On 25th of May 2020, Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer has killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was on a broad day light; the police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck like a coward trophy hunter. There were eighteen complaints against Mr Chauvin; the killer police officer. He is the first white officer to be charged for the murder of a black civilian in Minnesota. Eric Garner was killed by another white police officer in New York on 17th of July 2014. “I Can’t Breathe” were the last words of both George Floyd and Eric Garner before their death. These are among many institutional murders that sparked worldwide protects against racism. It revealed the inherent and institutional structures of racism in USA. The last words of George and Eric; “I Can’t Breathe” did not die with them. These words became anthems of anti-racism protests and social justice movements worldwide.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement which has emerged during 2013, continues to campaign against racism within and outside USA. The #BlackLivesMatter movement derives its inspiration from historic political struggles for equality, liberty and justice. It continues to represent the legacies of historic anti-colonial struggles, civil rights movement, other progressive and radical social and political movements. The protests across USA, European and other cities across the world depict racial discrimination, frustration and despair of the people of colour in the face of pervasive racism in different parts of the world. The Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities face different forms institutionalised discrimination and structural violence in their everyday lives in different parts of USA, Europe and Asia. The white supremacy as an ideal owes its origin within the historical events of transatlantic slavery and European colonialism that still informs and underpins racial and other forms of discrimination within and outside the western world. Therefore, movements like #BlackLivesMatter carries global significance.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has also opens up wounds of all other forms of discrimination in different societies across the world. The discrimination against Muslims, Kashmiris, lower caste Dalits and tribals in India, non-Bengalis and religious minorities in Bangladesh, Ahmadis, Baluch, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan, discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka, Rohingyas in Myanmar, Tibetans and Uighur Muslims in China and other forms of discrimination based on gender, sexualities, dress and food habits are unadulterated realities of our unequal capitalist world. The forward march towards an egalitarian and non-discriminatory world depends on people’s resolve to fight against all forms of discrimination based on prejudice.
There is global upsurge of right-wing politics and reactionary movements, which patronise the politics of hate and othering. It breeds discrimination, violence and inequalities in different parts of the world. The liberal and right-wing commentators offer Eurocentric Lockean social contract as an alternative to re-establish peace and social order based on ideals of hierarchy and domination. The progressive, democratic and emancipatory political forces and their movements are divided on different ideological sectarian lines. The social cultural, religious, racial, gender and economic divisions in the society echoes within the weak and divided emancipatory political struggles. Many radicals, socialists and progressive movements consider identity politics the cultural logic of failed capitalism. They argue that identity politics destroys the unity of the working classes and marginalised communities fight against capitalism system. In reality, these two ideological trends of progressive and radical movements need to understand that race, ethnicity, gender, and class intersect with each other within a capitalist system. Intersectionality helps to understand the existence of multiple and overlapping forms of exploitation, violence and oppression. This realisation is important to develop clear emancipatory political strategies.
The intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, sexuality and other marginalised communities are important indicators to understand different layers of exploitations and oppressions within the hierarchy of capitalist systems. The different forms of identities-based discrimination, oppression and exploitation exists not in separation but in unity with different structures and processes of capitalism. The politics of intersectionality ignores the role of pre-existing unequal social relations in shaping conditions of production and reproduction within capitalism. The failure of class politics and defeat of revolutionary movements during 1990s led to the rise of intersectionality as an approach to understand exploitation and discrimination based on personal characteristics of individuals i.e. race, gender, sexuality, caste, region, territoriality and ethnicity. The postmodern and poststructural theories provide the ideological foundation to intersectionality identity politics.
The idea of intersectionality attempts to find alternatives within existing capitalist system that reproduces the gender, caste and race-based inequalities and exploitations that results in precarity and proletarianization. The existing architype of intersectionality debates and discourses have failed to locate the fluidity of power relations and sites of struggles against identity based violence, exploitations, dominance and discriminations within and outside the communities. The intersectionality approach to movement is ahistorical as it does not look at the inherent and historical roots of different forms of exploitation with capitalism. So, deradicalization is an inadvertent outcome of intersectionality as a political approach to emancipatory struggles.
The critiques of intersectionality do not reject and disregard the realities of multiple forms of power structure that exploits, discriminates and kills on the basis of individual identities. The ideas of identities are not just about atomised, abstract and individual self-reflections. It also involves individual identity’s organic relationship and interactions with environment and fellow beings. The individuals build relationships with others to fulfil one’s own desires and needs that gives meaning to their lives. This generates the foundation of collective identity based on voluntary but natural relationships. These relationships are territorialised and de-territorialised by multiple identities created and destroyed as per the requirements of the neoliberal capitalism under globalisation. For example; the identity issues of displaced person, refugees, internal and external migrants etc are direct or indirect products of capitalism. So, there are material conditions, that shape identity politics. The mindless criticisms of identity politics are also dangerous. It is important to separate two different ideological trends of identity politics.
The growth of European reactionary nationalist politics led by the British Nationalist Party and English Defence League in United Kingdom, UKIP in England, the National Front in France, New Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary are classic examples of reactionary identity politics that promotes cultural logic of failed capitalism. The politics of higher caste Hindus led by the BJP in India and white supremacists in Europe and America are reactionary identity politics, which needs to be discarded. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) follows both regressive and progressive aspects of identity politics which adds to the complexities of identity politics. The four centuries of globalisation led to the normalisation of precarity, and the emancipatory labour and trade union movements have become wage bargaining movements promoting representative careerism in the name of affirmative actions. Such approach helps in hiding the institutional discriminatory practices of capitalist structures led by the patriarchy of white supremacists in Europe and Americas and Brahmanical Hindu caste order in Indian subcontinents.
The Dalit and tribal movements in India, LGBTQ movements, anti-racist movements, women’s movements and indigenous communities’ movements to save their land, livelihood and forests are emancipatory identity politics. Therefore, it is important to embrace progressive aspects of identity politics, develop intersectionality and transcend differences as a political strategy to strengthen emancipatory struggles for liberty, equality, justice and fraternity. The progressive ideological engagements with intersectionality politics can reduce the isolationist approach of identity politics. It is impossible to fight racial, gender and caste discrimination without fighting capitalism. The academic left and their privileged politics must get on with it without creating further mirage of theoretical complexities. The struggle against racism, patriarchy, caste, sexism and all other forms of discriminations and exploitations are struggles against capitalism. Let the everyday realities of people with their subjective and objective conditions guide an organised and united struggle for alternatives to all dehumanizing structures of capitalism. Finally, as the significance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement goes global with its open and inclusive approach, it is important to call for a borderless revolutionary internationalism based on experiences of local sites of struggles against all forms of inequalities, injustices and exploitations. The local, national, regional and global alliance of revolutionary collectives can only help in democratizing the world and ensure peace and prosperity for one and all.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Coventry University, UK