Jessica Gordon-Nembhard: I see community as a community of workers, but by workers, I mean people who are expending human energy and solidarity to perfect their lives. And we’re doing it together…We all see communities as groups of human activity and work, not separate from the political economy. We’re all workers—especially African-Americans. We never really had the luxury to separate the two. Everything we do, in some ways, is about work.
Lloyd Hogan, in his book On Black Political Economy, talks a lot about the internal and the external labor markets. The internal, of course, is social reproduction: how we survive, and all the things we do to survive. The external is all the things we do to exist in a market system: the ways that we make money in order to do the internal labor. I want to get us out of the market system. If we see ourselves as expenders of human energy, if we exalt work and labor not as the things we do to make money, but the things we do as human beings—that’s what’s going to help us get to the next level—out of capitalism and the individualistic mode. We have been alienated from ourselves as workers. We’ve been made to see work as bad. We have to exploit ourselves to make some money. We have to do what other people want. It’s the way that we’re the most highly exploited as human beings, as women, as Black people, as people of color…The labor market is where we get exploited, and putting ourselves in the labor market exploits ourselves the most.
But I think we need to change that relationship and see labor as part of our movement toward human perfectibility. That’s why I also like Nina Banks’ notion of Black women’s labor in communities: that it’s so hidden. It’s not even seen as worker labor, but we need to really make it more visible, make it more valuable, because that’s where real change happens. That’s where we practice how to live differently, but it’s so undervalued in our system…If we focus on maximizing human energy, the energy we expend to reproduce, sustain, and free ourselves…It’s the energy we use to produce innovations, so that we can keep perfecting our social reproduction and our sustenance, and so that we have the prosperity and leisure to be human beings, and to perfect ourselves as human beings. It’s the work we do so that we can address racial and gender exploitation and turn those things on their head.
We need to put our energy into that kind of education and practice of human liberation through solidarity economics. That’s where we start to help people, to realize, to think through, to change this language. Instead of work being bad, work is our human energy. It’s the thing we do together to make our lives better, to make ourselves better. We can then think about what the new system of relationships—cultural, economic, social relationships—are based on that kind of a notion: that we’re all exalted beings who are trying to make things better for ourselves, our families, our communities—and we’re doing it together. And the work we do is not something to be alienated from or upset about, but it’s the end product. And somehow, creating, using culture, using a sense of community, using new economic systems to make sure that we are focusing on that, I think, is the way to go.