“Capitalism Won’t Save Black People”

khalid kamau

khalid kamau was elected to the South Fulton, Georgia, city council in 2017. In an interview, he discusses the ties between racism and capitalism and why socialism shouldn't be written off as a white movement.

Scott Heins

Interview by
Scott Heins

In 2017, khalid kamau ran for City Council of South Fulton, Georgia, and won in a landslide. An organizer turned city leader, kamau sees elected office as a weapon in the fight against the myriad injustices facing his city, which is 89 percent black. In speeches, he ties racial justice to anti-capitalism.

khalid’s city council campaign was endorsed and supported by the Democratic Socialists of America’s Metro Atlanta chapter, and he sees DSA as the country’s “most serious socialist organization.” At the DSA’s 2019 national convention in Atlanta, khalid was the first speaker on the program. He opened with a blistering left critique of the Georgia Democratic Party, called for defunding the police, and closed by inviting his comrades to a South Fulton block party and screening of Boyz n the Hood.

When I asked him what made democratic socialism his chosen political path, he delivered a call for Afrosocialism.

Scott Heins

Why, in your community, is it important for you to not just be the legislator that you are, but to be committed to democratic socialism?

khalid kamau

Because capitalism won’t save black people.

I am a councilman in the blackest city in America — we are 89.7 percent African American. A system that is built on exploitation, in a country that is built on the exploitation of my people for four hundred years — that system can never serve us. It would never liberate all of us. And I am for my people’s liberation.

It is not necessarily important to call myself a democratic socialist, but the principles that democratic socialism espouses — it’s important for those to become the politics of my people because that is the surest way for our liberation.

There are all kinds of socialist groups for me to have affiliated myself with, but the reason that I chose the DSA was they were not only incredibly thoughtful about their ideas and their politics, but then they had this arm of the DSA that was serious about getting those people elected. It’s not enough to just articulate the idea if you can never get it into public policy. There are other groups that are even more radical, but they’re not getting folks elected.

On a really practical level, my people need to get some power so that we can get free. So we need to get elected. If that’s the game, then we need to be winning at this game, and the DSA is the most serious socialist organization in America right now, that is serious about winning this game.

Scott Heins

You just said you’re a black DSA elected official from the blackest town in America. What would you say to someone who would write off socialism as a white movement?

khalid kamau

Don’t do that!

If a tenet of socialism is that capitalism is failing, there is nowhere that is more clear than in urban black America. There is no place that that is more clear.

You don’t have to work to radicalize black people against this system that’s been failing us for four hundred years. Someone just needs to come and say, “Hey, we think the system has been failing you too,” and that’s who socialists are.

People outside of the DSA or who don’t call themselves socialists should not be surprised when black people say, “Y’all have been failing us too, we’re going to rock with these socialist folks.”

This is going to catch fire in our communities more than it is in your community. At some point, people with privilege will not have all the same privileges they had. That’s not going to sell in your community the same way it’s going to sell in my community.