African Americans and Capitalism: By Howard Williams 1/11/13
What has happened to the African American male and his future role in the rebuilding of his family and community? And why does the African American community as a whole not understand capitalism, and how to become relevant in the system in which they find themselves?
Capitalism: Is an economic system that is based on private ownership of the means of production and the production of goods or services for profit.
Relevant: Having some reasonable connection with.
As I began to do some research for some answers as to why African Americans do not participate as a community in capitalism, what I found was that this was not always so. Historically African Americans understood capitalism and participated with some success. As you will see, they were innovative as in the case of A.G. Gaston.
African Americans understood the importance of education as in the case of Booker T. Washington of The Tuskegee Institute and Lewis Woodson of Wilberforce University and the role education played in the uplifting of African Americans.
So the question becomes: at what point in history did African Americans go from group success to individual success and what were the causes? Was it the results of the Tulsa Race Riot and the Rosewood Massacre and the fear it may have caused in the black community at the time? Did desegregation begin the process of individual success rather than group success?
Whatever the cause, African Americans must begin to find the answers and address this problem. They cannot continue to wait for someone else to solve the problem for them or wait for everyone in the community to understand what is at stake and get on board. They must begin to work with those in the community that understand the situation they are in and who are willing to address the issues now.
I know there is no consensus in the African American community on a way to solve this problem. However, the African American community cannot wait on that.
One of the areas that I see the African American community can capitalize on and begin to control is the skilled trades. This would allow African Americans to acquire property in the community and start the process of rebuilding their community at costs not dictated by outside forces. Through property acquisition the community can control the educational system that operates within it, the politicians that represent it and the financial institutions that want to do business in it.
Also this would allow the community the opportunity to take the training of the skilled trades for African American males out of the hands of the education system and unions, who have no intention on educating or training African American males for these careers in any great numbers. For the unions this would create unwanted competition in the market place. For the education system this would be against their hidden mandate, not to teach African American males the sciences, math, physics, architecture, and engineering and how they relate to the understanding of the everyday world in which African American males find themselves. The African American community must give the males of the community who have a vested interest, the education, the skills and the credentials, the support and task of teaching these trades and the goal of self sufficiency to the African American males in the community.
The community that creates jobs does not have to worry about their children ever finding a job. That community only has to focus on their children’s education in order for them to be successful in the jobs the community has created, as well as the jobs of the future they will create themselves.
Roots of Black Capitalism can be found in the lives of “Free Negroes” during times of the American Enslavement. Many records exist reporting the development of economic wealth by these “Free Negroes”.
The earliest recorded words touting the economic upliftment of African Americans by an African American was written by Lewis Woodson under the pen name “Augustine” in the Colored American newspaper. Woodson helped found Wilberforce University and the first AME Theological seminary, Payne Theological Seminary and was an early teacher and mentor of Martin Delany.
A prominent southern affluent Black was A. G. Gaston who was, at times, instrumental in the civil rights movement. Gaston was influenced by Booker T. Washington, who was an early leader at the Tuskegee Institute. Another wealthy African American was Robert Reed Church, who founded the nation’s first Black-owned bank, Solvent Savings, in 1906.
There are many historical and current examples of neighborhoods of prominent and affluent Blacks in American history. Some include the historical Highland Beach, Maryland and more recently Mount Airy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Prince George County, Maryland and DeKalb County, Georgia. Mainstream media identifies this with some interest.
A more focused movement of Black Capitalism can be found in the popular magazine Black Enterprise.
There are two strands of Black Capitalism: the one focuses on success as a group, while the other focuses on success as an individual.
One strain of Black Capitalism is immersed in the ethic of African Americans building wealth together, as exemplified in the Kwanzaa value of “ujamaa” meaning ‘cooperative economics’. A prominent proponent and example of this cooperative economics is Russell Simmons who can be seen advocating the building of not only individual black businesses but communities of black businesses. Simmons has made the comment that Black MBA students and graduates have the notion that they want to own their own businesses, not to simply be employed in someone else’s business.
The mentality of group success is highlighted and examined in the book Black Power Inc. by Cora Daniels. In her writings, Ms. Daniels says that the ethic of individual success is exemplified by African-Americans born before and during the civil-rights movement, while proponents of group success are born after the civil rights movement.
A recent effort to standardize black capitalism as a movement was introduced in two books: Black Labor: White Wealth and the more recent book Powernomics by Dr. Claud Anderson. In these two books Dr. Anderson outlines a schema on which black wealth can be coordinated and developed through a nine-issue plan.
Some see this group success strain of Black Capitalism as a form of Social entrepreneurship which aims to build businesses that are oriented around providing services and goods that benefit the community in which they were built. Others see this as an outgrowth of the communal and tribal ethic attributed to traditional African cultures.
A parallel, but seemingly opposing, strain of Black Capitalism stems from the American ideal of building individual wealth. Prominent examples of this can be popular figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Robert L. Johnson and so forth. The complaint leveled against the adherents to individual success from advocates of group success is that individually wealth African Americans have made millions of dollars and that in and of itself has made very little contribution to the plight of African Americans in general.
In general, African Americans and the media sometimes point to this phenomenon as “black flight” or “selling out” where affluent blacks move out of predominately black neighborhoods into affluent white neighborhoods. A history of some of this was documented in the book Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class by Otis Graham.
Issues facing Black Capitalism
As distinct from racial integration
The notion of racial integration is such that African Americans should be able to move and operate in a predominately white society safely. This effort at racial integration concerns mostly public spaces and private hiring practices. It is thought that attempts and movements supporting racial integration are efforts to enable blacks to assimilate into white institutions.
Black Capitalism is an effort to position Blacks as the owners of land, the means of production, and businesses that own either or both. The aim of Black Capitalism is to bolster self-reliance, both individually and communally.
There are also two strands of thinking in African America, and specifically Black Nationalism, that is against capitalism as an economic system in all of its forms. One strand is against capitalism on the basis of the historical treatment of Africans and the African Diaspora, i.e. slavery, subjugation, and colonization. Another strand is against capitalism through strict political critiques, i.e. socialist. Many critics of capitalism from within the Black community blend the two positions, however the reasoning behind them are distinct. A prominent Black political critic was C. L. R. James. Two of the most popular black anti-capitalist books are How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America by Manning Marable. These books give analysis on how capitalism as an economic system has not raised the quality of living for the African Diaspora.
Violence against Black Capitalism
Examples of the explicit and public opposition to African American economic success has diminished since the Civil Rights movement. However, before this period of American transition, there are a few notable violent attacks against prosperous African American communities including the Tulsa Race Riot and the Rosewood massacre.
Blacks on average have a lower net worth than Whites in America. This is especially pertinent in the creation of new businesses. One of the most common forms of collateral for loans to open businesses is home equity. With the historical and current differences in lending patterns toward blacks and whites, the option of using home equity to borrow against in order to open a business is diminished.