Archive for April, 2020

Look back and see the future. (Part One) — June 2017

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman April 23rd, 2020

I often use the phrase, “Our history is our future,” to express the fact that everything we need to do today, vis-à-vis economic empowerment, has been done before by African Americans in this country. Just look back at what Black people built in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Durham, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District. Take a closer look at what Booker T. Washington was doing with his National Negro Business League; read about Black entrepreneurs in Cincinnati and Philadelphia during the early 1800’s, and you will see the economic future of African Americans is, indeed, grounded in our history.

I wonder why it takes us so long to do what we know is right. In the context of the economic well-being of African Americans, most of us know what “we need” to do. Yet we seem content to discuss, “intellectualize,” meet, and complain about how unfair the system is. For those “we need to…” folks out there, if you see the need, do the work.

One thing most of us know is that economic empowerment and business development—vertical business development—are vital to our economic prosperity. Naturally following the development of businesses is the support of those businesses by consumers. To illustrate that point, I am reminded of what a friend once told me: “Production minus sales equals scrap.”

In the 1800’s there were many flourishing Black owned businesses. In spite of the worst brand of slavery ever perpetrated on a people, Black businesses survived and grew. Economic growth was a reality, even in the face of the racial prejudice that existed, because we were determined, and we stuck together.

In 1853, a convention was held in Rochester, New York, to discuss “Afro-American Economics.” Slogans like “Buy Black” and “Double Duty Dollars” began at conventions like this one, all over the country. What happened to us since that time? Have we drifted so far from our heritage and from the things that benefit us as a whole? Have we become so selfish and so self-centered that we have completely lost sight of our values toward one another?

Businesses are the foundation of a true community. Our current 2.4 million Black owned businesses, compared to the 45 million of us, are but a drop of water in the ocean, especially when you factor in the relatively meager annual revenues those businesses take in. We must change that.

Our time should be devoted to starting and supporting business ventures, rather than complaining about how difficult things are out there and how the “Arabs” and Asians dominate our neighborhoods when it comes to business ownership. We must find common ground to move beyond the stagnation and complacency in which we have been mired for so long. Organization, unity, and mutual support are the keys to our economic freedom.

Cooperative economics among African Americans is an idea that has been around for hundreds of years. It could not be resisted during the early years of American history, and it cannot be resisted today. It is up to us to take advantage of that fact as we move forward. It is time to make individual commitments to “do” something rather than sit back and “let someone else do it.” It is time to stop complaining and blaming someone else for our plight. It is time for us to give up that lame excuse, “There is no use trying to change things, because we are never going to get together anyway.” I don’t buy those tired words, and I hope you don’t buy them either. All we have to do, instead, is buy from one another, for the benefit of us all. The precedent exists; look at it and learn from it.

My primary example of seeing a need and doing the work (although there are several during my lifetime that I could share) is my current work for our people: THE One Million Conscious and Conscientious Black Contributors and Voters (OMCCBCV). Our historical grounding is found in the words of Marcus Garvey: “The greatest weapon used against [Black people] is disorganization.” Thus, we are organized, united, and unapologetically determined to contribute to the economic elevation of our people. We saw the need and set out to do the work; and we will continue that work as we learn from our past and strive for a better future for our children. If you would like to join us, go to www.iamoneofthemillion.com Next week, part two of this article will give a deeper look at why and how the system in which we live has caused some of us to be complacent. It will also offer a way to change our situation.

 

 

Look back and see the future. (Part Two) — July 2017

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman April 23rd, 2020

An excellent example of the impact our history has on the way we are today, especially economically, can be found in an article titled, The Reluctant Entrepreneurs, by Joel Kotkin, author of the book, Tribes.

The feature discusses several reasons for Blacks not going into business and being surpassed in this area by other ethnic groups. Among other reasons, the history of African Americans was cited. The article quotes Robert Hill, a Black Historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, who traced the lack of entrepreneurial tradition to African origin and the brutality of the American system of slavery. “Africa”, Hill explained, “is more a communitarian society, where notions of private property have never been so entrenched as in Europe or North America. The culture of capitalism is just not part of our African heritage.”

The piece goes on to say, “…certainly slavery and its progeny, the sharecropper system, did nothing to foster confidence, independence, or a capitalist inclination among African Americans. Before slavery and after, white landowners believed the proper way to treat the Black was, in the words of one slave owner, ‘to create in him a habit of perfect dependence…’ And it was a system that proved to be enormously successful and enduring.”

The article continued, “we are a race of people who for generations, both before and after Emancipation, were denied freedom of movement, education, and even a rudimentary familiarity with the free market, not to mention credit, legal status, or safety from lynch mobs. That we, as descendants, have not taken naturally to entrepreneurship should hardly come as a big surprise.”

The fact still remains that despite their poorest of circumstances, some Black people engaged in entrepreneurship even before the Emancipation, and did well at it. According to John Sibley Butler, in his outstanding work, Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans, “They (Black entrepreneurs) became the merchant class in northern cities, and it was through their enterprises that Black income in the last third of the nineteenth century grew faster than that of whites.”

The INC. article cited the economic protestations of Booker T. Washington, who established the National Negro Business League, exhorting Blacks to “uplift” themselves by striking out on their own. It celebrated the “new” ministers like Adam Clayton Powell, who urged aspiring congregants to go into business on a larger scale.

While early Black businesses had to rely solely on the Black consumer market, such is not the case today. However, if we do not move collectively through the economic maze, making our monetary clout felt in the widest of circles and obtaining the reciprocity we deserve as a massive consumer army, our businesses will not achieve the growth they need to prosper in this economy. Moreover, African Americans will have abdicated our responsibility to carry forth the legacy passed on to us by our fathers and mothers.

We must never forget our history and the reasons for our attitudes on economics, business ownership, and mutual support. We must also realize that if we are going to make it in this country, we had better get down to business NOW! I think our ancestors would be proud.

Economic empowerment is a constant struggle, and if we do not view it as a struggle, we will never achieve the goals to which we aspire. No one is going to “give” us anything. If they do, it will not be without encumbrances. The economic power we seek is within us all, and examples for us to follow are everywhere. We simply need more cooperation within our own ranks.

In seeking that economic power, remember what Frederick Douglass said: “…This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amounts of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

I say: If we rise up, as Marcus Garvey exhorted us, resolving to cooperate with one another and do for ourselves, our economic manifesto would be clear. Our struggle will be easier, and the powers we face will concede to our demands. However, if African Americans choose individuality over collectivism, yes a few of us will “make it”, but we will go down in history as a paradoxical people; a people who, with all of our wealth and knowledge, acquiesced and continued in economic oppression. And the blame will rest squarely upon our shoulders.

Let our past be the light that guides us to a brighter economic future.