“If You Don’t Have Sick Time; You Don’t Have Sick Time.” At the onset of the pandemic, these words reverberated throughout our staff meeting. My colleagues and I shifted uncomfortably. The room exchanged uneasy glances. The comment left many of us wondering the same thing: how do we maintain physical and financial health during this crisis?
For the average U.S. worker, this pandemic is a problematic paradox: come to work or else be left in a financial crisis. We are required to place ourselves in harm’s way to survive. This dehumanization of the U.S. worker is purposeful. Under capitalism workers are deduced to vessels of productivity. Though I believe this dehumanization to be ubiquitous, I believe it is imperative to briefly highlight the ways in which capitalism is particularly malevolent towards Black people.
In Women, Race, and Class, Angela Davis discusses the gender-erasing violence of enslaved labor. Her text brilliantly disrupts the myth that Black women are more protected than Black men under capitalism. A motif of her book is the examination of how Black women and Black men alike were forced into intense, body-breaking manual labor. Davis’ work serves to remind us that for Black people, capitalism has never been protective nor a promise of a better life. For us capitalism is a nightmare of death and abuse. The United States of America exists because we were murdered, tortured, and tormented in order to build a system that hates us and exploits us at the same time.
To be pro-Black lives, is to be anti-capitalism because the capillaries of capitalism run with our blood.
As the pandemic continues to pick up speed, I find myself incessantly reflecting not only on this moment, but on the broader connection between capitalism and death. With over 200,000 U.S. citizens now dead due to COVID-19 and a second wave on the horizon, I am grieved beyond measure that we created a financial system that abandons the most vulnerable among us. Initially, at the onset of the pandemic, my central critique of capitalism contended with capitalism’s opposition to rest. Capitalism requires human perfection, I mused, we created a system with no buffer, no failsafe, no grace for humanity. Illness, tragedy, pain, rest, recovery, and rejuvenation are all a part of the human experience, yet, capitalism scoffs at them.
My colleague’s aforementioned assertion concerning the reality of sick time elucidates the truth that the human condition is the ire of capitalism. In many ways, we created a system that despises the very essence of who we are. This pandemic serves to highlight the insidious inequality of our country. Capitalism pretends that it is a system of meritocracy. As such, capitalism says you have more because you earned more and they have less because they earned less.
The U.S. deploys capitalism in order to lazily conceal its worst-kept secret: we do not live in a democracy but an oligarchy, and capitalism protects the wealth of only a few.
Capitalism is this country’s scapegoat. It enables the U.S. to proclaim, “anyone can make it here!” while ensuring that few ever achieve financial stability. The leaders of this country pretend that capitalism is the great equalizer, when in actuality it is a gatekeeper staunchly committed to protecting the “haves” while denigrating the “have nots.”
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic sheds light on our deep failings as a nation. We are a nation with no infrastructure for mass illness. Our cultural obsession with productivity and our valorization of toxic work ethic is literally killing us. We need more sick time, we need more PTO, we need universal healthcare, but it is so much more than that.
Capitalism is killing us on purpose for its own survival.
I am far from the only author critiquing capitalism during this time. There are hundreds of brilliant Black voices that are poignantly critical of our socioeconomic system. You should read them and listen to them. However, I believe that in the vast sea of critique we often lose sight of the truth that white supremacist systems are working as designed. Of course, capitalism is unconcerned with mass illness and death. Capitalism is a system meant to insulate power by any means necessary and the sick are a threat to capitalism. In a capitalistic society, if you cannot work and buy then you must die, because under capitalism work is not just a financial system, it is a metric of moral and spiritual worth. This is why Black people bear the brunt of capitalism’s most heartless proclivities: our bodies are cast as inherently worthless anyways.
Capitalism is the God of the wealthy and the Devil to the disposable. But just as the Devil presents himself as an Angel of Light, so too does capitalism cloak itself in hope in order to conceal the depth of its malicious abyss.
As governors call for citizens to die in order to protect the United States of America, we are in an urgent moment that calls for revolution. As illness and disease have traversed this country with little to no intervention from our government, now is the time to act. In the U.S. we are taught a false sense of security, but make no mistake. As this pandemic infects this country and the economy becomes more and more precarious, all of us, except for the ultra-rich, will be deduced to bodies under the floorboard.