What's Going On
Paul Robeson, Jr. Speaks
Part II of a two part Interview
Paul Robeson Jr.: The interests of a vast majority of African Americans, has always been very clear. And that is a society that includes economic justice as a right, along with political justice. Even the Pope is for that. So in that case, a totally free-market economy is against our interests. Totally.
We’ve always been a communal culture. Beginning with Africa, and every year since then up to 1998. African-Americans are more communal-minded than Anglo-Saxon Americans. We’re a vastly greater percentage of organized union membership than white people. You look at the unions today; we’re thirteen percent of the population, thirty-something percent of the unions. That tells you something. We’ve been pro-union all our lives. Ever since Roosevelt we’ve been their backbone. Why? Because it’s in our interests. Why? Because we’re a working-class people. We’re not a middle-class people. We’re a professional and working class people as opposed to an entrepreneurial people.
We’ve got nothing against entrepreneurs. But you’re not closer to God because you’re a big businessman or an entrepreneur. The most prestigious thing in my generation and the generation before it was to be a hellified professional. If you were an entrepreneur, you were small time. Only recently have we gotten into the big corporations, and at that, with a ceiling. What big corporation does a Black person actually run? Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs aren’t the be-all and end-all of African-Americans as a people. It’s not the most important segment of our population. Nor are the interests of Black entrepreneurs the interests of the majority. The opposite is true. In other words, whose interests do we pursue in advancing ourselves as a people? The role models who are busy making money through successful entrepreneurship and professional athletes, and entertainers? Are their interests ours? That’s called trickle up. Bootstrap in black face. See, I’ve made it. Pick up your pants and pick a role model and be like Michael Jordan, or Bill Cosby, or whoever. Now that’s one philosophy. Another is, let’s pursue the interests of the Black working and professional people. People who work for wages. Who are below an income of 40 -50 thousand dollars a year, which is the vast majority, 80% or more. Are their interests the most important things? Or the interests of the top ten-twenty percent? Now there are those who say we should be pursuing the interests of the bottom eighty percent. Because if you have a solid base, trickle-up becomes a stream going up. And in fact, it’s in the interests of the top ten percent, to make sure the eighty percent, is rising. Then they will rise even faster. The other philosophy is, the more successful the top five or ten or twenty percent is, the better it is for the bottom eighty- percent. That’s the exact reverse. One is, climb as high as you can and don’t look back, the other is lift while you climb. Totally different philosophies. So we have to choose at each crucial period, which idea is the best one. And I’ve always been for Lift while you climb. The interests of the eighty- percent are more important than the top twenty-percent. That'[s true for white-folks too. Only when the interests of the working people, the bottom eighty-percent were being pursued, was there a successful civil war and a reconstruction that was. Then there was the Depression, and here comes Roosevelt. Same thing. Then there is the Civil Rights Movement and John Kennedy. Now it’s the nineties, and it’s time for another one of those.
DG: When you say entrepreneurs, there are entrepreneurs and there are entrepreneurs. What about the little guy? The guy across the street from me is an entrepreneur. He employs three people part time. There are entrepreneurs and there are entrepreneurs. It seems that there is really a need for a real strong Black entrepreneurial class.
PRJ: Let me put it to you this way. A generation ago, there was no integration. Meaning that Blacks were excluded from this integrated melting pot, right?
DG: Right, yes.
PRJ: The only people being integrated were white immigrants. That’s what the melting pot was about: to integrate white immigrants and exclude Blacks. But civil rights went with, Okay, we’re in the melting pot with everybody else. We=re integrated. We can’t have a separate country, and a separate bank, and a separate government, but being integrated does not mean we have to be like whites, anymore than integrated Jews or integrated Italians, have to be like WASPS.
Now, if you want a powerful entrepreneurial class, go back to segregation. The only doctor you’re going to find the only dentist you’re going to find is a Black one. But now, how many Blacks go to White doctors. How many go to White lawyers? A generation ago, they couldn’t. So you’ve got segregation. You see my point? If you want a powerful entrepreneur class overnight, resegregate the country. That surely will do it.
DG: Don’t we need a powerful Black entrepreneurial class? It seems as though they are the ones who would be most likely to provide jobs.
PRJ: How many jobs do they provide?
DG: Well, statistically, most jobs are provided by small businesses.
PRJ: Small business is now defined as businesses employing hundreds of people. Let me put it this way. Supposed you put the question, don’t we need a lot of Black entrepreneurs? Well that looks at it from the point of view of entrepreneurs? If I were working in a factory, I’d shrug right?
DG: Yes, unless…
PRJ: The only way I wouldn’t shrug is if the Black entrepreneur were providing me with…
DG: A job.
PRJ: No. Primarily better service at a better price than I can get elsewhere. Right now, the opposite is true. If I go to Pathmark I get a better deal than if I buy from a mom and pop grocery right next door. Therefore Black entrepreneurs, and they’re small, are going down the tubes at a huge rate. They’re going out of business at a huge rate. Where’s the Black newspapers? I mean, anything you look at: Savings and Loans, you’ve got to look hard to find them. So small businesses are getting wiped out by large businesses, which are classified like Microsoft. Intermediate-sized businesses, which is a trick bag of how we use words. Small business is up to a couple of hundred employees. Most Black businesses are small: two to five employees. That’s irrelevant to the needs of most people, Black, White or other. Since the businesses that affect your life are like ten to twenty employees and up. You don’t go buy a radio in a two-employee place, usually.
Suppose we pose the question, with 30 million people, how do you go for a situation in which every Black person has a job? If you ask the question that way, then it=s totally different than how do we increase the number of Black entrepreneurs. It’s light-years different in thinking and in solution. Right?
DG: Well during slavery, everybody had a job. Are you saying that everybody should have a job or, a full share of the opportunity to own businesses and create jobs?
PRJ: No, no, no, that’s the wrong…
PRJ: That’s from a century ago. Right now, huge conglomerates own manufacturing and business. A group like Jewish Americans, get maligned a lot by Blacks who say, AThey own all the banks, they own everything. That’s nonsense. Ninety percent of everything is still controlled by Anglo-Saxons. Not White people now. Not Italians, not Jews, none of that. Anglo-Saxons. The Rockefellers, Astors, Duponts. Anglo-Saxons include Swedes, Dutch, French, Irish Protestant and Scotch Presbyterian. The rest do not control very much. Irish Catholics do not. Jews do not. There are certain niches. Hollywood, for example. But when you take the whole thing, those who decide the trend, Anglo-Saxons control the banks that lend to Hollywood moguls. They run the show. If you want to look at the politics, there has never been a non-Anglo-Saxon president until Kennedy. And that’s why the Anglo-Saxon right assassinated him. This Irish Catholic still thinks he’s an Irish Catholic and he hangs out with the Blacks. He’s got to go. The real Mafia is not the Italians or Jews, the real Mafia is Anglo-Saxon. They do the real stuff. They take out the real contracts.
The idea that bootstraps, by of all people, a group as economically weak as African-Americans, can in the next 200 years make a dent in providing employment for Black people through small business is an incredible piece of fantasy.
DG: You think so?
PRJ: Incredible fantasy. If you took every Black business right now and assumed that they employed only Black people, which they don’t. The requirements are, they have to meet the same affirmative action and diversity standards too. So they have to hire some White folks, by law. Or they won’t get contracts from the government. If you take that economy and multiply it by ten, I assure you that if they hired all black folks, which they couldn’t, they couldn’t employ one tenth of the employable black population.
DG: But that’s only because Blacks don’t usually shop in Black-owned stores, even when they have the option. A lot of Black places have comparable goods, comparable prices, etcetera.
PRJ: No. There’s no way a small entrepreneur can beat Pathmark or a chain in anything except in service. There’s no way a small store can sell a television set less than a huge conglomerate.
DG: But then how can…