The Anti-Capitalist Legacy Of MLK Jr. | Crooked Media
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January 18, 2022
What A Day
The Anti-Capitalist Legacy Of MLK Jr.

In This Episode

  • Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In addition to fighting racial inequality, working to pass major civil rights laws, and more, Martin Luther King Jr. was also well known for critiquing capitalism and how it disenfranchises the working class. Andrew Douglas and Jared Loggins, authors of the book, “Prophet of Discontent: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Critique of Racial Capitalism,” join us to dive deeper into the economic legacy of King’s words and ideas.
  • And in headlines: The gunman who took four hostages at a Texas synagogue on Saturday died after a 10-hour standoff with authorities, 200,000 people on the East Coast were left without power after a massive winter storm, and Greece will fine citizens aged 60 and over for being unvaccinated.


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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Tuesday, January 18th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we’re sending one free N95 mask to every one of our listeners to arrive sometime between March and April 2023.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, we know our COVID response has been a little slow, but then again, we are a daily podcast, not a government.


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, some hostages of a gunman at a Texas synagogue last Saturday have explained how they were able to escape. Plus, the entire East Coast is recovering after it got slammed by tornadoes, freezing rain, and snow caused by a massive winter storm system this past weekend.


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and we wanted to explore a side of him that goes beyond the iconic speeches like this:


[clip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] Because I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream.


Tre’vell Anderson: That was, of course, from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, following his march on Washington for jobs and freedom.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, and it’s basically the only thing some people like to remember about what Dr. King said. But in addition to fighting racial inequality, working to pass major civil rights laws, and more, King was also well known for critiquing capitalism and how it disenfranchises the working class. Here’s part of his address called “Where Do We Go From Here?” which he gave in Atlanta in 1967:


[clip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] There are 40 million poor people here. One day we must ask the question Why are there 40 million poor people in America? When you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you asked that question, you began to question the capitalistic economy.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, these are ideas that are still alive and well today, from democratic socialism to the redistribution of societal wealth. And they’re ideas that a lot of people forget that Dr. King had. Especially, you see it all over the place on MLK Day in particular.


Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely. So we wanted to dive deeper into this economic legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and ideas. We have with us today the coauthors of the book “Profit of Discontent: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Critique of Racial Capitalism.” They are Andrew Douglas, and my personal friend Jared Loggins. Welcome to What A Day.


Jared Loggins: Thank you for having us.


Andrew Douglas: Thank you so much.


Tre’vell Anderson: So to get us started, I’m putting you on the spot Jared—this is what you get for being my friend. Let’s first define the term racial capitalism for the people. What does that mean in regular-degular terms, and what exactly did King have to say about it?


Jared Loggins: First of all, I should say that King never had the language of racial capitalism at his disposal. But if we look carefully at his speeches, at his activism and organizing throughout the 1960s especially, it’s clear that racial capitalism is what he has in mind. It is a system that seeks to maximize the accumulation of profit. Of course, we do not all share equally in the riches that are accumulated, right? It is very rich and for the most part, white people, who benefit from racial capitalism. The reason we call it racial capitalism is because, historically speaking, capitalism was always racialized. It is Black and brown people, Native people, underdeveloped populations, around the world who have been disposed of, exploited, had their land and bodies stolen, in order for rich people and countries to amass their profits.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. You know, there are plenty of real world examples that demonstrate this in action, some of which we’ve reported about here on the show. So Andrew, can you explain how, for instance, Black families and communities were put under comparatively intense economic pressure during the pandemic, and how that relates to racial capitalism?


Andrew Douglas: So, you know, when wealthy managerial class folks are able to shift to remote work and order take out, that possibility, that privilege is built on an army of production workers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, maintenance workers, all of whom are forced to work longer hours under more stressful and dangerous conditions. In the health care industry, some of the most highly paid professionals, some of the doctors and specialists, you know they’re able to engage with patients remotely through telemedicine and the like, while frontline workers, mostly Black and immigrant workers, are subjected to disease and death and of course, are so often poorly compensated. You know, there’s clearly a discernible racial dimension to this landscape. It’s all rooted fundamentally in a devaluation of Black life. But globally—and I always want to highlight the global nature of King’s critique of capitalism—globally, you know, we can think about the state and the international system and the racist nature of capitalism on a world scale. And just to provide one example, I mean, the U.S. government has supported the private development of vaccine technology and it has enforced patent laws that prevent technology transfers to other parts of the world. And this has effectively rendered other parts of the world vulnerable to premature death. It is watched as new virus mutations have emerged and then has imposed, you know, very targeted travel bans on certain populations—South Africans, for example. And this is almost as a way of blaming them for their vulnerability. You know, all of this is racial capitalism on a world stage unfolding before our very eyes.


Tre’vell Anderson: Jered, in the book you all write about many movements today that are led by Black activists and organizers that are working to challenge and dismantle racial capitalism. One of them you talk about is Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi. What is the community doing there? What’s the motivation behind what they’re doing? Tell us a little bit about them.


Jared Loggins: King often talked about the Beloved Community. And so the movement was really an effort to kind of build these alternative forms of community in which all residents can thrive. So Cooperation Jackson was started by Black radical organizers. So what they set out to do. Very much in the spirit of the Beloved Community, was to build what they call the solidarity economy—implement participatory budgeting, achieve food sovereignty, open local banks and credit unions, and push businesses in Jackson to unionize. And of course, the overarching point of all of this is that there are other ways for human beings to live together that do not depend on inequality and disrepair.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s amazing. It’s always just so exciting to hear about people who are kind of taking a new system into their own hands and building something. Let’s bring this back to Martin Luther King Jr., given the day. So both of you: what are other movements out there right now that give you hope and would give him hope do you think for changes to our economic system and especially how our economic system deals with race?


Andrew Douglas: You know, as someone who teaches in a college space, you know, I’m beginning to see pretty clearly the fault lines of what I can only describe as a kind of generational divide. I mean, it seems to me that young people today, saddled in debt, facing impossible job prospects, bombarded with, you know, these sort of media portrayals of excessive wealth concentration in the hands of a few—I mean, this rising generation just doesn’t seem to have the same faith in capitalism that folks did even 10 years ago. You know, this is a big part of what we’re seeing, why we’re seeing such an appetite right now for the recovery of the radical King, the socialist King, which is so at odds with, you know, that more sanitized version of King, that the sort of earlier neoliberal generations and its spokespersons were so fond, you know, to promote.


Jared Loggins: There is something to the fact that so many young people are interested in democratic socialism, and that has something to do with the declining hope in the conventional possibility of the American dream. So, so many young people are starting to think differently about how to organize social and economic life, and so many young Black and brown people, particularly, have no chance whatsoever under a capitalist system, which is again, as we started off, is built on inequality.


Tre’vell Anderson: Jarod, I feel like you and I as graduates of MLK’s alma mater, Morehouse College, Andrew, as a professor there, I feel like we know intimately the ways that conversations around King are often not fully reflective of what he actually espoused. I’ll start with you, Jarrod, first: what are some of the ways that King is mis-remembered or misinterpreted?


Jared Loggins: So we kind of saw the way that King was deployed in the service of this like liberal individualist narrative about picking oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, about being an entrepreneur or something like that—you know, in some ways, that ideology is at odds with the King that we tell in the book and the King that increasingly saw racial inequality, economic inequality is a built-in feature of capitalism.


Andrew Douglas: The reality is that King, you know, he wasn’t revolutionary. You know, he fought and died in struggle for the Beloved Community. There’s no business school in the Beloved Community, right? I mean, there’s no Ivy League. There are no leadership studies programs, right? There’s no celebration of entrepreneurialism, right? I mean, the Beloved Community is not about competitive market individualism. It’s not about profit seeking. It’s not a world that is so unequal that we can only think in terms of a leadership class that stands over and manages the led. I mean, that’s the world we have now. You know, to enlist King in defense of ideas about leadership and entrepreneurialism and all of this, I mean, to me, this is just, that’s a shameful distortion of king.


Tre’vell Anderson: Well, all righty then. Y’all heard it here first. Andrew J. Douglas at Jarod Loggins, coauthors of the book “Profit of Discontent: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Critique of Racial Capitalism.” Thanks for being with us on WAD.


Jared Loggins: Sure. Thank you.


Andrew Douglas: Thanks for having us.


Josie Duffy Rice: And that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s wrap up with some headline.


[sung] Headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: The gunman who took four hostages at a Texas synagogue last Saturday died after a 10-hour standoff with authorities. This happened at Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue outside of Fort Worth. The attacker got past security by pretending he was looking for shelter during Sabbath services, but because the service was livestreamed for community members to watch remotely, the whole hostage crisis played out online. One hostage was freed earlier in the day, but the rabbi and others got away later by using what they learned from active shooter courses they took because of the rise of antisemitism in recent years. Here is Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker speaking on CBS Morning yesterday:


[clip of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker] When I saw an opportunity, I asked. Made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me that they were ready to go. The exit wasn’t too far away. I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.


Josie Duffy Rice: Hmm. Just unbelievable. The attacker was a British citizen, and on Sunday, police in the U.K. arrested two teenagers who may also be connected to the case.


Tre’vell Anderson: Two hundred thousand people were left without power yesterday after a massive winter storm ripped through the East Coast. It started with heavy snowfall in the Northern Plains and the Upper Midwest on Friday, before migrating to the South on Saturday, hitting the northern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas, and later the coast. The storm also sparked tornadoes in Florida that destroyed over two dozen homes and left several damaged. Many governors declared a state of emergency over the weekend, and state officials urged residents to stay home in wake of the widespread damage. The National Weather Service says the storm will move to southeastern Canada today and leave parts of the northeastern U.S. with light snow. But winter storm warnings went into effect yesterday in New York, a state that is quote, “poised to experience one of the largest storms so far” according to Governor Kathy Hochul.


Josie Duffy Rice: Just more evidence that climate change isn’t real. Topping the list of Fortune magazine’s worst places for anti-vaxxers to retire is Greece, which just implemented a rule that will fine citizens for being unvaccinated if they’re 60 or older. Unvaccinated Greek boomers will be hit with a 50 euro, or approximately $57, fine for January, and starting February that fine will go up to €100 monthly. About two thirds of Greece’s population is fully vaccinated, which is slightly below the EU’s average of over 70%. The country’s health minister said that the fines collected would go towards funding hospitals, and justified the mandate singling out of older Greeks by noting their impact on the public health service. Also in global COVID news, the Olympics will once again be moving forward on silent mode because the organizers of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing announced yesterday that they will not sell tickets to the general public this year. The games will begin on February 4th and organizers announced that only selected spectators who are from Mainland China will be allowed in person for the event as a COVID precaution.


Tre’vell Anderson: A disgraced celebrity has once again agreed to be the subject of a profile, and it has once again made them look worse: in a New York magazine piece published yesterday, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon broke his silence about multiple allegations of misconduct at points throughout his career. He denied most of them, and for others involving inappropriate relationships he had with actresses during Buffy, he expressed regret, but said he was, quote, “powerless” to do anything else. Whedon denied an accusation of quote, “abusive and unprofessional” behavior on the set of 2017’s Justice League from actor Ray Fisher. He shot back that Fisher was a quote, “bad actor” in both senses of the term. In response to the allegation that he threatened Gal Gadot’s career on the set of the same movie, Whedon said she had misunderstood him and quote, “English is not her first language.” The profile probably won’t help Whedon, who’s been mostly out of work since accusations like these surfaced in 2020. But if you are in a position to hire a canceled writer, here’s Whedon’s letter of recommendation for himself in the context of an article where tons of people accuse him of being the world’s most toxic boss: quote. “I think I’m one of the nicer showrunners that’s ever been.”


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s really incredible to say: that’s ever been.


Tre’vell Anderson: He has a lot of confidence.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah! I just feel like there is years of showrunners.


Tre’vell Anderson: I mean, also, there’s a lot of people who would feel very differently.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right! Even if you think you’re the nicest showrunner you’ve met, ever?!  In the history of time? Like TV’s been around for a min.


Tre’vell Anderson: Well.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Well, that’s only one of the few right, outrageous things, he said.


Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: this week on Offline, the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie joins Jon Favreau to discuss her viral essay on social media and how the internet has changed the way we interact with different ideas. New episodes of Offline drop every Sunday in the Pod Save America feed. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, promote supportive work environments if you’re a powerful TV person, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just advice for retirees in Fortune magazine like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


[together] And stay warm East Coast!


Josie Duffy Rice: As someone on the East Coast, I guess I will also take that.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, we are talking directly to you.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah! East Coast, South—I never know like, where one ends and one begins, but I’ll take them both.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.