Published on April 3rd, 2020 | by Candace Simpson
Seeking a Socialism that Feels Like Home
“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:43-47 NRSV
After Bible study or watch night, my Pastor will often ask if anyone needs a ride. Of course, he himself is not going to drop the whole congregation home. Someone will raise their hand.
“I’m going to Broadway Junction.”
“Is anyone else going that way?”
“Okay, you two coordinate after we pray.”
It’s a simple gesture, but it means that someone will not have to call an Uber. The expectation is that everyone driving will be safe and courteous. In these coordinated rides, we remember that all of us has something to offer the community. We do not need to depend on corporations or charities to get us what we need because we can take care of one another. We can extend care to our siblings because if I’m gonna pass your house, you might as well get in the car. At its best, creating communities like these means that people can feel empowered to ask for what they need rather than suffering alone in silence.
But under capitalism, we are compelled to lie about our wellness. We are forced to pretend that we are physically and mentally well because if we don’t show up to work, we will be replaced. Our bodies are just coded data inside a bigger machine meant to make someone else rich. Every Black person is marked by the logic of the slave trade. We are things; we are capital; we are how some rich, guilty guy buys a car for his wife. It’s dehumanizing, whether you’re an NFL athlete or a flight attendant. No one cares if you’re suffering brain trauma due to the job, or if your uniform is making you ill.
So of course, this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Acts is a book that chronicles communal life after Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. The people left behind have to figure out how to live now that their favorite brother is gone. After a radicalizing death (like Jesus’s state-sanctioned execution), one way people find meaning is through building sustainable community. Texts like these, and the Combahee River Collective’s Statement, have helped so many—like myself—cultivate an intentionally anti-capitalist posture.
Some days I describe myself as “socialist,” other days as “anti-capitalist.” I am in community with folks who use the word “communist.” There are distinct differences between these ideals, but the labels do not matter so much as the principles and actions do. Because there are people who embody these principles but might never use the term to refer to themselves. What I have learned since claiming this paradigm as a core part of my values is this: Feds be mad. Whenever the people realize that their oppressor is to blame, and not themselves, the Powers will do whatever they can to squash those movements.
The word “socialism” has a negative connotation in U.S. discourse. Of course, it does. After all, the United States is where “anyone can make it if he tries.” There is an entire history of punishing Black folks for alleged ties to communism. Simply put, organized, anti-capitalist Black folks always present a threat to the status quo. People like Paul Robeson were cut off from meaningful work opportunities because of this panic. To this day, there are union-busting initiatives all over the nation—including at institutions of higher learning. The same institutions where they might invite prominent socialist and communist thinkers to give a talk on how to resist capitalism. Strange.
Socialism, and creative resistance to capitalism in general, is not unheard of for us as Black people. Think about collective savings like susus (or sousous). People contribute to a pot on a weekly or monthly basis, and every so often one person or family is entitled to the pot. When they work, these creative approaches can be a lifeboat. There are also multigenerational homes where each family contributes something different to the sustainability of the home.
Or boycotts like the Montgomery Bus Boycott where Black folks organized Black-led carpools and caravans instead of city buses. Or The Free Black Women’s Library that travels and shares the literature of Black women. Or Liberation Through Reading, which crowdsources Black books for children and hosts digital reading clubs. Or #SwipeItForward, an action to challenge the trap of policing in New York subway stations. In the words of community organizer and educator Jewel Cadet, Swipe it Forward is about “the community—not a direct action toward the police. We are engaging with the community, empowering them and informing them of their right to help each other.”
Ultimately, this is socialism: How can we find creative ways to take care of one another and make sure that no one is left behind? How do we organize institutions, collectives, homes, and families to be structured in such a way that we do not reproduce the very evils that have oppressed us in the first place?
Attempting to fall in line with capitalism—even when it’s Black capitalism—is futile. We remember this every year at the Roc Nation brunch. Sure, Mr. and Mrs. Beyoncé look amazing, but… Yikes. What’s better than one billionaire? Everyone having their own unique human needs met. Sadly, we have been swindled into believing that if we work hard, don’t go out, buckle down, cook all our own food, rise and grind, and get this bread like them, we will one day be them. That is not likely. What’s more likely is that beating ourselves up for not becoming billionaires will break down our hearts, spirits, and minds.
So, do we rely upon the myth of rugged individualism to save us, or do we know that we have to save ourselves and each other?
“Day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved…”
If you’re looking for more digital Black resources on anti-capitalist principles in action, check out Millennials are Killing Capitalism (podcast) and Hood Communist. I also highly recommend the complete works of Angela Davis with a focus on “Are Prisons Obsolete?” There are so many other resources to offer, so if you’ve got a book/blog/helpful tool, share it with people in your community. Read. Explore. Debate. Argue. Laugh. Celebrate. Imagine. We deserve so much more than what exists already.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth.