Roy Herndon Smith
In “What We Believe” (https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/), the organizers of The Black Lives Matter Global Network explicitly commit themselves to work to “build and nurture a beloved community,” which is another name for what I call a sustainable domesticity—a way of making the world a home in which all of us and our families can flourish for generations to come. In this and the following posts, I am going to comment on each part of the statement because I have not found a clearer, more inspiring, articulation of what the work involved in nurturing a sustainable domesticity requires.
The statement begins: “Four years ago, what is now known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network began to organize. It started out as a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission was to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” This opening sentence exemplifies how, in a sustainable domesticity, people respond to a threat to their lives, homes, families, or communities: they identify and organize around the “mission” of protecting themselves against the specific threat; the mission serves the people’s lives, homes, families, and communities.
In contrast, in a destructive domesticity, the people—their bodies, lives, homes, families, and communities—serve—they are the means of achieving—a mission. For four hundred years in what is now the United States of America, a small class of wealthy owners have constructed an economic, political, social, and domestic system that uses Black bodies, lives, homes, families, and communities to serve the mission of preserving and increasing these owners’ wealth and power. Before 1865, they explicitly and legally possessed Black people as slaves, possessed tools. After 1865, they continued, in more indirect ways—for instance, segregation, red-lining, and disenfranchisement; employment, housing, banking, educational, and medical discrimination; wars on drugs and crime and institutionalized police violence—to maintain Black people as cheap labor.
The response of some of these wealthy owners and their political representatives to COVID-19 exposes their willingness to use and dispose of non-wealthy people’s, disproportionately Blacks’, Native Americans’, and Latinxs’, lives, families, and communities to serve the mission of maintaining what these owners call the “economy,” but is actually their own wealth. The wealthy owners recruit many Whites who are not wealthy by blaming Blacks, Native Americans, LatinXs, and any who oppose this mission for the suffering and rage the vast majority of White people are also experiencing because of these owners’ destructive regime.
This response to the pandemic reveals five strategies that characterize domesticities that systematically weaken and destroy bodies, lives, families, homes, and communities: (1) the construction of hierarchies that concentrate wealth and power in vary small group of hierarchal leaders; (2) the justification of these hierarchies through the idealization of these leaders as having sole access to the construed source of power, truth, goodness, and what is necessary for life; (3) the progressive, as one moves farther away from the small group of leaders, objectification of all others and everything else as tools or materials explicitly used to maintain the hierarchical system (for instance, the “economy”) and implicitly the power and wealth of the leaders; (4) the construction of dichotomies that locate suffering and its sources in categories of people construed evil enemies of what is good and true; (5) the continual mobilization of the populace to serve the mission, constructed as supreme, of defending the hierarchy against these enemies.
The second sentence of “What We Believe”—“In the years since, we’ve commited to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive”—ends where the first sentence begins, with people, the members of “The Black Lives Matter Global Network” in the first sentence and “every Black person” in the second. Together the sentences bracket the defensive “mission,” to defend Black people against anti-Black violence, with an affirmation of Black power to live fully. This surrounding of a particular defensive action with a broader commitment to the work of nurturing a loving community in which every person thrives characterizes sustainable domesticities. This construction undoes the strategies that characterize destructive domesticity; it affirms communities in which (1) each person recognizes the value of each other person, rather than a hierarchy in which one or a few people deem themselves to be inherently valuable over against the rest who are not; (2) all the members of a community, rather than a few idealized leaders, have access to power, goodness, and truth; (3) no one is objectified as a means to maintain a hierarchy; each person is an end in themselves; (4) the members of the community identify and defend against specific attacks from threats, rather than construing the source of suffering and threats as a fixed category of people, designated as “enemies”; (5) the mission of defending the community against a specific threat is not supreme, but is a particular limited action that is part of the ongoing wider and fundamental work of nurturing all the members of the community.