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Emancipatory Journalism

Cryptoganda

Cryptoganda rebrands the elaborate conspiracy of Black capitalism and is meant to negate attempts by Black people to achieve genuine political power.

Jared Ball

Originally published in Propaganda In Focus

INTRO: HELLO, MY NAME IS … SHADY

For the better part of the last century, particularly since the end of the second World War and the expansive rise of the U.S. empire, there has been an unrivaled production of economic fantasy with the particular mythology of Black capitalism as the solution to any potential colonial disturbance. There would, of course, continue to be ample distribution of all forms of counterinsurgency in suppressing the subjects, as opposed to citizens, created by empire whose ever-threatening movements for liberation demand attendant assaults on political consciousness and, in this case, a clever rebranding of U.S. capitalism. From the first “post-enslavement” institution of sharecropping and the “one more bale” theory, to dreamworlds created as “Black Wall Streets,” to a general promotion of entrepreneurialism, and now the grafted appendage of crypto engagement – Cryptoganda – the underlying message remains; U.S. empire and capitalism can work for all.

Crpyotganda, the application of existing models of propaganda to the crypto world, updates mechanisms meant to maintain the effective programs of obscuring deep and meaningful conversation about the economy. The details are made irrelevant. The history and function of blockchain technology, mining, its function or consolidation, or impact on the environment, the escalating regulatory battles over defining cryptocurrencies as tokens or securities, and certainly questions surrounding accumulating wealth and its distribution are always said to be beside the point or beyond the lay person’s ability to comprehend. The goal is not understanding and clarity; the goal of cryptoganda is always myth-making, and specifically, upholding the traditional systems of colonial control. From the 19th century, description of Nat Turner’s band of revolutionaries in the press of the day as “insurgents” the same tactics used abroad to suppress opponents to U.S. imperialism have been directed with a particularity to those segments (descendants) of populations colonized internally. As said by William Godel, one of the designers of today’s counterinsurgency digital media surveillance environment, “The same bullet will kill with just about the same effectiveness whether used against a target in the United States, Africa, or Asia. However, the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency weapon is dependent upon the specific target” (Levine, 28, emphasis added).

When Eminem, aka “Slim Shady,” was introduced with “My Name Is” he was fronting for White capital and yet delivered as a suggestion of Black Power in the guise of Dr. Dre’s sponsorship. Interscope, Aftermath, or Universal Music Group, itself a subsidiary of Vivendi, itself largely owned now by Ballore’ (and on it goes…), present the propaganda: one disseminated as Black Power, or cryptoganda, to one community, the other as standard messaging to the world, a communication practice addressed by Stuart Hall (1997, p. 14). Each spokesperson does well individually while the material conditions of each community remains unchanged. Cryptoganda collectivizes the individual line uttered by Eminem during his initial imposition onto the world and becomes the “bulletproof vest” we put on before shooting ourselves “in the head.”

CRYPTO-GANDA

Cryptoganda’s “specific target” is Black America. Naming, as I do “cryptoganda,” is not so much that I think the world needs one more “ganda” applied in an attempt by an academic to do what we are often encouraged; identify and coin references to “gaps” in existing research. As will be further explained, I do indeed consider the messaging around cryptocurrencies to be propaganda, or that which, “ … involves strategically communicating information selected on the basis of a prior agenda.” However, my real intent is to demonstrate the continuity of specific attempts to target Black America for a particular form of propaganda meant to move Black people away from organizing for political power in favor of the mythologies of Black capitalism, entrepreneurialism, and associated lesser, immaterial “powers” such as “buying, market, symbolic.” Absent an appreciation for the particular context of Black people in the U.S., it becomes impossible to appreciate the particular form, intent, or impact that messaging has given the cultural and political memories that media reference and recall.

Initially, the messaging of cryptoganda targeting Black people is consistent with, and a stylized form of, that which has its own form constructed for domestic and international subjects as well. That is, the core mythological tenets are presented equally to all and include but are not necessarily limited to: a) Satoshi Nakamoto and the Bitcoin White Paper marked revolutionary breaks with conventional economic activity and organization, b) existing economic inequality being positively addressed both at micro and macro/national levels, c) autonomy, anonymity and security will all increase and be improvements upon existing systems of banking and exchange. However, essential to the particular form this messaging takes when targeting Black audiences are also, d) specific references to cryptocurrency as liberation, revolution, freedom or change and, e) that these positive shifts are best brought about through financial literacy and entrepreneurialism as opposed to struggles over political power.

Nakamoto’s vaunted white paper is little more than a technical/technological sermon inviting new interest in existing blockchain technology and Bitcoin with the idea that they would be free market solutions to a 2008 free market collapse. As Black capitalism is a propagated subset of capitalism, cryptoganda is a subset of just this kind of broader mythologizing of capitalist solutions to the contradictions caused by capitalism. Because Nakamoto’s white paper purports to be an improvement (replacement) over existing banking and monetary systems allowing for pseudonymous, irreversible exchange, and a fixed total of coins preventing devaluation or inflation, a mythology has arisen (been constructed) that these are protective measures against future economic collapses caused by banks. The inaccuracy of these rebranded libertarian/capitalist talking points is less my concern currently than their redeployment. However, neither those arguments nor Nakamoto’s legendary paper, of course, say anything of how the already existing market when performing “well,” when not crashing, exists as a nightmare of global exploitation and inequality. Similarly, nothing in Nakamoto’s vaunted white paper describes what happens to the overwhelming majority of the wretched once Bitcoin becomes the adopted dominant currency creating immediately an even more “ … oligarchic, more exploitative, more irrational, and more inhuman … ” wasteland where we are somehow more beholden to our crypto overlords.

The white paper attributed to the ambiguous, anonymous (fictional?) Nakamoto does not do well to demonstrate its own claims never mind those made by the mythologies evolved since on the paper’s behalf. And while my own focus is on the messaging as it corresponds to material reality, there has been strong evidence presented that present competent challenges to both the white paper and its related mythologies. Specifically, peer-to-peer, pseudonymous, irreversible exchanges taking place on privately-owned and concentrated platforms, with permanent public records kept on blockchains does not solve problems of material inequality or redistribution. Consumers, workers, the poor are not empowered by systems that protect sellers, offer no consumer protection, insurance for assets kept on exchanges, which are themselves highly concentrated among private ownership. The existing banking system may not benefit these communities but does offer relative protections through federal insurance, consumer protection, and some level of accountability. And whatever are the varied, and very real, horrors imposed on the world by the existing banking system and its fiat currency, none of them are solved by the world of crypto.

A VERY COLONIAL CONTEXT

On one hand, there is the broader context of the rise of crypto, and as Lana Swartz has written, “ … I use ‘crypto’ to refer to the larger surround of cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and related sociotechnical and economic projects…” (Swartz, 2022). Here can be found the myths of origin relating to the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, development of the protective narratives of brave new blockchain world free from centralization, government, banks, surveillance, and fiat. The “effectiveness” of this particular use of the “counterinsurgency weapon” demand that when targeting the colonized, those of the “Global South,” the “developing world,” and those held as such internally within the U.S., those narratives take up the language of liberation struggles incorporating explicit promises of sovereignty, freedom, and independence while also tapping into legacies of more implicit dog whistles suggesting people are poor of their own devices with references to “financial literacy.”

Specifically, on the other hand, is the “elaborate conspiracy” described by James Turner, to deprive African people {“Black” people in the U.S.} of political rights and economic security through control of the land” (Brown, 269). In this setting, propaganda, or the tuning to a “specific target” a form of messaging designed to aid the extractive colonial process, had to be developed to match the neocolonial experience of Black people having previously accessible areas of the economy removed or themselves replaced. Black people have had their relationship to the economy change to the point that new methods for extracting wealth out of Black communities has required an update. What crypto has been for the investment community, cryptoganda has been to Black capitalism; a deceptive rebranding for new forms of exploitation.

Particularly, what has been getting the redesign, as I have discussed to some extent elsewhere (Ball 2020), was the post-Second World War Cold War need for the U.S. to project itself as the righteous and new lone global super power which was mirrored internally towards Black people as would be the case by any colonizer towards its current (or nominally former) colonies. It was very much a narrative of “The White Man’s Burden,” the one’s enslavement, colonization, and exploitation was the duty of colonizer, one that would be difficult and even costly, but that would ultimately be mutually beneficial, and even more to the colonized. As the world was inundated with every variety of propaganda championing U.S. capitalism and democracy, the attempt even to redefine each as its other, Black people were used both as component parts of that international effort and as targets of a particular form. In the U.S., Black people were to be convinced that U.S. capitalism and democracy, rebranded often as “Black Capitalism,” was as much a solution to their national woes as they would be solutions to the problems of the world. Specifically, the developed narrative was to become that political power should forever be sublimated to a pursuit of wealth.

Lost in the promise of Black capitalism remain two consistently revealing elements: a) the very White sponsors, investors, platforms or technology that drive so much of what is promoted by Black spokespeople as some variation of Black autonomy, and b) the more damaging and political aspects of the propaganda in the narrative diversion away from understanding the elaborately constructed and maintained conspiracy of Black colonization. That narrative diversion provided for Black audiences has long been the goal as expressed so cleanly once upon a time by Richard Nixon. ‘I speak not of black power as some of the extremists would interpret It … but … the power that comes from participation in the political and economic processes of society’” (Ball, 2020, 57). However, the “power that comes from … [existing] political and economic processes,” has then and now been confused by the intentional redefinition and rebranding.

The now rebranded concept of “power,” redefined as it is when “power” is reduced to Black “buying, purchasing, or symbolic,” is, in fact, only the power to enrich the owners of the economy or to, as Nixon said, merely participate in the existing [electoral] political process as opposed to achieving actual political power. Economic power then becomes the ability to purchase products imposed as options by the manufacturing and advertising classes. Political power then becomes the ability to vote for politicians equally imposed as options by the representatives of manufacturing and advertising classes, those defined as selected by those Edward Bernays infamously described as the “invisible government.” In neither case is “power” defined as most are encouraged to conceive it.

It must be noted that this Nixonian endeavor to redefine Black Power as Black capitalism has long been exposed as mythological. From across the Black political spectrum, from ivy-league Black economists working for the White House (Baradaran, 2017), to more liberal authors such as Earl Ofari Hutchinson and E. Franklin Frazier (Ball, 2020) to genuine revolutionaries such as George Jackson and the Black Liberation Army (BLA), Black capitalism was dismissed as imperialist fantasy. For one example, in their 1977-78 Study Guide the BLA wrote:

… black capitalism by any black person; group or organization will always remain just that – a myth! The ruling class has so much more capital than any black group that they can afford to let any black capitalist group build up a certain amount of capital, industry, land and businesses until the black have invested all their money, then break them overnight as easily as one breaks a match stick.

Understanding at all the particular features of propaganda targeting African America – and their meaning – does require an appreciation of just how important Black capitalism is to the project of White settler colonialism, empire, or capitalism. Generally, there is a well-documented history of the use of media, culture, and symbolic redefinition of social movements in the U.S. as methods of managing those movements domestically while promoting that adoption via foreign policy as a means of demonstrating some overall positive global influence (Saunders, 1999, Ball, 2011). A more recent form of the same has been described as a “woke imperium” or the “ … newest iteration of this process is the adoption of social justice causes and rhetoric as the explicit goals of the United States’ foreign policy.” In other words, U.S. policy is redefined to reflect the concerns of those struggling within the U.S. to signal some effective change within its borders and to project the same via U.S. policy abroad as a progressive intervention in the world.

Recall that upon word of his invitation to Biden’s cabinet, Anthony Blinken announced his intent to use the horrific experiences of his fellow Jews in World War II as justification for increased U.S. influence over global affairs. Or as Christopher Mott describes, the U.S. mainstream liberal establishment rebranded arch rival conservatives as rational actors upon Trump’s election (re)casting the likes of William Kristol as reasonable, and would report the more recent protests in Cuba as responses to that country’s residual “anti-black racism,” or the rightwing, coup-leading Bolivian leader Jeanine Anez as a “women’s activist.” These tactics have for as long been directed internally toward Black communities often in the narrative form of Black capitalism, financial literacy, and now cryptocurrency can all “close the racial wealth gap,” or deliver finally the “freedom” and “revolution” so desperately needed. No one need to engage in political struggle as all are meant to see their aspirations as achievable in capitalism. The messaging is as clear as it is unstated; the problems caused by an existing socio-economic model can only be solved via the maintenance and expansion of that model. Indeed, the new “woke imperium” has a new media environment even more powerfully suited to very old traditions of messaging upon which to build.

Today’s sophisticated media environment complicates recognition of propaganda, specifically the levels at which it operates, and the intent it means to mask. The examples below of the spokespeople for Black capitalism, and even the recent cryptocurrency commercials and their rampant, even popular criticism, demonstrate the point. Celebrity (including what has formerly been considered punditry, journalism, and even academia) is largely capable of either attracting consumers and followers or offering an outlet for satire, and even the ire of targeted audiences. However, celebrity often allows either response without any particular criticism of, for instance, capitalism, myths of wealth equating hard work or genius, or, most specifically, the particular impact of those messages on Black people. Confining, indeed assuring, this acceptable impact of celebrity is made easier by the established media environment which affords rampant distribution of, in this case, Black capitalist solutions to very political problems.

Invitations to cultural inclusion and deployment of “market power,” (Nembhard, 2014), “buying power,” (Ball, 2020), “Black symbolic power,” (Halliday, 2022) a state-sponsored “woke imperium,” and an explosion of Black capitalist podcasting demonstrate the shortcomings of previous mythology promoting the internet as leveling economic playing fields, and to [Black] capitalism’s rebranding capability. There is simply no real media or online competition to the “capitalism is good and will save us,” “start a business” messaging supported by the state, advertising community, and their attendant online algorithms all of which protect and propel the anti-Black information, counterinsurgency warfare.

THE SPOKESPEOPLE: WHITE CAPITAL IN BLACK FACE

Consider, in addition to those mentioned, the combined example(s) and uniformity of messaging, of those most prominently involved in cryptoganda, particularly: actor Hill Harper and his Black Wall Street Wallet (BWSW) application, the Earn Your Leisure (EYL) podcast, Ian Dunlap the “Master Investor, ” and veteran Black journalist Roland Martin with his Unfiltered platform. Via his prominence as an actor, friend and former classmate of Barack Obama, and then owner and face of the BWSW, Harper garners the routine attention of hundreds of thousands of people. Ian Dunlap is a routine guest on similarly situated platforms, has his own, and his regular visits to EYL and its nearly 900k Youtube subscriber base, Martin’s being roughly the same, and the fact that they all are representative of an even larger media ecosystem, assures their messaging reaches a good amount of Black audiences seeking news, investment advise, and economic analyses. Moreover, each uses variations of an appeal to Black collective history and struggle as part of their presentation and performance as though their work is an extension (or completion) of freedom struggles of the past. As it pertains to an adherence to the cryptoganda and it being grafted onto existing Black capitalist mythology consider the following summary:

On July 3, 2021, Ian Dunlap published a video on his platform featuring himself appearing on the EYL podcast in which he and the hosts Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings can all be heard dropping several prominent catch cryptoganda phrases such as, “going long” on Bitcoin or “hodl-ing” (HODL or Hold On for Dear Life), because investment in Bitcoin meant it was heading “to the moon” in reference to the predicted eventual rise in value of Bitcoin and Ethereum. They even proclaimed that “the party is back on…” meaning investors could expect big returns to come. The following month Hill Harper appeared, with Dunlap, on EYL encouraging every Black person to invest in Satoshis, the smallest unit possible or 1/100 millionth of a single Bitcoin, and that this was essential to Black people owning an “ascending value asset class” that would place them in a position of enormous wealth and power once Bitcoin is adopted as currency and the world is forced to “come through us.” This video, which also features Dunlap, remains on the homepage of the BWSW website.

However, since the collapse of 2022 with headlines reading, “Bitcoin, Ethereum crash over 70% from peaks, crypto investors lose over $2 trillion in 8 months,” the cryptogandist messaging has shifted a bit, but carefully, in such a way that avoids acknowledgement of any prior bad advise that would threaten their perceived legitimacy or, worse still, prevailing Black capitalist logic. In fact, just as I am arguing cryptoganda rebrands old arguments in favor of Black capitalism, the corrective post-crash narrative reflects many of the same features previously deployed to protect capitalism and its Black derivation. On July 11, 2022, Dunlap posted a video of his recent visit back to EYL in which he is seen comparing the current crash of the crypto market to that of the 2008 crash of the housing market saying that once again the issue is people and institutions “over-leveraging” themselves and now being forced to sell (or give) all of their assets back to the dominant banks who are now looking to buy up the losses and consolidate the remains for themselves.

While previously promoting cryptocurrency as that which will replace the U.S. dollar and the banks, EYL and Dunlap come back now in July of 2022 to proclaim an earlier prediction that the banks would assist in over-leveraging with the idea that once those loans went into default the banks would be able to buy up all that remained, again, as was the case with housing in 2008. Their “new” solution? A diversified portfolio consisting of blue chip stocks and, wait for it, “real estate.” Even more recently, EYL have convened “InvestFest 2022” featuring Dunlap, Charlemagne The God, and other Black capitalist luminaries which features Steve Harvey championing the value in owning real estate. When one bubble bursts promote another, even one formerly encouraged and recently crashed. In other words, these samples exemplify the malleability of messaging required to maintain apparent legitimacy as pundits with an ability to attract paying customers. That is the logic; not an attempt to clarify the economy or the political economy of society, nor is the point to clarify for Black audiences the specifics of their condition.

For example, beyond the more easily criticizable – and yet dangerously effective – use of paid influencers and celebrity to push capitalist mythologies, are the array of differently positioned Black capitalist spokespeople whose presence is framed as expert analyses. Targeted Black populations need not understand NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) or the blockchain technology upon which they reside in order to be convinced that the creation of new investment opportunities for capital and lottery-style winnings for the handful of artists these investors choose to support is all somehow new and revolutionary. In fact, quite the opposite. The more one is convinced of the complicated nature of this brave new world the more likely they are to be bamboozled. Each iteration of the Web has come with advanced forms of the mythology; the “one more bale” theory was the claim that new technology available to now “freed slaves” would allow the wealth and political independence previously denied. And yet, one could rarely catch up, get clear of the imposed debt, and attain any legitimate freedom. Recall also that Web 2 promised a general leveling of the economic and political playing fields, and for Black artists the ability to circumvent the same music industry oligarchy which now runs the Web 3 music world with even more tightly gripped extractive hands. Web 3 contains more of the same promises only which now include crypto as salvation.

NFT (non-fungible token) rap albums, for example, produced by Tory Lanez and Nas which have been presented as industry breaking, revolutionary capture of art and revenue by formerly exploited Black artists are indeed ultimately fronts for still White owned Ethereum cryptocurrency and blockchain investors like David Kovachs and Vinco Ventures who own the Lanez project, and DJ 3LAU’s Royal who owns Nas’. The messaging around the albums, including Lanez’s viral exuberance in claiming he “broke the industry,” contain similar references to overthrows, and game-changing concepts suggesting there has been a shift in the relationship between artist and industry and between Black and White.

NFT albums and associated Black-targeting social media influencers like Kim Kardashian and Jim Jones promoting cryptocurrency and NFTs to their audiences all become domestic, internally colonialist, microcosmic conduits, “ … for ideologizing and solidifying the neo-imperialism on which conventional liberal internationalist goals depend” (Mott, 2022). Cryptoganda is merely part of a contemporary rebranding of imperialism meant, in this case, to target an internally held colonized population. It is the media inverse of Malcolm X’s still correct view of the police doing locally what the military does internationally.

The form taken by this redirection of neo-imperialism inward, neocolonialism, has been led by political and algorithmically reconcilable figures designed to pervade nearly every corner of the Black public sphere. Hill Harper, Earn Your Leisure, A Million Dollars Worth of Game, Roland Martin, Karen Hunter, Boyce Watkins, Jay Morrison, and others all represent a Black capitalist promoting media ecosphere which present capitalism as Black power and pride and as a solution to Black political problems and all are supported by, dependent upon, a White corporate, advertising, and investment community that ultimately are themselves supported by the broader interests of the state itself. Directly, there are the formal relationships held between people like Harper who promote investment in Bitcoin, using the very misunderstood history of Black Wall Street to support his Black Wall Street (crypto) Wallet but who are partnered with very White corporations such as Plaid and PrimeTrust, or Roland Martin’s White corporate sponsored segments on Black economics and investment. Indirectly, however, is the support these outlets receive from White ad revenue, advertiser-driven algorithms pushing their online content to the top, and a state who has itself long adopted practices of corrupting radical movements with symbolic overtures and redefinition (Ball,2020).

A SUCKER BOURNE EVERY MINUTE

An unattributed reference to a social media comment responding to the Matt Damon’s Crypto.com Super Bowl commercial reads, “There’s a sucker Bourne every minute.” Respecting the pun it is worth noting that “suckers” are less born than they are intentionally manufactured. One is less likely a fool than one is to be fooled. And any successful attempt at fooling often requires preying upon previously developed, imposed, and extant material conditions, self-concepts, and worldviews. The Damon commercial itself, an extension of his mythologized tough guy Jason Bourne image, whose own effectiveness has been ridiculed into wide question, does still demonstrate the intent to evoke long-evolved concepts of Whiteness, imperialism, Manifest Destiny, and again, the White Man’s Burden. In stark and revealing contrast, the same company’s commercial featuring Lebron James paralleled Damon’s both in terms of its Super Bowl premier and its evocation of Black tropes of colonial immaturity, a perennial infancy, financial illiteracy, and hope for a new found power.

While presented more as a traditional business solution to White audiences, just another asset to consider, another territory to conquer, Black audiences are routinely told that cryptocurrency is the opportunity previously denied that will allow for a collective advance, a stand-in for political struggle or somehow itself an assumption of political power. Hence, in Damon’s infamous commercial the initial cold, imperial all white background, dominant, paying direct homage to Manifest Destiny with proud genocidal reference to Columbus, the conquering of nature represented in the Wright Brothers, and astronauts – one literally named Satoshi – representing an imperial full spectrum dominance, and Damon, projecting Bourne, makes reference to “fortune favoring the bold and brave.”

Juxtapose the messaging in the Damon commercial to that which appears in the one featuring Lebron James and for the very same platform. James is found in a dim room, small, immature, a child’s room, a stark departure from the standing, walking, brash talking representation of empire we get from Damon. James, on the other hand, is in his childhood bedroom talking to his younger self. Demure, reserved, hopeful, the future is “crunk,” and here is the sly working of the cryptoganda, not because James becomes the rarest of talents in professional basketball, no. James’ reference to the future is meant to reflect the hopes of an oppressed community powerless, beyond pop cultural symbolism, to effect change, left only to hope, wish, pray, or becoming financially literate. James, who paradoxically is likely to be worth more than Damon, who has physically dominated his way since high-school to being considered among the best ever in his craft, and has intellectually maneuvered his career into resulting in his being a billionaire. However, this physical and intellectual prowess is depicted still as childlike, soft, juvenile. James’ being clearly the more domineering of the two is depicted, again in juxtaposition to Damon, as weak, as he is meant to reflect the condition of his people. Damon’s reflection is equally fraudulent but more in step with prevailing imperial narratives of race, class, and gender.

In each case traditional modes of influencing target populations are deployed. That is, logic is discarded in favor of appeals directly to previously socially constructed concepts. The absence of direct reference to the actual advertised product (cryptocurrency trading platforms or exchanges) is more than made up for, in Damon’s case, by appeals to Whiteness, Manifest Destiny, White manhood. James references long-imposed narratives of inequality stemming from Black financial illiteracy and now formerly existing barriers to inclusivity.

The subtle differences in these two commercials reflect much of the broader trend where the messaging targeting the world majority (so-called “people of color”) overtly references cryptocurrency investment as “revolutionary,” as is the case also of Spike Lee’s for the crypto ATM, or Digital Currency Machines (DCMs), Coin Cloud, owned by a routinely White Chris McAlary. And these are only one component of the ecosystem driving Black involvement in crypto framing such involvement as the long-awaited, and previously inaccessible, opportunities in U.S. capitalism. It may be that many are unaware of the ubiquity and uniformity, even the common origin, of the messaging allowing for greater success.

Beyond the immaterial focus of my argument here is the demonstrably material impact of all this messaging inviting Black people to solve their material woes within this most speculative and un/under-regulated environment. Considered along with pre-existing differences between Black and White socioeconomically, it should be of no surprise to see these differences reveal themselves in investment patterns. As shown below, the only banking or investing category where Black people outpace Whites is in percentage of the population owning any cryptocurrency. White investors, with more resources, and access to capital, have more diversity in their portfolios and investments in stocks of higher value, and, as shown, are targeted differently by advertisers promoting crypto or other financial products.

Equally unsurprising then, as reported earlier this year, we find an over-representation of Black investors in cryptocurrencies which has even said to be, “worrying some advisors.” “11% of Black investors named crypto as an entry point, compared to 4% of white Americans…” and whereas roughly 25% of Black investors hold cryptocurrencies compared to 15% of their White counterparts, under the age of 40 those numbers go to 38% and 29% respectively. Similarly reported is that Black investors (58%) are more willing to invest in what they do not “fully understand” as compared to 46% of Whites with an even more stark difference between communities in their being influenced to such decisions by social media, 51% to 36% respectively. Therefore, it is also of no surprise to find that the only investment categories where Black investors outpace Whites are cryptocurrencies, 32% versus 19% respectively, and at 16% versus 10% respectively, “meme stocks,” defined also by their social media-driven “cult-like” popularity.

BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY

As mentioned previously, whereas it might seem, given the recent collapse of the crypto market and even the rise of associated cons in the NFT market, that cryptoganda can no longer be effective, this could not be farther from the truth. The failures of Bitcoin adoption, from the perspective of those already exploited working people or anyone not invested in Bitcoin, in El Salvador, Nigeria, or even Miami stand as testimony. As does the slowly emerging reality of consolidation in currency accumulation, where roughly 92% of Bitcoin are held in less than 3% of wallets, and the use of engagement in crypto as colonial data management, cryptoganda messaging being used for “rebranding predatory capitalism” moving us “backwards on the digital plantation.”

There is resistance to cryptoganda messaging as was the case recently where residents in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects objected to a Jay-Z-fronted effort to bring courses in blockchain and crypto investment to their neighborhood. But the attempts to propagandize continue and are in need of further critical review. For, even as some Marcy residents were clear that blockchain courses and investing in cryptocurrencies were no solutions to their institutional poverty, the messaging from Jay-Z, his crypto-partner Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and their investors remains in high production. Even when there is resistance, it is more important to recognize propaganda, and its political intent, rather than the particular impact on its target audiences. More is revealed in the former than in the latter.

The messaging of Jay-Z and his partners may have had varying levels of success in its specific ability to convince each resident, but its goal to offer Black capitalist solutions to the very political problems must be understood. The material conditions of Black people are not changing and, in fact, economically are defined as a “permanent recession” and as having a collective wealth headed by 2053 to zero. Black entrepreneurialism, more than failing, has worked against the collective advancement of Black people as even an increase in business development has seen a decrease in revenue captured. These are not conditions that can be solved by whatever variation of capitalism promoted by sponsors of investment and business. Indeed, as shown, the inequalities often said to not exist in, or to be solved by, the world of crypto are themselves more prevalent within this “revolutionary” space.

All of the contradictions which currently exist socioeconomically are replicated, even worsened, within the crypto world. That is, despite cryptoganda claims to the contrary; a) no new wealth redistribution occurs, b) central authorities continue to dominate, and c) anonymity or privacy is ethereal at best. Even my two debates with The Gentlemen of Crypto and the Black scion of decentralized finance (DeFi) Reggie Middleton, the arguments all feature the claim that crypto now offers an opportunity to Black (and all world majority people) opportunities never before possible. Nothing more is happening than an attempt at rebranding.

A SINGER’S SWAN SONG: [RE]BRANDING IS WARFARE

During a recent podcast marketing executive Adam Singer can be heard describing the impressive “digital gold narrative” developed around cryptocurrency given that we are dealing with financial speculation on par with any Ponzi scheme. Singer says that as a marketer from a marketing perspective, he is impressed with the rise and global dissemination of a brand, one devoid entirely from any material product, service, or reality, but one that has convinced so many of its viability as the new gold rush, the new opportunity for mass wealth creation, that it is impressive. Singer’s judgement is of great value here in that it is from the perspective of cold, calculated market manipulator, from a man who demonstrates an interest in “digital brand warfare,” and one explicit in its praise for crypto’s ability to entirely misrepresent itself to an enormous audience. It is in this context that so many are swept up by cryptoganda creating ceaseless trouble for those with any alternative messaging, particularly formed around collective or national liberation.

All economic downturns involve a wide array of propaganda offering explanations meant to discourage institutional analysis. Nothing in this regard has changed, and is certainly the case during the current recession in the U.S. or the “permanent recession” which faces Black people. The same is also true of the current relative downturn or even collapse of the crypto markets requiring a shift in the cryptoganda deployed. Losses are being redefined as temporary, the fault of individual bad investment practices, or some other external (war?) factors none of which allows for much room to discuss the overall corruption of capital or the “elaborate conspiracy” to forever separate Black people from actual political power – the control of land, resources, their productive capabilities, and wealth produced. Cryptoganda is merely the latest rendition of the counterinsurgency required of continued colonial exploitation offering a new safety valve for justifiable rage from among the colonized. Revolution requires some manner of narrative control, the ability to distribute welcomed, interpretable messaging is essential. Cryptoganda must be counted among contemporary efforts to distort, if not destroy, views which are critical of surveillance, the state, capital, and which are more than symbolically critical of Whiteness, specifically calling for political power.

WORKS CITED:

Ball, J. (2011). I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto, Baltimore, AK Press.

Ball, J. (2020). The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power, New York, Palgrave.

Baradaran, M. (2017). The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. New York: Belknap Press.

Brown, S. (Ed.) (2016) Discourse on Africana Studies: James Turner and Paradigms of Knowledge, New York, Diasporic Africa Press.

Halliday, A.S. (2022). Buy Black: How Black Women Transformed US Pop Culture (Feminist Media Studies), University of Illinois Press. Kindle Edition.

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