By Katelyn Skye Bennett | Editor-in-chief
Is equity possible within a capitalistic society? This question has been on my mind for a week, turning around in my brain whenever I have a quiet moment in my day.
I’ve concluded that the answer has to be no.
Equity, which is based on the possibility of having the same outcomes and is a step closer to liberation — versus “equal opportunity,” which ignores historic and systemic barriers — is inherently at odds with capitalism.
Capitalism is predicated on individuals seeking their own profit, gaining on each other. In order to have a truly equitable society, we’d have to overthrow capitalism. In the United States, I can’t see that happening. Yet as we learned from Linette’s recent article, economic and racial equity are closely tied.
This bothers me, of course. As the co-founder of Intersected Project, which focuses on racial equity, is my work for naught? Now that I’ve discovered this fault of equity within my national context, should I continue chasing something that’s just not possible?
If It Won’t Work, What’s the Point?
If I believe that every human being is made in the image of God, which I do as a Christian, or if your morals lead you to believe that all humans have innate worth, then it still remains our duty to pursue equity and justice even when they seem unlikely to be achieved.
Intersected actually tackles this duty already by providing practical ways for individuals to be involved on the community level, chipping away for change as part of a larger movement.
We alone cannot change the system, but we can still find ways to uplift our BIPOC friends and family and help eradicate barriers that keep oppressed groups down. Intersected exists so that others can be a part of this work.
Although equity will never be fully achievable within capitalism, the goal is still worthy, and there are smaller spaces where it is possible.
What are these local pockets of equity, you ask? Cooperatives, or co-ops for short.
They’re a Strategy for Local Equity
Activists and community organizers have promoted cooperatives throughout the decades. In a co-op, everyone buys into the “product,” and everyone owns it equally. Products can include healthcare coverage, housing, education, businesses, and more.
He began housing and farming cooperatives in the Deep South while ministering in the Church and empowering his Black neighbors to fight for their right to vote. The white community didn’t like that Black folks were climbing up and did their best to shut down Perkins’ work, including beating and imprisoning him, but that demonstrated that his methods were working.
Cooperatives and other forms of mutual aid among Black communities were active in and prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Fred Hampton’s life and co-op adjacent community work in the 1960s compelled the newly released film Judas and the Black Messiah, winning multiple Golden Globes, in fact.
Historically co-ops seem to form after periods of great hardship, like the Great Depression or the 2008 recession. As you might imagine, they’re still prevalent today, and are in fact growing.
They’re Holistically Applicable
Worker cooperatives essentially doubled from 2008 to 2018, totaling nearly 600 at that point according to some numbers. Other estimates from 2016 place the number at 357, with the average wages just two pennies off from the living wage at the time. Though the median was slightly lower, it was still well above minimum wage, empowering 4,305 entrepreneurs of color as of five years ago.
Then there are Christian health insurance cooperatives or “cost sharing ministries” for folks who can’t afford insurance yet don’t qualify for Medicaid. The financial safety net they provide helped to save my dad’s life in 2020 when his kidney almost failed. They benefited a friend’s dad as well, enabling him to beat cancer.
Homeschoolers also rely on cooperatives. When a parent needs assistance teaching a certain subject, they send their kids to the co-op, where another parent teacher handles that class. Every parent serves in some way, and the children receive a full education due to this educational resource sharing.
The potential of co-ops encompasses every aspect of life. Instead of shopping at a chain grocery store, you could participate in a food co-op, for example. These benefit people by creating mini economies that can further equity for farmers and fishers, buyers and sellers.
While it may be discouraging to realize that racial and economic equity aren’t fully possible in the United States due to capitalism, cooperatives give evidence that there are smaller-scale solutions that can radically improve the lives of BIPOC.
Thank you for being a part of that work through Intersected Project, and thank you for continuing the good work within your communities.