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Black Capitalism and Black Freedom




There are more black owned businesses than ever, and even while most of them are small with few employees some are large billion dollar firms like Wide World Technology with over 5000 employees. Despite racism and economic deprivation black enterprises has always been part of our community life. For many black people building up black business is the key to individual success and collective liberation. At the same time systemic racism and wealth income inequality make life difficult for working class blacks.  Black Capitalism good and bad has implications for black freedom because it can provide individual and collective opportunities not offered by the mainstream (white) society. But there are no guarantees because black capitalists are trying to profit which can conflict with the best interests of black workers and consumers or communities.


Seeing a successful black business especially one of us getting rich is gratifying. Owning something and being your own boss means a lot to black people in this racist society that does so much to exploit and subordinate us to whites. Spending money with each other is essential, and most of us believe more successful black businesses will make us more free and prosperous without depending on whites. Sometimes it's comforting to think about the time before integration when all blacks lived in the same neighborhoods and had black commercial corridors with our own retail and service establishments. It was a source of pride and a degree of self reliance in an unjust and unequal world. Make no mistake about it Black Capitalism can be a good thing making money, building wealth, creating opportunities for yourself and others. Most of us want that like anybody else in America. No system works better than capitalism to create rapid economic growth and prosperity too. Blacks want a chance to be a part of that as owners and investors not just workers. If Black Capitalism can lower poverty, high unemployment, increase home ownership, narrow the wealth gap, and make our neighborhoods better places to live let's do it by increasing the number and size of black firms.


At the same time we can't be overly idealistic because the black capitalist like the white one is about turning a profit. Black business people do what it takes to make money even if the rest of us as workers, consumers, or residents in a neighborhood don't like it. In fact the interests of black business and black people can be in conflict. This is especially true if the business is large and the owner or investors are wealthy. There's nothing keeping a black business owner from opposing a $ 15 per hour Minimum Wage or being required to provide employees with health insurance. All of this despite the fact that many blacks are low wage workers and the uninsured. A black business owner may also be strongly against organized labor despite the fact a lot of black workers belong to unions, and unionized workers make more than those who don't belong to one. Furthermore no amount of black pride or sense of giving back comes before the profit motive. I can remember when Robert Johnson sold Black Entertainment Television to Viacom in 2001. I bemoaned the end of " our own " cable channel. I pondered and complained about the loss of control over black media images BET afforded us. Furthermore I blasted wealthy blacks in sports and entertainment for not pooling their resources to buy the channel. Over time I had to realize that Robert Johnson made the best decision for himself and the survival and success of BET. That's business. That's capitalism. Sometimes it's good. Other times it's really bad even if it's black. 


Black Capitalism cannot not be separated from the larger economy. The Black Economic Nationalist idea that blacks can live in America and prosper spending all or most of our money with other blacks is a fallacy. There are not enough black owned firms or types to meet all or most of our needs. Moreover most black businesses are small service firms in an economy dominated by large corporations owned by shareholders. These larger businesses especially retail and service chains along with online firms make impossible for any local independent business to survive. This is the case for both white and black business. The economy is also based on technology and finance connected to global markets. What happens on Main Street or the hood depends on things in Silicon Valley and Wall Street who are impacted by things in Europe and Asia. A recession or decline in the stock market hurts all Americans. But black people get the worst of it. Ultimately there cannot be any self contained ethnic or racial economy at a local level. Black people have the wrong impression of Asians, Arabs, Jews, and Hispanics. Most of these people are not self employed, hiring members of their own group, and spending most of their money on each other. Like black people they are employed by companies especially big corporations controlled by white elites. Black people have to deal with a changing economy which means getting into to growth industries. This requires us to get all kinds of customers not just blacks. It means building relationships with Corporate America and seeking international opportunities. 


Politics and the struggle for freedom has to benefit all black people. We don't want black business or black workers to be hindered by systemic racism. However there are differences and conflicts even among black people. Some will say this obvious. However, thinking Black Capitalism will solve economic inequality we lose sight of the fact blacks out to make money and enrich themselves can hurt the working class black majority the same as white racists. Things like living wage jobs, affordable healthcare, decent housing, quality education, and criminal justice reform matter as much as public policies and self help initiatives to grow black business. And we shouldn't be surprised when self interest on the part of black entrepreneurs especially the wealthy puts them in opposition to worker struggles for economic fairness. The hard truth is we live and work in a grossly unequal economy where monied owners, investors, and top management get almost all the benefits of workers labor. Meanwhile people regardless of race struggle to make ends meet. Both race and class are serious problems. Whether we blacks want to recognize it or not some of those elites benefitting from this negative, predator, capitalism are rich blacks. 


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