My Life Matters?

By Kwesi P. Dean

Posted Sept 1, 2020

But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)

COVID19  has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.

Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..

The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”

 But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased.  As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.

Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,

Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.

The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms.  Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also  are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.

COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged  markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”

Notes

1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification,  The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification

Another black man refuses to be quietly controlled by people with guns, badges, and immunity and is shot for it. We can raise the statistics that all races of people in the US face the risk of death by police. According to Statista, as of July 2020, 558 people lost their lives in police shootings. 39% of those killed were white. We can talk about age and perceived socioeconomic backgrounds as mitigating factors. And still, with all that has happened in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, recordings show unarmed black men are being shot by police officers seemingly more interested in being obeyed than de-escalating situations. Youtuber Beau of the Fifth Column described it as a life and death game of “Simon Says”. 

In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote a masterful description of the racist nature of the Constitution of the US in the Dread Scott v. Sandford decision. His decision, which includes the often misused quote that “they [blacks] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”, clearly argued that the framers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution certainly didn’t have blacks in mind when referring to “all men” or “We the people”. The 14th amendment of the Constitution was required to legally recognize the citizenship rights of men of African descent. I think one could add without much of a stretch that “all men” wasn’t merely a rhetorical exclusion of women either since women had to fight 137 years to earn the right to vote nationally. 

Taney’s argument is relevant today because he highlighted that white identity was so ingrained in the minds of the framers of the Constitution and the states that ratified it that no discussion about the exclusion of black men from the rights of US citizenship was necessary. Even if free, black men did not qualify as citizens of the US. 

Identity was not only at the heart of the founding of the USA, it was at the heart of the establishment of capitalism itself. From the enslavement of civilian prisoners of war to the forced reduction of social roles of women in Europe, others outside of feudal, ethnic male hierarchies were deemed fully exploitable. As Cedric J. Robinson wrote in Black Marxism, “Indeed, capitalism was less a catastrophic revolution (negation) of feudalist social orders than the extension of these social relations into the larger tapestry of the modern world’s political and economic relations.” 

Exploited labor based on ethnicity was a norm in wealth creation in Europe and its colonies. It applied to the deckhands on the ships as well as the slaves in the holds. Europeans carried all they had learned from centuries of the use of slave and other-than-free labor in their fields, mines, and precursors to factories to new lands around the globe where processes of exploitation developed on steroids. That identity politics/economics is foundational to our current system should be recognized as a historical fact. The fact that it often isn’t feels disingenuous as highly intelligent people seem to discount the evidence of European history and tie themselves in rhetorical knots to focus solely on economic identity as important to the narrative of revolution. 

And our current manifestation of identity has severe problems in its effect on efforts to create coalitions of the exploited necessary to drive systemic change. The origin of our frame of identity can be found in a positivist cultural hierarchy and that sews the seeds of its ineffectiveness. Identity was designed to define, separate, and divide the “have nots” in service to the maintenance of the power of the “haves”. (Sometimes I think that designation should be switched as the real “have nots” don’t have to work to maintain their obscenely high standards of living while the rest of us “have” to work or face ruin.) 

The identities were only voluntary for one group, in the case of the US, white men. The rest of the identities were imposed upon different groups as white men saw fit. Legal constructs of race began in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the late 1600s following a multiracial militia of servants burning down Jamestown. They’ve continued ever since as the current US census includes 6 racial groups and 11 sub-groups that can be selected in any combination of the respondents’ choosing. 

After nearly 350 years since the appearance of the word “white” to describe people of Northern European descent according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we’ve seen developments. First, the expansion of the franchise of “whiteness” to include more people of various ethnic backgrounds, people from the Middle East and North Africa are now white according to the 2020 Census, and the continued division of non-whites into more specific cultural affinity groups. Both have led to discounting other differences that don’t fit for purpose. 

Class divisions among whites, while ever-present in the US, are culturally subordinated to whiteness when it is to the advantage of the ruling class, like election season and settling union contracts on the golf course. Class divisions among non-whites are both subordinated and exacerbated within the groups at the same time leading to even more division. All of this exists in the rampant, toxic individualism of consumer culture. 

No wonder people are anxious and confused. Even wealthy, accomplished, educated non-whites find themselves subject to the perception of their non-white status in the eyes of those with the power to enforce the exclusion associated with whiteness. A non-white professor was forced to present her credentials to far less credentialed campus police to prove she belonged on her majority white campus. Members of my family were reminded of that recently when refused service in a Savannah, Georgia restaurant. 

Today, many working-class whites can’t afford that professor’s Ivy League education nor to eat in the restaurant where my family members were refused service. Despite vast resource and cultural differences, working-class whites are told of their commonality with wealthy white people who’ve never had to work a day in their lives. A white billionaire’s daughter confidently stated, without uproar, that she identifies with recent college graduates facing one of the toughest job markets in decades. 

There are no easy answers. New processes will need to emerge to create connections beyond racial and many other social positions. 

How can our lives matter to others? How can their lives matter to us? 

Witnessing the international, multiracial movement that BLM is becoming offers hope that a new generation will take the experience of working together for justice to create those unifying processes and mutual interests. Let’s then apply those processes to other areas including taking on capitalism itself. 



https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/
Beau of the Fifth Column, “Let’s talk about country folk and their responses to the law…” https://youtu.be/5-v7Juv2bvU

Dred Scott v. Sandford Decision https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/60/393
Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical TraditionCedric J. Robinson
US 2020 Census
https://2020census.gov/en/about-questions/2020-census-questions-race.html

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