Beware The Commodification of Our Culture
Capitalism ruins everything. It ruins perfectly good sayings, songs, sacred rituals & society by de-centering people and centering money instead. Black Capitalism is no better
Rann Miller | Contributing Editor
One of my favorite songs is the Stylistics classic, People Make the World Go Round. I believe that’s true, yet so many more people believe another axiom that says “money makes the world go round.” Why? Capitalism, that’s why.
Capitalism ruins everything. It ruined a perfectly good saying, song, and society by de-centering people and centering money instead. Capitalism is violent: it displaces people from their homes, instigates criminality of all sorts and it’s responsible for our cheers on athletic fields of competition, like football where violence is at the root of winning or losing.
Capitalism is the great pyramid scheme. No, it’s not like the pyramids created by our Egyptian ancestors designed to hold history and memory together. It is more like the economic pyramids fashioned on spreadsheets and infographics by economists and corporate executives designed to show how the many hold up the few.
Thus, capitalism is a scheme because it is illusionary. Part of its allure is in the illusion of becoming rich and wealthy. Another aspect is in the illusion that capitalists care about you. They care to the extent of extracting profits from your pocketbook. Hence, capitalism ruins everything … including ethnic cultural celebrations, like Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is upon us and since it’s now a national holiday, corporations have gone out of their way to commodify it to make money off Black people, while simultaneously allowing non-Black people to anoint themselves allies of Black people by way of their purchases. Yet, all they’re really doing is just sticking to the rivers and the wells that they’re use to. Here are some recent examples of corporate capitalization on Juneteenth …
Walmart - Juneteenth Flavored Ice Cream by non-Black Vendor.
Dollar Tree - Juneteenth Decorations in non-traditional colors by non-Black Vendors/Manufacturers.
Amazon - Juneteenth Decorations in non-traditional colors by non-Black Vendors/Manufacturers.
Indianapolis Children’s Museum – Juneteenth watermelon salad.
Balchem Corporation, a Maryland Corporation - Filed to Trademark the term Juneteenth.
Live Nation, Hollywood Bowl, LA Philharmonic - Juneteenth Global Celebration of Freedom has no call to action for American Acts of Atonement for Slavery nor is there evidence of support for Descendant Community Improvement or Descendant Lead Reparations Organizations.
Sadly, corporations have always exploited Black folks. Today it is Juneteenth and yesterday it was something else. In any case, it is corporations willing feigned solidarity to boost profits. They shrewdly navigate the politics of representation, whereby Black faces and euphemisms baked in advertisements and products (laced with a stereotype here or there) can take the place of supporting policies with their advocacy and dollars that help Black people.
In fairness, several corporations have recently pledged to donate monies to racial justice causes, particularly after the murder of George Floyd. However, not all have come through as promised. In any case, it is important that we (Black people) hold these corporations to account: that is to donate to policy causes that uplift our communities rather than appropriating our culture and history to extract our dollars.
But we must also hold ourselves accountable.
I remember when the Chappelle Show was on the air, he had a skit that was a trivia show called ‘I Know Black People’ on why Black people are addicted to menthol cigarettes. Though the show offered comical answers as to why, one of the actual reasons why isn’t so funny. Many Black organizations and politicians received monies from tobacco corporations and in return, these organizations remained silent during calls for increased tobacco regulations.
In his book, Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette, Dr. Keith Wailoo spoke about how these companies marketed to Black people and how certain leaders, like Rev. Al Sharpton, are against a ban on menthol cigarettes. Sharpton’s National Action Network is funded in part by Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds.
He and Ben Crump’s reasoning is that a menthol ban won’t stop folks from smoking it and it’ll offer another reason for police to brutalize Black people. My response is, add this to your portfolio to address police brutality and work to educate Black folk about the harms of cigarettes. But, I digress.
WE must keep our eyes on the prize. We can’t expect so called leaders to always have our best interests at heart. If you are Black and care about the politics, economics and culture of your community, you’re a leader in that community. That means you have a responsibility to protect yourself and loved ones from the piranhas of capitalism - corporations and so-called Black leaders alike.
Those so-called leaders include the Black Capitalist class of celebrities. They don’t understand that Black Capitalism is just a repackaging of white capitalism in blackface that still harms Black people. Black Capitalism will not save us.
What will save us is the concerted effort on the part of Black people to fight against mechanisms of our oppression which include capitalism. However, it’s hard not to want a piece of the pie when you’ve either smelt it or already had a taste of it. We must be savvy enough to see through disingenuous arguments by our own to support corporate profits and kickbacks to those “leaders.” Likewise, we must call-out these corporations for engaging in these backdoor deals and front door exploitation. We mustn’t purchase these items and we must encourage others not to do so, either.
Representation certainly matters. But, representation only matters when it’s with the purpose of freeing us …. as opposed to keeping knees on our necks.