Hear Us: Center Black Women Organizers in Anti-Monopoly Activism

Op-Ed: Black women have fought on the front lines of crisis after crisis. Let us lead the way to a liberated future for everyone.

(AJ_Watt/iStock Photo)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Hear Us” is a column series that features experts of color and their insights on issues related to the economy and racial justice. Follow us here and at #HearUs4Justice.

“We couldn’t give Black women organizers even one day, let alone the full week[,] of coverage [that] they deserve for an actual political revolution,” tweeted Jessica Byrd the morning after the January 6 insurrection when white supremacists and their white supremacy yet again overshadowed a major Black women-led victory: Democrats winning the Senate and White House in November 2020.

Black women rarely get our shine. Whether we’re shaping entire movements, organizing our workplaces, or even just saying what needs to be said, our efforts are too often overlooked, even outright ignored. But disregarding us in this way means disregarding our experiences, our accomplishments, and our vision for the future.

The COVID-19 era has been uniquely painful, but it’s also not a new experience for the people — of color, with disabilities, in “essential” yet expendable jobs — who are always disproportionately harmed.

Since the founding of this country, Black women have been on the front lines of crisis after crisis, injustice after injustice, and triumph after triumph. And as a group, it’s Black women who are ​​arguably the most excluded from and most exploited by an economy and society founded in and devoted to white supremacy. Despite this oppression, it’s Black women who have paved the way to build our shared liberation. And that’s why it’s a mistake to devalue our perspectives, especially as organizers.

Following our lead is crucial when it comes to combating corporate concentration. A powerful framework called “Black Women Best” can both drive structural policy change and push the anti-monopoly movement to center Black women organizers as leaders.

What Is Black Women Best?

Developed by Janelle Jones, now the first Black woman chief economist at the Department of Labor (DOL), Black Women Best is a framework, first published in 2020, that seeks to build an economy and society we’ve never seen before. It says that when Black women are centered in our economic and political systems, then both will work better for everyone. It naturally opposes the flawed-and-failed idea of trickle-down economics and actualizes the “a rising tide lifts all boats” proverb.

To be clear, when we say “Black women,” we mean Black trans women, Black femme-identified people, and all Black people oppressed by cisheteropatriarchy and misogyny. Centering Black women also means centering other marginalized identities that Black women hold and live. It means centering queer people; incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people; people with disabilities; and immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

“I’m a Black woman. I center Black women in a lot of my thinking,” said Jones. “But I think you can really apply this [framework] to all types of groups that we usually don’t center. We can think about Indigenous women, Latinx women, workers with disabilities, non-native speakers, LGBTQ individuals.”

“If we make the economy better for those who are suffering most, it stands to reason that those efforts would safeguard everyone else, too,” underscored Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman.

Using the Black Women Best lens, our elected officials and community leaders can squash racist and sexist structures and build power, safety, and security for us all. You can see how it delivers through initiatives such as the Jackson, Mississippi Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT), the longest-running guaranteed income program in the US — and the only one that solely serves Black women.

“The focus on Black mothers was intentional,” said Aisha Nyandoro, MMT’s founder and the CEO of Springboard To Opportunities. “When we look at poverty in this country and who has been harmed the most, it’s Black women.”

This principle is powerful — it’s also not a new idea. The Black Women Radicals Database (BWRD) “seeks to overcome the erasure of Black women’s political leadership, organizing, theorizing, and socio-political movement-building in Africa and in the African Diaspora” and “serves as a vehicle to center Black women’s historical political memory, scholarship, epistemologies, and leadership.”

In her work as an abolitionist organizer, Mariame Kaba often returns to her own version of Black Women Best, underscoring the idea that centering Black women and girls makes it nearly impossible to ignore the systemic violence perpetrated against us and other people of color. Black Women Best is also central to her vision of our future world: “one where everyone has their needs met, where Black women are free, and therefore everyone is free, and where human disposability is unimaginable,” wrote Naomi Murakawa in the foreword for We Do This ‘Til We Free Us.

From Audre Lorde and Octavia E. Butler to Anne Price and Nina Banks, Black women of our past and present live and lead with this crucial project.

Black Women Best in Organizing: Strengthening the Anti-Monopoly Fight

For me, Black Women Best is so much more than centering Black women in policymaking and politics; it’s also about following our lead in that process to a liberated future. And that’s why I believe that this framework is essential to organizing, especially when it comes to taking down megacorporations.

While we endure the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession, corporate concentration has seen an unprecedented rise. But this is nothing new; we’ve lived through a monopoly power problem for decades. As Amazon, Johnson & Johnson and other corporate giants rake in billions year after year, the rest of us are left fighting for our livelihoods and lives. We all, people of color especially, confront an unequal market economy every day, whether it’s at our jobs, in the pharmacy, at the bank, and everywhere in between.

And it’s us who should be at the forefront of tackling this systemic problem.

Confronting monopoly power means enacting meaningful, structural change. And Black women, alongside other structurally oppressed people, can and should lead this charge. As Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice wrote in a recent report, “It is critical that grassroots leaders of color are positioned to lead on anti-monopoly policy, as they are uniquely positioned to understand its impact on people of color at the household, community, and societal levels.”

However, strengthening anti-monopoly activism is bigger than seizing command of policy ideation and implementation from academics, advocates, and policymakers. This activism will be at its best if and when it’s anchored in the concept of Black Women Best. Allow Black women organizers to wrest control from other organizers whose approaches undermine us and our labor. And center our interests when it comes to these organizing efforts. Let us lead the rightful — and righteous — attacks on corporate power.

In a closed-door convening co-hosted by the Athena coalition earlier this year, Lauren Jacobs talked about white workers’ discomfort with building power with other workers of color. She and Alphonso Mayfield highlighted the history of white labor leaders villainizing and excluding workers of color from “collective” efforts. This illustrates why racial (and gender) justice must be our North Star, so that our collective organizing secures fully realized liberation.

One of the most insidious forms of corporate concentration is the rise and reach of surveillance technology. As reported by ACRE, the Action Center on Race and the Economy, “​​Google, Facebook, and Amazon are some of the well-known corporations making headlines for their growing influence on law enforcement and on surveillance more broadly.” ShotSpotter, an algorithmic gun detection system, is an inherently racist tool used to criminalize people of color — a tool that’s also backed by corporate giants.

Black women organizers such as Tracey Corder and Alyxandra Goodwin show us day in and day out what we can win — and what we aren’t willing to lose — when we design and execute organizing strategies that center us and our communities. Check out Goodwin’s important, and informative, work to stop ShotSpotter following the police murder of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

A somewhat uncharted intersection of Black Women Best and monopoly power is philanthropy. Megacorps aren’t the only institutions with a concentration problem; funders have it too. A select few of these organizations hold tremendous money and influence, and too often they deploy both in service of the status quo. Whether unintentional or by design, this pattern harms Black women and limits our access to and support in this work. Tiffany N. Younger, for example, is out here demanding that philanthropy resets the rules of the game — or else we don’t play.

Whether it’s encouraging white-led organizations to practice reparations or straight up asking for the funding we need and deserve, Black women aren’t just organizing in the streets; we’re everywhere, in classrooms, boardrooms, and beyond. We’ve got the playbook, and it’s expanding all the time.

Corporations are hoarding economic and political power; and with that power, they’re fueling white supremacist violence and the oppression of people of color. Organizers of color are the most powerful adversary against corporate concentration because our people see it, feel it, and are hurt from it the most. And we are the ones who have the most to lose — and to win.

Centering Black women organizers in the anti-monopoly fight and in the broader movement for our collective liberation is how we can best mobilize each other and our government. It’s how we build power from the ground up and secure real progress toward economic and political systems that work for everyone.

Because Black Women Best is rooted in long-standing Black feminist traditions, I’ll close with a word from Breya M. Johnson: “Only Black feminisms and womanism have the power to shape and mold the moral imagination; the Black radical feminist imagination is what makes radical love possible for us all.”

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Kendra Bozarth is the director of communications at Liberation in a Generation and the founder of KBComms.

Tags: womenhear usanti racism

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