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Why Black Power?

February 9th marks the inaugural episode of SOL System Radio on the Living Aligned network at http://www.blogtalkradio.com. We are starting something new with the blog in that (hopefully) every weekly episode of the radio show will be preceded by a related blog post. Readers will get a chance to hear some of our thoughts on the upcoming show topic and have questions and comments ready to go when the show airs Monday nights at 8pm EST.

Our first three episodes of SOL System Radio will be on the topics: “Why Black Power?”, “Why Tantra?”, and “Why Polyamory?”…In this blog post we’re dealing with the first topic of Black Power. Many people look at this term and the idea behind it as some old outdated wanna be Black Panther ass foolishness. Why are we still talking about this in 2015? Don’t you know we got a Black president?

Yeah, I know. (sigh) The election of Barack Obama was supposed to mark the beginning of a post-racial era in which everyone can truly be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But, apparently not everyone got the memo on that. The news has repeatedly shown us that Black people, especially young Black males, are viewed as dangers to society. At first glance. Across the board. Whether it’s a slender 17 year old in Florida or a big 18 year old in Missouri or a little 12 year old in Ohio, Black skin in Obama’s America means you are a threat to be neutralized. Fuck your character.

And the Black community is powerless to do anything about this. That’s what I wanna talk about in this writing. Why are Black people not able to make this unfair treatment stop? What tools give a group of people that kind of ability to control their reality? Why don’t Black people have those tools? How do Black people get those tools?

We define “power” as the ability to determine one’s own reality, and/or the reality of others. An alternative definition of “power” that we like is “Organized People + Organized Money”. Cash Rules Everything Around Me. When we look at how much money Black people are able to organize relative to their peers from other communities, it quickly becomes clear why the Black community is not commanding the highest level of respect.

White people have a whole lot more money than Black people do. There are questions about what exactly the numbers are depending on who is gathering the statistics, but it is clear that the wealth of White households was between 13 and 18 times the median wealth of Black households in 2013. According to one source, the median wealth of White households in 2013 was $141,900 compared to $11,000 for Blacks. That figure for Blacks is quite generous compared to some other estimates.

And, to add insult to injury, this wealth gap is growing under the first Black president. According to the Pew Research Center’s tabulations, White wealth was 8 times that of Blacks in 2010, shortly after Obama got in office, and 13 times that of Blacks in 2013. However, these numbers have little to do with Obama’s performance in office and more to do with the situation he inherited.

The Great Recession between 2007 and 2010 hit Black people especially hard. This is mainly true because housing constituted such a large percentage of our wealth, leaving us deeply exposed when the market crashed. Higher unemployment rates and lower incomes among Blacks left us less able to keep paying our mortgages and more likely to lose our homes. Before the recession, housing wealth accounted for 49% of Black household assets, compared with 28% for the average White household. But the average home value was far lower for Black households: $75,040 versus $217,150.

Discriminatory lending practices were also a factor. “We know that communities of color, their rate of subprime or predatory loans was twice what it is in the overall population,” said Tom Shapiro, the director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

Black families also suffered bigger hits to our retirement savings, the Urban Institute found. On aggregate, the value of Black families’ retirement accounts shrank 35 percent between 2007 and 2010, while White families’ accounts actually gained 9 percent over the same period. With lower earnings and higher unemployment rates leaving us with a thinner safety net to begin with, Black families were more likely to take funds out of the market when it was depressed, leaving us out in the cold as the market recovered.

“That reservoir of what you can dig into for emergencies and contingencies is a lot shallower in communities of color,” Professor Shapiro said. “That pushes black families to sling off assets, like I.R.A.’s or stocks, that you might have had another goal in mind for.”

Something similar may be happening as the housing recovery takes hold. “Some people talk about it in terms of a land grab,” said Professor Hamilton of the New School, as mainly white investors are buying foreclosed homes from disproportionately minority owners. “As the housing market starts to appreciate, some of those minority buyers might not be back.”

Let me pause here and reiterate that money makes the world go round. Black people make up about 12% of the U.S. population. In 1860, at the climax of slavery, all the free Black people in this country collectively owned about ½ of 1% of the country’s wealth. As of 2014 that percentage increased to 1.75%. Black people control about $1.4 trillion of the total $80 trillion of U.S. household net worth. 12% of the population, with 1.75% of the wealth, is a perfect formula for powerlessness. Just that stat alone tells the whole story of why Black people are disrespected in this country. Why should anyone respect us? We haven’t demonstrated the ability to make anyone pay for not showing us respect. With over a trillion dollars in annual income and in collective wealth, the most we can do when we are violated is do a march or some other “nonviolent direct action”.

I could spend a lot of time detailing the history of how we got in this position. I could bring up some historical facts that I’m sure most people aren’t aware of. But I think that most people have some basic understanding of the fact that our history in this country has produced our present. That we were held as slaves from the moment the first White people stepped foot on this land in the 1500’s until slavery was finally abolished in 1865, except for when it isn’t…that after slavery the vital period of reconstruction was stopped prematurely and replaced with the Jim Crow system of disenfranchisement and the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan…and the story goes on and on.

I want to bring light to what I consider to be the three divisions of the Black community in the 21st century. There are three separate socioeconomic groupings within the Black community with each having a very different experience from what the other two are having. There are 14 million Black households in the U.S. The median household net worth is between $6,500 and $11,000, depending on who you ask. If we take the average of those and put it at $8,750 then that means there are 7 million households with less than $8,750 and 7 million households with more than $8,750. We can fairly accurately divide these 14 million households up into thirds.

The bottom 1/3 or 33% have Negative or No Net Worth. They have absolutely nothing that they control, no savings, no safety net; if they lose a job or have a sudden illness then they’re scrambling to find some help to avoid becoming homeless. The middle 1/3 are those who have just a little bit of wealth; slightly more assets than liabilities. Some of them own a house that they’re barely affording, some don’t own. They are middle class people who are one bad break away from being lower class. The upper 1/3 are people who are doing fairly well for themselves. They are the ones responsible for the average Black household wealth of around $100,000 as opposed to the median which is $8,750.

Blacks saw our overall median net worth decrease by $3,746 (or 37.2%) between 2000 and 2011. However these decreases were concentrated among the bottom two thirds. That group saw its median net worth decline by about 50% while the top one third saw its median net worth increase by about 50% over the same period (2000-2011). For Blacks in the highest 20% of their community, relative increases in median net worth exceeded those of Whites and Hispanics in the same socioeconomic group over this period. This top one third group is a silver lining in an otherwise bleak picture of where the Black community currently stands economically.

So what can we take away from all these numbers and percentages? Two thirds of the Black community either doesn’t have shit, or is a lay-off away from not having shit. What can be done about this? Let’s consider these words from Dr. Claud Anderson.

We have to learn that economics and politics are like offense and defense in a sport, you have to do both well in order to win, and this is a team sport. Our primary issue is that we have never developed the cultural habits that would allow us to work well as a collective, for our collective benefit. We vote as individuals, we save money as individuals, we open businesses as individuals. If we want to win in life, we have to learn how to operate as a team.

Jewish people make up 2.2% of the U.S. population. The median net worth for Jewish households is $150,890. Only 1 percent of Jewish Americans live in poverty. 24% of billionaires in the U.S. are Jewish. 35% of the 400 richest Americans are Jewish. 18% of Jewish households in the U.S. have a net worth of $1 million or more. For a group that was openly discriminated against in recent history, they’re doing pretty good. There is a lot that the Black community can learn from them. One thing that I want to bring up in this context is that there is one group that speaks for the entire Jewish community in dealing with the President and Executive branch of the government (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations); and there is one group that speaks for the entire Jewish community in dealing with the legislative branch (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Because of this wealth, unity, and grassroots organizing, their community is able to get pretty much anything they want from the U.S. government.

There is a fundamental shift that would have to occur in order for the Black community to begin operating in that way. The community must first have a desire to control its own economics, politics, education, emergency services, and so on. When you don’t have a desire for such control then it is no wonder that you don’t have control. When you don’t control the basics in your own community then someone else will control them for you. Controlling these basic aspects of community life is the only way to truly get members of your own community and people outside of your community to believe that #BlackLivesMatter.

Seeking this control is synonymous with seeking power. If and when the Black community decides to collectively seek control over its own community then another word for that is power, Black Power. Black Power is not an anti-anybody philosophy. It is simply for people who have lacked control in the past gaining control over their own lives, not control over anyone else. Black Power doesn’t seek to deny rights or liberties to any other people. Black Power is simply about freedom, justice, and equality for Black people.

Integration into the larger society will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. Voting for the Democratic Party in greater numbers will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. Pursuing higher education at the expense of forming a solid economic base first will not and cannot lead to Black people gaining greater control over their own communities. As Dr. Claud Anderson stated in the above video, business and economics is the foundation of any meaningful advancement for Black people.

Black Power is not a thing of the past. It is the only possible way forward for Black people if we desire to see an end to Mike Browns and Eric Garners and poverty and the various things that we know we don’t like. Reactionary protests are not in our best interests. We must turn with laser beam focus on making long term investments in our collective future. A group of 40 million who earns a trillion dollars every year and owns a trillion dollars in wealth can easily come together with $1 billion to start an economic development fund. We could pool $1 billion overnight. We just have to develop a sense of dignity that makes us believe we deserve to control our own destiny. I close with these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


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