David Louridas is an Adler University student pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. Here, he applies his teachings to current events centered on modern human rights issues.
“Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.”
The legacy of Karl Marx reflected in this quote continues to live on in human rights literature, still relevantly contributing to the challenges that liberal approaches face in tackling modern human rights issues. The questions about the extent of an individual citizen’s rights in the contemporary United States of America have been shouted since its founding, but recently these cries reached a fever pitch:
Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest of what he sees as the United States’ institutionalized oppression of communities of color, and the movement it spawned, has grabbed a hold of American society and brought attention to a topic frequently overlooked in the past.
Marxian thoughts shed a light on the reason it has been swept under the rug for so long, and why so many fear the thought of addressing it: persistent class struggle and severe social stratification stripped bare for all to see.
Much has been discussed about Marx’s beliefs that all societal struggles are rooted in class struggles, but wisdom that is much more relevant to the recent protest sweeping through the NFL is the implications of his writing on the supposed universality of human rights that is assumed in our American society. In our modern democracy, there is a belief that all who enter into the ‘social contract’ will receive equal rights as a member of society.
However, the historical treatment of blacks in this country has been anything but ‘equal’ to that of whites. Throughout the centuries since being enslaved and brought to the United States, blacks have seen this social stratification gradually diminish, only to have the edges more sharply defined in recent years as elites work to stabilize their power using different methods.
Now, instead of whips and chains, those who hold the power use their high positions to confuse underprivileged sectors of society into thinking that the injustices that they face are not the basis for political demands. Connecting this with Marxian theory, the interests of the owners of the means of production are deeply ingrained in our system and reflected in many different ways, whether it be through the words of our president or the actions of police officers across the country. Those with an economic advantage have much to gain by encouraging the oppressed to do as they are told without asking too many questions.
One does not need to look very far to see this in play today, as President Trump continues to fan the flames of racial tension and bigotry that is sweeping the nation, by insisting that a football field is no place for a political stand. Instead of supporting Kaepernick’s freedom of speech, a right widely touted by proud Americans across the country, the president’s refusal to address Kaepernick’s reasons for protesting redirected the discussion.
This can be seen in President Trump’s recent outburst, where he was quoted as saying, “Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired” if he decides to ‘disrespect the flag,’ as he qualifies it. This thinly-veiled nationalism is used to more vividly draw the line between those that are ‘with us’ and those that are ‘against us’ in this fight for respect of country.
However, in this case, as Kaepernick is raising awareness about an issue mainly affecting black citizens, yet carried out by laws and systems historically created by wealthier whites, the President’s words and actions serve to do much more than draw a line between those that are proud of their country and those who see the need for change; he is drawing a line between whites and blacks — those historically seen as having power and those that have been oppressed. Ironically, as Trump brought more attention to the issue, members of the NFL and NBA ‘rose’ to the occasion, through kneeling en masse, coming together as interrelated individuals and speaking out as a united voice addressing a society in despair.
When considering Marx, one is forced to come face-to-face with his jarring conclusion that the rule of law is subordinate to social forces. He theorized that laws often served to represent and perpetuate the biases of those in power, therefore institutionalizing injustice.
It is, thus, of vital importance that those who are oppressed become aware of their downtrodden condition and define these inequities, before they can truly challenge and create change within existing systems. As the country continues to kneel for an end to injustice, we are witnessing a genuinely American occurrence, befitting the splendor of democracy, of which Marx would be proud: the freedom of citizens to peacefully speak truth to power.