To Talk About
That’s the percentage of the nation’s wealth that is currently owned by Black people. This percentage is only slightly better than the one half of 1 percent of the wealth that Black folks owned exactly 155 years ago, on Juneteenth in 1865. In short, this is a crisis. While it is encouraging to see the nation finally beginning to awaken to the idea that Black Lives Matter, our next move will demonstrate how committed we are to truly dismantling systemic oppression. Our public discourse over the past few weeks has not focused enough on long-term economic solutions for Black folks. We’ve got to talk about the money.
Institutionalizing racism was one of the most insidious moves of white America. Racism now is basically like one of those self-driving cars. It barely requires individual action and really only makes headlines in white America when there is a noticeable crash. There have been a lot of really public crashes over the last few weeks in the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently Rayshard Brooks that have forced white folks, notably after public demonstration, to pay attention. Paying attention is good but that isn’t where the work is. We’ve got to talk about the money.
Racism has primarily worked by preventing Black people from the opportunity to acquire any meaningful amount of resources. Different tactics have been utilized over time (slavery, voter suppression, redlining, murder, etc.) but the goal has always been the same – to keep Black people away from resources. Without resources, nearly every institution in the community is hindered – education, health, housing, and even political power become difficult.
Rather than recite a bunch of stats to you, I’ll just summarize by saying that they aren’t good. You are probably wondering now, “Well, what can I do?” The answer to that question depends on who you are.
To White America:
What you can do is to make sure that the conversation stays focused on long-term efforts that actually work to dismantle systemic racism and oppression. After 400+ years of uninterrupted wealth creation in this country (at our expense), we need you to get serious about injecting meaningful capital in the Black community that will lead to us getting a more equal share of the pie. “Diversity & Inclusion” isn’t enough. There are not enough jobs in corporate America to out-hire our way out of this problem. Even if there were, we have to be honest in acknowledging that there are limits to how extensively you actually want to change your company culture. Make sure that the Black folks in corporate America have the opportunity for advancement, fair pay, and that there is representation in the C-suite, but know that this isn’t going to solve this problem.
Black folks need ownership more than we need inclusion. We don’t experience the “black talent pipeline” problems you describe when we hire into our own businesses, but we rarely are able to obtain the capital needed to start and scale those businesses. Match the capital that has been placed in recent efforts and direct it to long-term efforts that will help Black-owned businesses grow and scale. When you have a contract out for bid, let Black-owned firms compete for the entire contract. We don’t need any more affirmative statements or symbolic gestures. Please also do not view this work as charity. Your liberation is bound with ours and it is in our collective interest to make Black folks get a fair shot at this American experiment.
To Black America:
In short, please assume that all of what I just said to white America won’t happen. We’ve got to do everything in our power to make sure that we intentionally spend our money in our own community and focus on ownership. Right now, only 3% of our income is spent on Black-owned businesses. We’ve got to change that in a hurry. Corporate statements and symbolic gestures aren’t changing our economic circumstances either and they don’t cost these companies nearly anything. Besides, they can’t affirm us anyway. Be skeptical of efforts that don’t address the root causes of issues in our community and that aren’t about resources. Let’s introduce a new narrative that is about ownership and scaling. Let’s build our own stuff, Tyler Perry style, and then do business and create the things that we want. This is all possible if we are intentional. But, we’ve got to continue to talk about the money.