Today’s walk lasted approximately 40 minutes so I could listen to all of Chapter 2 of Black Reconstruction in America, “The White Worker.” What follows is just where my mind took me upon contemplation.
Property isn’t a material thing that you can possess; it is a name given to force. Which is to say that it works to hide and valorize violent dispossession. Most people that will read this will likely either agree with this or comprehend why one might formulate it this way. However, even if we strongly agree that property is theft and the maintenance of such entails “law” as a mask of violence, it continues to be proffered as a underlying principle of “freedom.” And we go so far as to try to call our very bodies our own property in order to protect ourselves from the very laws of property that are said to be the path to liberty.
Du Bois writes the sentence in chapter 2 of Black Reconstruction as regards the fugitive slave (noting it’s a kind of abolitionist propaganda – THIS should make you see the error of slavery): “the piece of intelligent humanity who could say: I have been owned like an ox. I stole my own body and now I am hunted by law and lash to be made an ox again.”
And here is the Great Petite Bourgeois, Honest Abe, on the way one can aspire to put other men under your thumb (also in Du Bois):
“I am not ashamed to confess that twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat boat—just what might happen to any poor man’s son. I want every man to have his chance—and I believe a black man is entitled to it—in which he can better his condition—when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him. That is the true system.” (Abe makes an appearance in something of a similar discussion on an Interchange with guest Elizabeth Anderson, “Freedom to Exit” (feet first and horizontal)).
The great struggle is really then against the fiction of property which undergirds the notion that men ought to see as natural the right to “manage” (if not “own”) the lives, the livelihoods, the very water, air, land, available for existence and sustenance, of others.
I just picked up a new book by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor called Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, which looks at the federal government’s promotion of single-family homeownership in Black communities after the urban rebellions of the 1960s. This appears to be SOP…sell the idea that property will lift you into equal air. And recall that the Bureau of Indian Affairs main “civilizing” tool was “encouraging” Native Americans to also be homeowners (i.e., tethered to the “freedom” of property.)
Slavery IS the economic model the US has always followed even after its abolition; Property is the foundational principle.