Two billionaires race to outer space as the earth burns in the western United States. It’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s certainly not funny.
Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have been given too much space, too much airtime on cable news outlets. I need another outlet as social media centers them on my timeline though I have no interest in watching them play with their new space toys.
Because it’s a small step for them and no one else. Because they have so much time on their hands and too much concentrated wealth. Because there is more than enough space here that needs to be seen from a bird’s eye view.
We could use eyes that see the bigger picture regarding capitalism-induced poverty, structural racism, injustice and income inequality.
We need more eyes on the ground, more up close and personal experiences on how hard capitalism is for the people positioned at the bottom.
Gil Scott Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” comes to mind as I think through why it is incredibly frustrating to hear about this space travel and why it will never be the right time for me. He says:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(‘cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Heron names the privilege of disconnection, detachment, self-exploration and self-centeredness that comes with the sociopolitical construct of whiteness.
A part of the United States’ pyramid scheme and positioned at the top, it does not have to consider the impact of its decisions on the community.
Oppressed, marginalized and minoritized people groups don’t have that luxury. They have real-world problems and cannot afford to have their heads in the clouds.
While Branson and Bezos are flying high, so many who are privileged are flying blind, unaware of the crushing weight they put on the backs of those they stand on.
Whether or not you had a hand in building the system of racialized oppression and no matter where you stand on calls for reparations, it cannot be denied that privileges – socially colored white especially or otherwise – are costly.
To put one group of people at a disadvantage for the benefit of another requires consensus, structural support and a system. Generational wealth and the wealth gap between those socially colored white and other racialized groups is not happenstance.
See the legislative history of the U.S. See Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White, David Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness and Working Toward Whiteness.
It didn’t begin and end with American slavery, but lawmakers ensured that this system ran smoothly.
Katznelson writes of the New Deal and the Fair Deal, “… at the very moment when a wide array of public policies were providing most white Americans with valuable tools to advance their social welfare – insure their old age, get good jobs, acquire economic security, build assets and gain middle-class status – most black Americans were left behind or left out.”
“Affirmative action was white,” he says. “New national policies enacted in the pre-civil rights, last-gasp era of Jim Crow constituted a massive transfer of quite specific privileges to white Americans.”
Whiteness is not about the “color” of skin; whiteness is about capitalism, concentrated wealth in the hands of a few.
Yes, Bezos and Branson earned their wealth, though perhaps not fair and square, and owe no one an explanation for their choices.
Instead, their point of view extends to socially colored white Christians especially an invitation to see their flesh-based privileges from another angle. Top-down living, it is not how Christ lived or led his disciples, and we had better start to align ourselves with him.
First becoming last, it is best that we move ourselves to the back of the line if we want to be at the head of the class in terms of Christian discipleship (Matthew 20:16). This goes for those who preach a prosperity gospel too.
There’s just too much work to do down here. On earth, we have a long list of problems to solve, matters to sort out, histories to reconcile and relationships to repair.
So, come down from there. We don’t need more people with their noses in the air – because of an American government handout or a theology that serves the interests of a rich and faithless few.
Hand over your privileges, deny that God’s favor can be capitalized on and share in common the oppression of your siblings. Otherwise, you’re really a fly in the ointment.