As February and Black History Month comes to an end, I was able to watch a Madison Vision Series event entitled “Sharing Stories of Success and Triumph: Black Alumni Through the Decades” where five Black alumni shared their successes after leaving JMU. Charles May (’83), Dr. Darian Parker (’01,’03M), Melvin Petty (’84), Angela Reddix (’90) and Faye Tate (’78) all shared their insight into diversity and inclusion and how they’ve been impacted by their experiences at JMU and it seriously made me think.
The speakers covered everything from attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) as a Black student, to the biggest challenges in diversity and inclusion and advice for students. One thing that stood out to me was their focus on success and business, which makes a lot of sense considering all of the speakers were heavily involved in running or working for a business or company. Petty highlighted the fact that only 4% of CEO’s are Black, which got me thinking about… well… capitalism.
Black people, because of the long and continuing history of racism and capitalism in America, are disproportionately impacted by poverty. And there are a lot of people that are able to make their way out of poverty despite capitalism. Reddix described how she was born to a single mother with ten siblings in public housing, and her mom made it into an Ivy League school, which is genuinely amazing. While Reddix’s story is truly inspiring, that’s not really what capitalism was made to do and so many people get trapped in cycles of poverty.
Just to be extremely clear, I am not at all against the success of Black people. As long as we live in the capitalistic hell hole that is America, people of color deserve to build wealth. They have been systemically denied from doing so, which has left their communities at massive disadvantages compared to their white counterparts, so any chance people have is really none of my business.
That being said, I don’t think that simply diversifying capitalism is the way that we will be able to truly liberate all marginalized communities. Corporations take advantage and tokenize marginalized communities in order to make consumers feel better about using and buying their products, while still exploiting workers from those same communities. Capitalism uses the disguise of diversity to make it seem as if it can be equitable, while it was built to oppress. Shifting focus to only diversifying corporations rather than dismantling them allows powerful people to point to the handful of Black CEO’s as how we’ve “reached equality,” while ignoring the Black communities in poverty, or how incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color.
Having Black alumni come talk to JMU is so important, considering the fact that we are a PWI. Black students deserve to see themselves in successful role models like the panel that I watched. Living in a capitalistic society is difficult enough, but having no role model to show Black children and students that they can be successful deprives them of seeing themselves as successful people. Having diverse populations is key and having representation for marginalized communities in positions of power is essential. But capitalism was literally made to oppress, and dismantling oppressive systems like racism and capitalism is key to the liberation for everyone.