The audacity, I mutter to myself. Bewildered, I gape at the headline on Amazon.com — for the record, I wasn’t ordering anything from there but just browsing for book ISBNs and underwear to order elsewhere. At the beginning of February, in honor of Black History Month, Amazon took it upon themselves to update their webpage: “Celebrate Black History Month with Amazon” and “Buy BLACK Support Black-owned businesses,” emblazoned in white text against a stark black background.
The irony of it all immediately struck me across the face and I took a moment before closing my jaw. I thought we had already gone over this — no anti-racism books from Amazon! Now, Amazon continues to grip the bandwagon of neoliberalism, and whether you see the problem with this or not, continue reading.
The free-market economy will exploit workers while their CEO becomes billions of dollars richer in a pandemic that wrecks the economy and disproportionately impacts people of color yet still has the nerve to urge customers to support Black-owned businesses. Amazon thrives off the capitalist ideology that marginalizes Black people and monopolizes wealth while also painting a facade that they, too, support Black lives. In this ironic game of reductionism, Amazon epitomizes the paradox of neoliberalism in the United States’ free-market economy. Ultimately, we must not tolerate it so we do not subvert Black History Month, at least more than we already do.
Coined back in 1938, neoliberalism defines competition as integral to humanity, glorifies efficiency and delineates inequality as a hierarchy — those with the most merit at the top, those who are lazy at the bottom. It completely undermines the sociological factors that disseminate the most wealth to those with the most education and inheritance. It values trickle-down economics or Reagan-era policies that cut taxes for the most wealthy so that the resultant extra wealth can flow down to lower income groups.
Reaganomics continue to influence contemporary policies — hello, Donald Trump’s tax cuts to massive corporations and the most wealthy? Yet Reaganomics have repeatedly been proven as ineffective by economic research. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, trickle-down tax cuts actually widen the inequality gap and do not, in fact, catalyze job or economic growth.
Yet, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk remain the richest men in the world — not because of merit or the other lies popularized by neoliberalism but because of luck and the exploitation of lower economic groups for their benefit. So what business does Amazon have telling us to support Black-owned businesses and celebrate Black people when they are responsible for their continued oppression?
The answer to this can be linked to reductionism at its finest. In a critique of race reductionism published in Dialectical Anthropology, author Adolph Reed Jr. discusses race reductionism in light of antiracism discourse — how it totalizes white supremacy and racial discrimination without recognizing the systems responsible for its perpetuity. It reduces Black politics to a “unitary struggle against white supremacy” in the myopic lens of neoliberalism. Race reductionism posits “that the problem of inequality is not its magnitude or intensity … but whether or not it is distributed in a racially equitable way.”
In other words, neoliberalism does not have a problem with wealth inequality, but it has a problem that racial groups are unevenly distributed through the wealth pyramid. Simply, race reductionism subverts how capitalist policies magnify the racial wealth gap. It’s why being “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal” makes zero sense — race reductionism closes off leftist conversations about policy and insists that Bezos and the top 1% deserve to monopolize capital while the working-class struggles to support themselves when working 40 hours per week.
How else does race reductionism plague society? It was quite amusing to witness the NFL project Black Lives Matter ads. This is the same organization that idolizes Tom Brady, a known Trump supporter who owns a Make America Great Again hat, and demonizes Colin Kaepernick, who years ago took a knee and lost his contract for it. They plastered “End Racism” across the field of the Kansas City Chiefs (I don’t think I need to explain that one). These facades try to hide the same systemic harm Amazon wreaks, masquerading as a commitment to racial equality in a neoliberal system.
In another prime example, we lobbied so rigorously to replace a fascist with President Joe Biden, disputedly a neoliberal. Although Biden wants to funnel more funding into police departments, he at least supports raising the minimum wage, right? Well, the federal minimum wage will be $15 by 2025 in his proposal, which does not account for inflation, and our capitalist-corrupted society still remains torn about actually supplying people with a living wage.
Amidst it all, the American education system fails immensely when it comes to Black History. People in Utah opted their children out of Black history curricula. Republican state lawmakers are threatening to cut funding to schools that teach the 1619 Project, published by The New York Times to educate about the centrality of slavery in American history. Schools, and society holistically, ignore Martin Luther King Jr.’s scrutiny of capitalism and instead capitalize on “peaceful protesting,” and it shows in the people these systems produce.
So no, I will not be celebrating Black History Month with Amazon. In the meantime, I will continue filling in the gaps the American education system created and society perpetuated.
Matthew Eck is a junior writing about hot-button social issues. His column, “The Eck’s Factor,” runs every other Wednesday.