Centuries ago, Black people in America came to realize they had to fend for themselves in order to survive in this foreign land. As enslaved Africans, with talents and skills necessary for building the wealth of this country, they never had to be concerned about their employment rate—it was always 100 percent. What they did have to worry about was how they could someday free themselves from the yoke of bondage.
Our ancestors figured out very quickly that if they had money, they could buy their way off the plantations and become free men and women. They understood the value of their skills and knowledge, and began to “negotiate” with their enslavers for the right to have a little piece of land on which they could grow crops for themselves and sell a portion to others.
As our ancestors accumulated money from their entrepreneurial initiatives, they were able to purchase their freedom and that of their family members and friends. The entrepreneurship skills inherent in those enslaved Africans came to the fore, and set in place the priority of economic empowerment among Black folks in this country. They knew that ownership and control of income producing assets were keys to their success.
I often wonder what our forebears would say to us today about our failure to place that same priority on our economic empowerment. Under the worst of circumstances, they worked hard to gain the economic footing needed to care for their families and send their children to school. They did what they had to do, that is, use entrepreneurship to elevate themselves to levels that would eventually lead to flourishing Black-owned and operated enclaves across this country.
Today our priorities have changed almost to the point of ignoring the very basis of existence in this capitalistic society. The rules have not changed since our ancestors learned them and passed them on to us through their demonstration of individual and collective pursuit of economic empowerment. In general, it seems we have become a complacent bunch of mentally enslaved people, driven by emotional speeches, paralyzed by the passion of what could be rather than what really is, and captivated by the success of others while ignoring our own lack of success.
What have we become and what will become of us? It’s simply a matter of priorities, folks. It’s a matter of keeping the main thing the main thing, as our relatives did way back when. The main thing in this nation is economics; in second place is politics, and everything falls in line after those two. Chew on this: “Although poverty conditions for Black America have improved, the rates are still staggering when compared to that of all Americans.” (Black Demographics.com)
As we move closer to the election, I see excitement, commitment, and boundless energy, especially among Black people, to get out the vote, which is commendable. However, that same energy is missing when it comes to economic initiatives. If Black people would muster the same enthusiastic activism when it comes to empowering ourselves economically, we could carve out a niche in the marketplace and take a permanent seat at the table of commerce.
If we continue to get “fired up and ready to go” around politics and fail to bring that same level of engagement to the economic fight, we will forever be relegated to the bottom rungs of this society, and politicians will only call upon us when it’s time to cast our votes. We really need to change our thinking and our actions and get back to the same economic principles implemented by our enslaved ancestors.
In this era of political infatuation, vicarious living, escape TV, and nonsensical diversions from reality, Black people are in special need of proper priorities. Yes, we have done well in some circles; just take a look at the current issue of Black Enterprise magazine. Yes, we have made significant strides in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, but we have a long way to go, a long way to even get back to what our people did in the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s.
We have grown more dependent than independent; we have allowed our emotions to control us, thereby, allowing others to control our thinking, our actions, and our priorities. We have rejected the words of Marcus Garvey, and we have failed to heed the following words of Booker T. Washington: “There are reports that in some sections the Black man has difficulty in voting and having counted the little white ballot he has the privilege of depositing twice a year. But there is a little green ballot he can vote through the teller’s window 313 days each year and no one will throw it out or refuse to count it.” Enough said.
(Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.)
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