The most common solution I see presented for the woes of the African-American community is an investment in black businesses and the development of a black self-sustaining economy similar to that of the Jewish, Chinese, Indian etc. peoples who have immigrated to this country. For a number of reasons this solution is destined to fail if our purpose is to see economic and social freedom for all black people. As a historian, I cannot help but think about the history of free black people dating as far back as the American colonies long before the revolution. There have always been black people with some money, although their number has been tiny, they have existed. Today we have black CEOs, a former black president and a bevy of black entertainers and athletes all with enough wealth to invest in black communities and create thriving economies. Why don’t they? How far do millions actually go? And are their investments equating to a change in the black condition? Recent numbers on the racial wealth gap show black people quite literally centuries behind their white counterparts in terms of median household wealth.* Why is community investment and buying black not enough? What’s stopping us from being the Jewish or Chinese communities?
Racism. Were you expecting more?
Yes, other communities have faced racism as well, and some continue to face racism, but there’s will never be the brute force of anitblackness because there’s is a residual racism, determined by their proximity to whiteness, both literally and culturally. Many have assimilated into whiteness over time (see Italians, Irish and White Latinos today *stares angrily at Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz*) or used antiblackness as a way to get ahead themselves (see all the Asian owned property in the ghetto and look into the amount of Jewish people run major industries that still discriminate against black people). See, the issue at play here is capitalism is inherently exploitive. Capitalism preaches that if one works hard enough they too can achieve and rise through to the upper class. Trends show us social mobility in the United States is incredibly difficult** and there is a finite amount of dollars and property to be had in this country, and certain groups got a two to three hundred year headstart on the landgrab (after destroying Indigenous communities whose land it was). Wealth primarily transfers from generation to generation. Black people could spend the next two hundred years investing in our own communities and “buying back the block” and still not see a dramatic shift in those trends. The deck is stacked against us.
Capitalism requires a group to exploit for labor. The United States of America became an economic superpower during the 19th century on the backs of FREE African-American labor. Over time the capitalists (those who own the means of production, not people who support capitalism) have resisted raises in wages and the rights of workers so they can pay as little as possible for labor. Fair and equal payment for labor would leave capitalists with little profit, or at least little excess, and that contradicts the nature of capitalism, a system fueled by human greed and exploitation. In the United States, the very foundation of our system is the African-Americans as the mules. We can fight our way into the system, but somebody has to be exploited. How much time would it take for black people to be so fully represented in all aspects of American society that they are no longer the assumed group to be exploited? And what would happen then? We would exploit the less qualified, unlucky and those born into poverty the way white capitalists do the poor white people now, in what we PERCEIVE as a just meritocracy instead of discrimination and abusive cycles of poverty used to fatten our pockets. I don’t believe true meritocracy can exist because humans are flawed. We are biased from the day we begin socializing, we see groups as “us” and “them” and we will translate those biases into any system we create. What’s the end goal of black capitalism? It cannot by the very nature of capitalism be the economic and social freedom of ALL black people. It has not been and will not be. The black American capitalist of old sold or transported his fellow black people as the exploited group then and they will exploit the labor of their fellow black people today. Power in capitalism is not a righteous power, it exploits and destroys and to chase that power as a people group only ensures we’ll discriminate if everything went right for us and we could even hold that power. Capitalism requires somebody have poverty inflicted on them. Poverty is violence.
As a historian in the making, I refuse to repeat failed propositions to free black people. History tells us what works and what doesn’t work. It shows us failed attempts, where systems are weak and where they are strong, and most importantly how incredibly adaptable the American system of racism is. We fight for a seat at a table that is constantly being moved, rearranged, taken apart and rebuilt whenever we figure out its location. It’s a game we cannot win. History tells me so. Activists and revolutionaries of old tell me so.
“We got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”
-Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panther chapter
Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.”
-Bobby Seale, Black Panther co-founder
Now I will add to Bobby Seale’s statement that although the larger struggle is a class struggle, racism is still possible even if capitalism was done away with and needs to be done away simultaneously or not at all. However it is evident that those who studied and fought for freedom in the most visibly radical way ever seen in American History, knew black capitalism was not the solution. They knew their enemy was not just the rich or poor white racist, but the white capitalist manipulating the white racist to enjoy his social status over black people more than he despises the poverty he’ll never escape. There is a history of African-American leftism in the United States that predates World War II. And a history of communal living in certain African and Indigenous groups that predates the very term “socialism”. It, like much of American leftism, has been scrubbed from our history books. It would be a disservice to the freedom fighters of old (dating back to before the Red Scare that forced the Civil Rights movement to go nonviolent and Christian, i.e. MLK) to disregard the labor they put into analyzing the black struggle and drawing conclusions for us to spout made up meme facts about black buying power and fight for black capitalism, a system we have been shown and told will fail.
I don’t think I have the answers. I have no idea how to achieve the goals set by activists of old. But I know what will not work when held side by side with history. For now I resolve to study works by black ideologues, activists and revolutionaries. If we want solutions, we would do well to start from where they left off rather than repeating their path only to arrive at their same conclusions a decade late because we didn’t trust their labor and analysis enough. Or didn’t care to read it.
“Sorry ‘merica, but I will not be your soldier. Obama just wasn’t enough, I need some more closure.”
– Joey Bada$$, Land of the Free
“If you put crabs in a barrel to insure your survival you gon end up pullin down niggas that look just like you..”
-Ironically the black capitalist himself in a song where he advocates black economic excellence lol, Jay-Z, Murder to Excellence