Month: May 2019

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Cashing in on citizenship privilege

Sunday, May 6th was Mother’s Day. One of the movements that has drawn my attention and respect is the movement to bail out poor Black mothers from jail, where they stay for weeks, months or longer simply because they cannot make pay the cash bail set for them. This year was the third year that “Black Mama’s Bail Out Day” took place, occurring as a week of events to draw public attention to this injustice. Importantly, activists use a broader definition of “mother” which moves away from the bio-normative concept of care-giving. According to Arissa Hall, project director of National Bail Out collective:

We’re talking about more than just birth mothers: caregivers, queer mamas, and the people responsible for taking care of our families and communities.

Keeping over 500,000 of the caregivers in White, middle- and upper-class communities in jail would be unthinkable. Yet in the case of Black communities, particularly those who are poor, this appears inevitable under the rubric of infectious late-stage capitalism (which is also a racial[ized] capitalism), where Brown and Black bodies are regulated, violated, and consumed.

In a Democracy Now! interview with Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), Amy Goodman asked Hooks about the contributions that wealthy donors, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian, make to activist projects like Black Mama’s Bail Out Day. Hooks rightly refocused the lens on the work of longtime committed contributors at the local level, but gave a nod to Kardashian:

…[A] shoutout to Kim for continuing to cash in her white privilege to do what must be done for the sake of other folks’ liberation. Efforts like that should continue to happen, and we should see other entertainers and celebrities get up under grassroots movements and the work that’s being led by black women, queer and trans people to free our people.

This phrase, “cashing in on one’s privilege,” struck me as I reflected on my work in immigrant rights activism with New Sanctuary Coalition. Those of us who are U.S.-born have powerful advantages in this society. Our citizenship privilege is that of people who have the right to reside in a place without fear of being sent far away, the right to live without constant anxiety that our doors will be knocked down and our children dragged out in front of us, the right to labor protections, the right to speak out against injustices enacted against us.

We need to cash in on this privilege of citizenship, see the power that we have and advance against the forces of White supremacy and nationalist violence alongside our undocumented neighbors. Sure, you can catch me out on the contradiction between my critique of capitalism and my use of a market-y metaphor, but the point stands. Those of us with the power, the privilege, have to get the lead out.