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If my grandmother had survived the sickness of old age and were alive to witness the economic injustices wrought by capitalist culture, what would she think? If my grandmother were alive to observe familiar technologies for exterminating household pests—surveil-lance, capture, imprisonment, disposal—being increasingly aimed toward low-income Black communities, what would she believe? If my grandmother were alive to discover, in the palm of her hands, a digital platform for spreading information (and misinformation) to the masses and painting new futures into the minds of lawmakers and politicians, what would she say?

Studies have shown that low-income individuals are more likely to suffer physiological and psychological harms than middle- and high-income individuals due to the substandard conditions of their communities. Yet, such indignities are justified by market opportunities to grasp for better—to take “personal responsibility” and “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”—even when the process of grasping for upward social mobility inflicts its own trauma. Placing Richard Wright's novel "Native Son" and Tara Bett's poem "For Those Who Need A True Story" in conversation with my personal narrative, this Essay explores the trauma of grasping for better in the United States where wealth inequities only seem to be getting worse.

In so doing, it considers whether capitalism’s competitive and individualistic culture—a spirit that thrives on the exploitation of the weak to further the capital accumulation of the strong—not only normalizes violence as a mechanism for social mobility but sews division and strife where alternative futures, perhaps even Afro-futures, might finally set us all free.

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