Bergstrom: College students need to know stock market basics

(Creative Commons)

For the first – and probably last time – polar opposite figures: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, felon-to-be Donald Trump Junior, Barstool Sports CEO Dave Portnoy, and “self-made”-inheritor-of-emerald-mine-billionaire Elon Musk all agreed on something: Wall Street needed a reckoning. Their collective voice is to everyone’s benefit, but we should question why they did this time. It’s because capitalism is starting to hurt White people like it does Black people.

About two weeks ago, a Reddit investing group sprung into action after recognizing a hedge fund’s massive bet on GameStop’s stock falling. Pooling their investments into the stock, they shot the price up from $18 in mid-January to a high of $354 two weeks ago. It was the power of ordinary and predominately White male millennials that showed how capitalism’s systems worked for everyone and not just the wealthy.

Then capitalism struck back.

Specifically targeting GameStop, Robinhood, the stock trading designed app ‘for the ordinary person,’ blocked its trade. When push came to shove, capitalism’s disciples – Wall Street hedge funds – were able to expunge the threat of the common people. 

The problematic nature of this swift shutdown is well documented. What is not, though, is the problematic nature of the responses. As soon as Robinhood sided with the bourgeoisie, the incensed world began to see the world as it is: “n****’s exposed the free market as a lie in 3 days lmaooo,'' was a tweet that garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets. 

 Of course, they’re not wrong. The free market is “a lie”. But referring to this event as the “exposing” of capitalism presupposes that no event before it had. This was the White, male frat boys – yes, I’m generalizing, but fairly so – first taste of class consciousness. After being slapped by the invisible hand of the market for the first time, this demographic believed that “GameStop united the country at a time when nothing else could.” 

The aforementioned viral tweet should incense us. Because there were other things that should have united us, long ago. 

White people have historically been shielded from Black suffering to prevent such uniting. In 1676, poor Black and White farmers came together, recognizing that both groups were suffering in an economic system designed for the wealthy. Fearing the consequences of racial coalitions, the wealthy hardened the racial caste system, protecting the poor whites from the depths of suffering Black people experienced.

Many, though, will argue that what took place with Wall Street is not race based. They are wrong. Historically, Black people exposed the free market as a lie long ago. In 1921, Tulsa was known as Black Wall Street due to a prolific development of Black inclusion in a capitalist system. Fearing this independence, white supremacists took matters into their own hands and massacred the entire city. This attack was encouraged and bolstered by America’s institutions - the city officials were the ones that gave them the weapons. This is not an isolated incident; America’s capitalist system is lying when it preaches bootstrap-ism; that story is intended to protect the few and privileged. But what happened in 1921 or any other time  did not “unite the country.” It only does when White people suffer at the hands of institutions like they did two weeks ago. Capitalism is inextricably tied to race. 

Even events a year ago failed to unite us. Just a summer ago, George Floyd was brutally murdered on camera, sparking months of ongoing protests for Black Lives Matter. But BLM is not just about police brutality. Indeed, its focus on systemic racism includes the demand for reparations. 

Unlike the general support for the White millennials taking on Wall Street, White people do not support these demands. A report in June of 2020, the peak of the protests, showed that while White Americans have become aware and accepting of the racial inequity that exists at a systemic level they still are against reparations. “None of us currently living are responsible,” they argue. 

Perhaps they themselves did not own slaves like their ancestors did, but White America refuses to acknowledge that their success in the capitalist system has required preventing Black people from doing the same. Reparations and other forms of restructuring is the only way to even the playing field, to reduce the wealth gap that exists. 

There is a deep divide in when we recognize class consciousness. When White teenagers are not allowed to use their pocket change to take on a hedge fund as a sensationalized meme, the world immediately takes notice and discusses the validity of the trade system. But when Black Americans time and time again suffer in the same system, those same Whites resist the change necessary to make it better. 

It’s not about feasibility, reparations are no more difficult or unfair than restructuring the stock market that is the burgeoning measurement of our economy. Then what is it about? White America, deep down, does not care about Black America. At least not to the point where they are willing to lose their systemic advantage in the nation. Their dwindling “support” for the Black Lives Matter movement is emblematic of their charade; Since June, White support has dropped double percentage digits.

The engineered racial disparities from 1676 to now prevent even the poorest of White people from experiencing what it’s like to be Black in this nation. It prevents them from the responsibility of recognizing class consciousness when others suffer. It prevents empathy. 

Instead of outright slavery that separated Whites from Black suffering, the “invisible hand” of capitalism does the separating today. The events that began as a joke on Reddit reveal that the foundation of a trans-racial class consciousness can only begin when there is White suffering. Yes, we should wrest power away from Wall Street and hedge funds – we likely will try to someday. We all lose, though, when the other needed forms of economic progress are forced by the invisible hand of markets and racism back to the shadows where they’ve always been.