Breaking the Spell of Capitalism

I’d like you to take an open-minded journey with me, as I’m led in conversation by Toi Smith, a black single mother to four boys and an anti-capitalist visionary.

Breaking the Spell of Capitalism
Toi Smith.

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I will admit the word “anti-capitalist” conjures for me all kinds of stereotypical images, like crusty punks or dirty hippies living in a falling down communal house and dumpster diving – a lifestyle that seems completely unappealing (at least to me) if you must care for anyone else. Today’s newsletter is not going to demand that you abandon all of your possessions and surrender your 401K to go live in a commune, but I’d like you to take an open-minded journey with me, as I’m led in conversation with Toi Smith. Toi is a black single mother to four boys (including twins 💕) an anti-capitalist, a bold, creative thinker who does liberation-focused and equitable business strategy, coaching, facilitation, and consulting. She co-facilitates a course called The Spell of  Capitalism, “a year-long exploration in uncovering the truth about capitalism, how it forms our lives, and what’s possible beyond its borders so that we can begin to dream, scheme, and create new ways of being & relating that honor our wholeness, our complexities, and our intrinsic wisdom.”

This work isn’t about pointing fingers at hypocrisy. I live in a nice house that I have a mortgage on and I buy stuff from Amazon even though I know it’s terrible just because I need the convenience. I continue to benefit from capitalism in many ways, including through generational wealth and white privilege. I am just a beginner myself.

But I am starting to do the slow and hard work of unraveling capitalist thinking because I think this is intrinsic to understanding how we can start to push people to value unpaid caregiving and “mothering.” Many of the thinkers I find most compelling on the subject are rooted in Black liberation. Understanding capitalism’s impact on our lives as mothers and our families is a first step in starting to think creatively about how we organize and build our political power, especially in America where our meager safety net leaves us vulnerable to its worst effects. Learning about anti-capitalism gives me ideas about how to begin to refuse to participate in systems and cycles that exploit me and many others. It challenges how I view success. The practice of anti-capitalism is an awareness and a mindset. This is all meant as a provocation, not a competition.

Here’s my edited and condensed conversation with Toi.

Katherine Goldstein: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about anti-capitalism?

Toi Smith: A lot of people when they think of capitalism they connect it only with money and business. A lot of times when you say I'm anti-capitalist or you start talking about anti-capitalism, people intrinsically start to feel defensive. ‘They're like, oh, you're talking about my money, and that I can't make money and I can't be in business.’ And that is a really small part of capitalism. What we're doing is we're unpacking all the facets, all the nuances, all the complexities of capitalism that people don't see, but when they see it, they can't unsee it.

Katherine Goldstein: What are some of the “aha” moments people have when they are working with you?

Toi Smith: One of the most popular topics we talk about is capitalism's connection to relationships and marriage and intimate relationships and how capitalism informs nuclear families. Nuclear families are a site for capitalist reproduction exploitation. Now a lot of people don't see that.

Katherine Goldstein: I’m totally here for this. I love hating on the nuclear family. Tell me more.

Toi Smith: If we look at heteronormative relationships; you have a man, you have a woman and then they have their 2.5 kids and a dog.

But historically that was created because we needed male workers to work really hard and then be able to relax and recover so that they can go back out and do more work. So the idea of the nuclear family was born out of the capitalist thinking, “how do we take care of these male workers who are working in our fields, warehouses and our factories.” It was not this simple, but over generations of subjecting women to be the helpmates for men, we're really turning them into helpmates of capitalism.

The woman takes care of the man so he can go out at work, and she does the reproductive labor for free so there can be more workers.

Katherine Goldstein: And then of course, now as so many mothers are in the paid workforce, we so often see mothers also taking on a majority of this traditional unpaid labor. Propping up both sides.

Toi Smith: Yes. And of course there are intersections to this.  Like for me as a black woman and as a single mom, the load is heavier because traditionally black women haven't been paid the most. So if women haven't been paid a lot, black women have been paid even less. And so we are double billed for oppression in so many ways.

Katherine Goldstein:  One of my big criticisms of the nuclear family is just completely impractical. Every little family is doing all these tasks in a silo and not sharing the load.

Toi Smith: And it leaves so little time for leisure and community.  We don't have free time to examine the lives we are living and then we want to buy more things in order to make ourselves feel better. This is not an accident, this is by design.

Plus, nuclear families are boring. So boring! It’s exhausting and boring and you start to hate each other and it's lonely. We’re not meant to exist that way. My friend Rachel Rice says each kid needs at least three parents. At least three parents! And this is not us speaking from fantasyland. This is what needs to be happening now, so that we are creating humans that have a somatic imprint of actually being cared for by more than one or two people.

Each kid needs at least three parents. At least three parents! And this is not speaking from fantasyland. This is what needs to be happening now, so that we are creating humans that have a somatic imprint of actually being cared for by more than one or two people.

Katherine Goldstein: What are some other ways capitalism impacts us that people don’t think about often?

Toi Smith: A lot of times people don't think about capitalism and the body. We've been socialized to disobey our body and our pleasure and our desires in exchange for capitalist reproduction. Meaning work and making money and buying things and repeating that cycle over and over again. If you don't have bodies, then you don't have a labor force, and then you don't have people to go to work. Then the capitalists don't make their money. We have also been indoctrinated and socialized to have such a disregard for our bodies and to mechanize them.

Katherine Goldstein: I think an example of capitalism teaching us to disregard our bodies would be like, especially before COVID, people would brag about coming into the office and working while they had the flu – never taking a sick day.

Toi Smith: Yes. And start looking at the way we're marketed to. Especially women, but everyone really. Everything is in support of you being a better worker. If your work is unpaid as a mother, it’s “how can you be a better mother?” So everything from fitness to the wellness industry – None of it talks about capitalism. It all talks about how to ‘rest better’ so that you can be more ‘productive’, right? And ‘optimize,’ right? Optimize yourself. Part of the wellness industry is only in existence to service our bodies that are hurt and harmed by how much work that we have to do.

So we have to look at things through that lens and pull ourselves outside of it and think, ‘okay, what is a real message that I'm being sold here and told to believe?’ And it is truly in service of my needs?’ It’s a vicious cycle, right? We're dependent on money because we don't have access to land to live on our own. We can't just go into the field and build a house and bring people and have a place to raise food. So you have a group of people who are dependent on their labors. The only thing we have really is our labor, and our bodies to then produce the money so that we can then live. And so inside of that, you really feel stuck.

Katherine Goldstein: I wanna pivot a little bit to talk about this idea that a lot of women, especially mothers, turn to entrepreneurship and go into business on their own or they turn to ‘side hustles.’ Since so much of the traditional workforce isn't made for those with caregiving responsibilities entrepreneurship is often pitched as this wonderful option for moms. But I think the reality is often very, very different.

Toi Smith: When I started working for myself six years ago, there were all these very flashy offers about how you could make $20,000 in a month, really easy with all of these sales tricks. But track the lineage. It all goes back to wealthy white men who are teaching you how to become a hustler, essentially. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. A lot of times entrepreneurship is billed as the answer to working in a corporate world. But a lot of times, because we haven't unpacked these ideas of capitalist exploitation, we treat ourselves worse than the bosses treated us before. So we're working at 3:00 AM because we can, and we're exhausted. So it just infiltrates everything. I have a big conflict with women being sold that entrepreneurship is the answer. That's a lot of bullshit. I think the answer is us being paid for the work that we're doing as mothers with unpaid labor and also just people being paid to exist; a universal, basic income.

I don’t want to knock people who have an entrepreneurial dream but I don’t like it when we're told to turn our loves and our hobbies into sites of us making money.

I have a big conflict with women being sold that entrepreneurship is the answer. That's a lot of bullshit. I think the answer is us being paid for the work that we're doing as mothers with unpaid labor and also just people being paid to exist; a universal, basic income.

Katherine Goldstein: I always get so upset when someone just really loves to do something and people tell them that they should make it a business. It's so frustrating to me because, are we not allowed to just have something that brings us joy?!

Toi Smith: It's very sad. Capitalism wants to monetize our joy. Capitalism wants to grab ahold of all places in our world where we get any pleasure.

Katherine Goldstein: So obviously unraveling capitalism’s impact on our worldview is a big process. How do you recommend people start digesting this?

Toi Smith: When I have these conversations, a lot of the time people start to feel uneasy. They say, ‘Okay, so I'm just screwed, right?’ But you have to come out of that and think, if you get more people who can start to see this stuff, that's how things shift. In our Spell of Capitalism course, we have grief sessions for people who are really grappling with it and saying, ‘It's turning my world upside down.’ And so we grieve and we hold space for that.

So that's really what my work is, to help people to see it. If we start talking about the different threads in your life, and you start to talk to your friends about it, and then you start to talk to your coworkers about it. And then eventually we shift our consciousness and that impacts how we're doing things.

Katherine Goldstein: Any last thoughts to share with our community?

Toi Smith: This is complex work and I would just encourage people to not feel the pressure to understand it all today. Because that's how we end up in a spot where we become fatigued and we feel like we can't do anything. Look for spaces and connect with others about this, whether it's people on Instagram and maybe locally who are doing work that show us possibilities. We need possibility models that show us that things can be different, or we just exist in grief.

To continue with this unlearning, I highly recommend that you follow Toi on Instagram. In addition to her Spell of Capitalism course, she’s working on a wonderful initiative called Loving Black Single Mothers, an independently funded UBI project focused on building community interdependence and transforming the lives of black single moms. Sign up for her newsletter for more info.

In tomorrow’s members-only thread, we’ll be exploring how the last few years of political, psychological and financial turmoil has impacted how you all think about your family size, and whether to add more kids to it. This is gonna be a good one! Member contributions help keep this space ad-free and away from corporate marketing.

What I’m reading:

The Downsides of Having an Athlete in the Family” by Linda Flanagan. If you have a kid who is or you think is going down a competitive sports path, please read this. Further evidence to support my ideas in my recent  “Cruise Director Parenting,” newsletter, and honestly, also showcases the problems with capitalism, when you think about it.

In case you think my interest in anti-capitalism is just because I’m an idealistic lefty feminist, check out, “Many Millennial and Generation Z Americans have come of age amid dislocations that give even M.B.A. students pause about capitalism.” - Read more in The Atlantic.

Attention Durham Friends: On August 20th from 10-1pm at 9th St Bakery, current and past mayors are hosting a fun community social with free food and kids activities to share stories about Guaranteed Income. UBI, FTW! If you see me there, say hi.

Upcoming member events

Join us Sept 27th at 12PM EST for a spicy conversation about maternal gatekeeping with fellow Double Shifter and author of Equal Partners, Kate Mangino. If you liked our conversation with Kate, Debunking Myths About Why Your Relationship is Unequal, you'll LOVE this hangout in conversation with her.

This topic was suggested by Double Shifter Mary, and we'll dive into one of the most fraught elements of the equal partnership conversation, maternal gatekeeping, which is the idea that mothers keep their partners away from certain household and childcare responsibilities in order to maintain control over them, which can hinder equality in the home. We'll definitely examine why the impulse to gatekeep is so powerful (hint: it's not a personal failing) and talk about solutions. This will be a judgment-free zone to learn, reflect ask questions and share stories, facilitated by a gender expert in our community. Regardless of if you are a reformed gatekeeper, diehard one, or just curious to learn more, join us for this great discussion. Members will get a hangout invite with the zoom link.

Become a Champion! We just opened up one of our benefits for Champion members, the chance for a 1-1 zoom call to discuss a topic of your choice with yours truly. There are limited spots each month and are on a first-come, first serve signup. Plus, each person who signs up to be a champion allows us to offer two free memberships to Double Shifters who want to be a part of this community but can't afford it right now. We've had many requests for these donated memberships since we relaunched. For those who can afford to pay more, I thank you, and so does the rest of the community! Champion membership starts at $30/mo.


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