“How long oh Lord, how long?” This lament heard through the ages cries out anew from the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama and echoes back from the food pantries, the shelters, the walls of prison cells and from the masses is the moan of always living on the edge.
228 years to go. That’s the conclusion of a report from the Institute for Policy Studies & Prosperity Now titled, The Road To Zero Wealth “The Ever-Growing Gap: Without Change, African-American and Latino Families Won’t Match White Wealth for Centuries.” The report notes, “We showed that if current trends continue, it will take 228 years for the average Black family to reach the level of wealth White families own today. For the average Latino family, matching the wealth of White families will take 84 years.”
The neighborhoods of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant are the facts and figures in the report made solid and brought to life. With housing prices doubling, most African-Americans are unable to buy or even rent in the neighborhood they grew up in. The economic divide can be seen at a café where a large chai tea with a shot of expresso, essentially a cup of coffee, is $6.10. And an active food pantry is a block away from a fine foods eatery where a cashier confides: “You’d be surprised what people buy for their dogs.” Two worlds, centuries in the making, refined and honed by government policy, and only coming together to sit or stand when on public transportation or at community board meetings.
The report, “speaks of redlining, the FHA and the systemic racism permeating all levels, and that acts as a gravity-like constant, holding back Black wealth and advancement. And all of that is true. What must also be acknowledged is that in addition to all of that, was the national response to the Black Power Movement with armed assaults, killings and imprisonment during the COINTELPRO years, and the chemical warfare waged with the hundreds of tons of cocaine that the CIA brought into Black neighborhoods, as documented by Gary Webb in his book, Dark Alliance. All of it together helped rob generations of wealth that took generations to achieve, destroyed families and changed lives and character at the DNA level for generations.
As a race of people, this is a crisis unlike any other. It has been centuries in the making, but we cannot allow centuries more to be an acceptable timeline.
There needs to be new thinking. In New York City, the comptroller’s website shows us that so far this fiscal year, the breakdown of the M/WBE spending is this: Asian-Americans $460.75M, Women $389.14M, Hispanics 111.85M and Blacks $50.74M. What this disparity cries out for is an addition to the M/WBE (Minority/Women Business Enterprises), (EBEs) Emerging Business Enterprises, DBEs (Disabled Business Enterprise) and (LBEs) Locally Based Enterprises; there needs to be a BLBE, that is, a Black and Latino Business Enterprise program.
Enough with this “Minority” labeling as though others of color and blessed with knowledge of their millennia-old heritage have equal standing with the victims of stolen histories and obfuscates America’s seminal crime. The BLBE will be composed of the descendants of the Africans and indigenous people who endured the centuries of genocidal terror and theft of their labor and land that this nation was built on. The BLBE’s now have a combined share of 1% of the city’s prime spending. Increasing that number needs to be the goal with task forces assigned to all aspects of the pipeline from womb to adulthood.
African-Americans and Latinos are the people the Policy Institute says will have zero wealth by 2053. And in our collective poverty, we are told to be happy that we no longer have to “jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton” to create the products for the owners to bring to market as back in slavery times. Today, we have become the market, being told to celebrate our $1.2 trillion in “Black Buying,” Power” as though passing money through our hands and having it leave without a trace is something to be proud of.
We look at and cheer the shining youth who have broken through, and despair for those young men and women who have had their lives preordained by forces beyond their control and beyond any of our understanding. And then there is Kanye West. A man who is profoundly and sadly, ignorant of history and the role his megaphone has in it. By saying that after 400 years, slavery sounds more like a choice, he gave such an obvious display of simple ignorance that perhaps he can be saved by being tutored regarding slavery in the Americas, and then issue a heartfelt apology to all and atoning by making contributions in the community commensurate with his sin.
And yet, 400 years of torture and total immersion in a universe of hate, pain, rape and degradation does work to twist the human spirit in profound and intergenerational ways. None of this is new. In his 1933 masterpiece, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Dr. Carter G. Woodson famously said, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
We have to recognize that these digital times makes that education even more dangerous and far more insidious. This basic miseducation has provided the foundation for the explosion of 24-hour marketing of products and ideas directly to eyes and ears, constantly influencing and unseen by others. Bots and ads with complex algorithms designed specifically to implant impulses and seize attention, taking ownership of as much brain time and storage as possible. What’s to be done? Stay on the ground and fight because only the cosmetics have changed. The words of the great Frederick Douglass remain in effect: “Organize, organize, organize!” Join together around issues, strategies and tactics. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.” Make constant demands on leadership. “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” To that end, work to strengthen the schools and homes of young people. Attend committee meetings of the community board, precinct councils, union political offices. Organize and share information. Save.