticised by mainstream Jewish scholars for both its theological distortions and the massive profiteering involved. The person responsible for the Qabbala cult, for example, sells a copy of the Zohar for up to $300 or so. It might even be more. These are all in Hebrew, but he tells his followers that they don’t have to bother understanding this mystical text. Simply having it will confer spiritual benefits and material wealth. It’s needless to say that this is very definitely not what proper Jewish religious scholars believe.

As for White people voting for Neoliberal politics, my guess is that race, and particularly racial contempt for Blacks, has been an important element of the strategy through which it has been sold to them. Right-wing American politicians have stigmatised Blacks as being feckless welfare scroungers. The interventionist policies used to improve their conditions, such as affirmative action, merely act to prevent the benign market operating as it should. It stops virtuous, well-qualified Whites from getting the jobs they need by giving them to Blacks. At the same time, food stamps, unemployment benefit and support for unmarried mothers mean that Blacks are dependent on welfare and aren’t bothered about getting jobs.

The White poor, who are being fed this rubbish, don’t see themselves as dependent on welfare, despite the fact that many of the most hard-line, fervently Republican communities are the poorest in America. The Young Turks did one piece about a year ago looking at one county in the American south – I think it was Kentucky – where nearly everyone was unemployed and consequently dirt poor. And just about everyone in that county – 97 per cent – were White.

This is also the bilge being fed to people over here. A few years ago, The Spectator, never pro-Black in the first place, began running stories stating that, thanks to left-wing policies, White men were the only demographic group not welcome in London. It was a counterpart to the Republicans’ ‘Southern Strategy’ of targeting ‘Angry White men’. The fear of the economic and social threat of immigrants, whether from the EU or the Middle East, is being used by Cameron to try and frighten voters into allowing him to cut even more welfare benefits. You could see that in the reports Mike posted over at Vox Political on Cameron’s attempts to get the other EU leaders to deny migrants over here the welfare benefits to which they were entitled under EU and their own countries’ laws, which included payments to which they were entitled and which were paid by their countries of origin.

The Republicans and the Tories are using White racial fears to impoverish and degrade Whites, Blacks and other racial groups. And they’ll keep playing on this as long as it appears to work. Blacks and Whites need to unite to stop this, and ensure a better, fairer world for working people, whatever the colour of their skin.

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2 Responses to “The Global African: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Black Politics”

  1. Michelle Thomasson Says:

    Stepping back a little in time and widening the seeds of this cruel economic system to earlier days than Friedman have you ever seen the famous debate between Baldwin and Buckley (1965) in the Cambridge Union – the discussion “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

    I saw this incredible debate for the first time last week, but Buckley a well known right wing ‘intellectual’ spokesperson looked more like a role model for some cackling dark lord!

  2. P. Lewis Says:

    Reblogged this on A Black Writer in Berlin and commented:
    The more I examine the cancer that is neo-liberalism, the more I believe that the alt-right is merely a late-stage symptom of this political cancer. Neo-liberalism, being a sort of low-grade fascism to begin with (Mussolini himself defined fascism as a marriage between politics and corporate interests, a phenomenon which explains Neoliberalism perfectly, though few people want to admit this), will naturally manifest in its most extreme stages as Neo-Nazism. It is in the nature of Neoliberalism to absorb every opposition movement and turn it into one of its own. In fact it may very well be that the current opposition to the current world order is simply one of the many, many heads on this big bloated serpent called Neoliberalism, only a far prettier and more agreeable one. If this is true (and it’s still up for debate just how “real” the opposition to the current world political establishment is) then one can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the many heads on the Neoliberalist serpent are beginning to bite each other.

    So will Neoliberalism destroy itself? One can only hope. The only problem is this–what can we replace Neoliberalism with? A retooled and refined left-Socialism? Or a return to the ideals of the so-called “Great Society” of Lyndon Johnson which, on close scrutiny, weren’t all that great?

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