– Part I: The problem –
By JEROME LOVE
Special to the Houston Forward Times
(NNPA) – For the past four hundred years, and most recently after the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black citizens by police forces in America, Black people and progressive Whites in America have protested that “the system” is racist, broken and needs to be fixed.
By the system, I mean the machinery of daily life that we as individuals use to work, play, raise our families, worship in our churches, educate ourselves, and stay healthy. The police are part of the system. The schools are part of the system, as is health care, and politics.
As president of the Texas Black Expo, my primary interest is the economic part of the system – the creation and growth of Black-owned business enterprises. You’d think that such an effort would be greeted with universal approval from everybody, regardless of ethnicity. What could possibly be wrong with strengthening the economic position of Black businesses – and therefore Black families? Don’t we believe in capitalism, free markets, and the positive power of entrepreneurship, regardless of the color of the entrepreneur?
By building businesses, you create jobs; and with jobs comes greater community stability, lower crime rates, better health, and overall prosperity.
We believe in taking action. During the COVID-19 pandemic, TBE had the goal to support 100 businesses by providing 1,000 grants to help them. To announce the program, we put out a press release. You would think this would have been celebrated – and it was, but not universally. Immediately we were bombarded with complaints from various White people who called us racist. They said, “What if there was a White Expo? Wouldn’t that The American economic system works just fine – for White people
be terrible? So why is there a Black Expo?”
I found myself wondering, what’s the problem?
The “problem” is that every Black entrepreneur is bucking the system. Over the past four hundred years, our economic system has been deliberately designed to perpetuate the material interests of White Americans by subjugating Blacks – first when we were slaves, and then after we became citizens. The police are simply one piece of the apparatus designed to enforce the economic system and interests of Whites. According to Dr. Gary Potter, professor at the Eastern Kentucky University School of Justice, the first centralized police departments were formed in the 1830s as a direct response to “disorder” as defined by commercial elites. In other words, wealthy White Americans formed police departments to protect their economic interests, and anything they deemed a threat was considered “disorderly” or criminal. Today, as far as many white people are concerned – not all of them, but many – the current economic system works just fine. It accomplishes what it’s been designed to do, which is to ensure the protection of the economic interests of White Americans and the long-term suppression of Black wealth.
Welcome to the casino
Here’s a story that illustrates how the system works.
A busload of people from a Black organization take a day trip to the local casino. They are eager to enjoy themselves playing the slots. They walk into the casino, filled with the whirring of slot machines and the bright flashing lights and sirens from the jackpot payouts. The group members sit at the slot machines and play. Sure enough, as the hours pass, a few of them win jackpots – a few dollars here and there. One or two might even win enough money to come out ahead. When their friends see they’ve won, it makes them think they could win too, so they pump more tokens into the machines. But as a group they’re losing money. At the end of the day, while a few of them will walk out of the casino with more money than when they came in, the overall result is that the wealth of the group has been diminished and transferred to the owner of the casino.
A few members of the group complain to the owner. They knock on his door and demand the system be changed. He listens and smiles politely.
“I appreciate how you feel,” he might tell them. “We will take action to adjust our machines to be more generous. Thank you, and please come again.”
The group, poorer but wiser, has no choice but to go home.
Of course, the owner does nothing. The casino stays the same. From the owner’s perspective – the person who has the power to enact change – the system is working fine! It is perpetuating his interests. The system was designed for the casino to make money. He will promote the fact that you can win big, and encourage you to participate; but ultimately, the owner will not change a thing, as he created the system to build his wealth. He knows that while a few individual players will make money, the group as a whole will lose money.
If you were a member of that group, appealing to the owner would be ludicrous. In your mind the system is broken because you lost. In his mind, the system is functioning properly. He won’t tell you that the system is designed to take your money; he’ll just smile and be polite as he shows you the door.
For many, the system works perfectly
In this same respect, our economic system is not broken at all. It is operating quite well. It is only broken and in need of repair in the minds of those who are taking a loss.
All the components of the system – the police, the schools, the healthcare system, the government – continue to play an integral role in ensuring that this overall mission is accomplished. The numbers prove it.
In America, more than half a century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black households have far less wealth than their White counterparts. As the Brookings Institute reported, in 2016 the net worth of a typical White family was $171,000, while the average Black family’s wealth was $17,150 – roughly 1/10 as much. This figure includes wealth in the form of home ownership; in 2016 only 41.7 percent of Black families owned their own homes, as opposed to 72.2 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.
So, what’s the problem? Why do we see this disparity?
The truth is that for generations, the system has either violently or subtly suppressed Black wealth. From 1619 until 1865, we were in bondage. After the Civil War and emancipation, Reconstruction became nothing more than “reconstruction of oppression.”
Discriminatory policies throughout the 20th century included the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act’s exemption of domestic agricultural and service occupations, allowing Black workers to be paid low wages. The G.I. Bill of 1944 was designed to accommodate Jim Crow laws and benefited few Black veterans. Redlining ensured that Black families could not get mortgages. The net result is that 150 years after emancipation, Blacks are still denied full access to the tools for building wealth.
Jerome Love is the founder and president of the Texas Black Expo, Inc., producers of the nationally recognized Texas Black Expo Summer Celebration, which is the largest African-American tradeshow in the state of Texas.