Black Capitalism: Part II

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by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

Recently I wrote the first installment of my newspaper column wherein I criticized Black capitalism (and the capitalist system generally), and the attempt of some individuals and groups to put forth small scale capitalism as a way forward for the liberation of Black people. I heard from many of you out there, some praising me for the article, saying it was something that they wished that those in the Black leadership would write and say about folks trying to either make a business of the Black liberation struggle, or offering a false image of economic development under this system as a way forward for the freedom of our people.

But, there were also critics, many of whom did not even appear to understand what I was talking about, who accused me of trying to stop them from "making a living", or trying to stop Black people from "expressing their creativity"(?), discouraging them from starting small businesses, or from achieving "financial independence", "economic freedom" and so on. According to one guy I am even trying to stop "us" from doing what the "White man is doing to be a success." They praised Tony Brown, Matah, and the other Black-faced economic programs, and defended them from my earlier attack, implying that I was a bad guy, traitor, or "just not with it". I am just not sure that "it" is a good thing.

I want those critics to be clear that I am not opposed to some individual entering the sales field, starting a small business, credit union, or other effort to make a living for themselves and their families. I am opposed to our people being scammed in the process by those who present this as the *only way* we can get free. To me, this kind of argument chains us even more to the political plantation, and lays us open to exploitation by a new class of masters selling fairy tales of economic riches. I'll just say here that we are not fighting to replace the white exploiters with a new class of Black exploiters; we need to get rid of all of them, whether wearing a Dashiki or a Brooks Brothers suit.

First of all, who ever said that "what the White man is doing" is such a great thing? I disagree that we should emulate white capitalist businessmen, call it a "Black thing" and then put that forward as "a path of freedom." What the capitalist is doing (or has done) is forcibly exploiting our labor, imprisoning our youth, destroying the land and natural resources of this land and the rest of the world, and other crimes all in the name of "progress" and "profit." Remember, Brother Malcolm X said: "...you show me a capitalist, I'll show you a racist..."

In condemning my position against capitalism and defending U.S. imperialism, one Brother even asked about "ghettoes and poverty" in Cuba. Well, my question is why is it that in the richest country in the world, that there is much more poverty, inequality, and economic underdevelopment of the Black community than anywhere else? I am concerned with why these things exist in the United States (where I currently reside), than I am about a small country in the Caribbean, underdeveloped because of years of economic and political domination by the USA.

Then the Matah folks tried to pressure me with a variety of e-mails (and I can even remember telemarketing phone calls some months ago when I lived in Atlanta and Tennessee) to sell me on their Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) plan to distribute products from Black businesses by sales agents in the community. For the life of me, I cannot see, (except for the "in your face" Black nationalist veneer and guilt-tripping rhetoric), how this differs from AMWAY or any other MLM plan promising "financial independence." How are we are supposed to be economically "liberated" under this system without a struggle for Black liberation? It is possible to profit from these plans, but as individuals, and certainly not as a whole people.

I can make the same argument about Tony Brown's "Buy Freedom" program, Farrakhan's "Clean and Fresh" MLM scheme of a few years ago, and others not named here. I don't oppose them for the individuals who are engaged in them trying to make a living, but when their leaders come forward and say to millions of our people that we should all do this and that if we do not, then we are "bogus", or "not serious about our freedom" or some such nonsense, then I draw the line.

I do not believe that there is any separate path to freedom due to Black trade among ourselves, nor do I think there is any real "financial independence" under the capitalist system. I acknowledge that a class of Black entrepreneurs may arise (as indeed they have arisen) who will profit from government contracts, business deals, black retail and service companies, and so on. These are individual Black business owners who can make a living in small business corporations, (which is why the late President Nixon created the Black Business Development Centers in the Commerce Department in 1969), but millions of Black people are not going to be able to do that or be financially "independent." One, they cannot get the capital from the bankers (because of redlining of our communities, among other things), and two, they may not have the business connections or skills.

But it is not even as simple as that. We are not going to ever get free under this system, whether by economics or conventional politics, and it's important we understand that. We live under a system of capitalist-colonialism, not a mythical "free market" from which you can "buy" your way out. But what this Black capitalist program is really all about is an attempt by elements of the Black middle class to become a Black capitalist *ruling class*, and act as a buffer for the white ruling class from the millions of poor Black people starving because of this system, who will one day overthrow it, joining millions of others oppressed and exploited around the world.

The existence of Black business people, (or for that matter Black politicians allied with them), has not done a damn thing to help the millions of Black people in the inner city, who are suffering from poverty, community under- development, police brutality, and other forms of oppression. None of these so-called business "plans" for Black capitalist "economic empowerment" will touch the folks in housing projects or the millions of youth in U.S. prisons, the millions of homeless sleeping in the streets, or other poor folks. They need a hell of a lot more than this.

But then again, these plans are not supposed to touch them: this is a plan for a Black middle class element who feel superior to the rest of us, and want to hustle us out of our money in the name of some false racial loyalty. Like capitalism generally, they want to rise up at the expense of the Black working class and poor. This is really a class issue inside the black community itself.

It is not possible to have any form of *true* economic independence, and then not have to engage in political struggle against the very forces responsible for our oppression. To tell folks that they can free themselves by merely selling trinkets, African-style clothing, insurance, stocks, starting a Black bank, or *anything* that does not require us to confront our oppressors, is a scam in and of itself (an apology for white capitalist rule). I feel that it holds us back from freedom and liberation, and I don't care who doesn't like it! Hey, I thought Booker T. Washington was dead.

Copyleft (c) 2001 Lorenzo Ervin. Redistribute Freely.

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