By James Clingman
A series of recent reports cite the drastic lack of economic progress for Black people in general and Black men in particular. Freddie Allen, NNPA Washington Correspondent, wrote “Black men are no better off than they were more than 40 years ago, due to mass incarceration and job losses suffered during the Great Recession, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Chicago.”
Sidney Dinan, writer for the Washington Times, in an article titled, “All of the net jobs gained in the U.S. since 2000 have gone to immigrants,” stated, “Nearly 6 million more people are working in the U.S. now than in 2000, but the number of native-born Americans holding jobs has declined slightly, from 114.8 million to 114.7 million, according to census figures…Instead, all of that job growth – a total of 5.7 million – has gone to immigrants.”
A third example is an article titled, “Economic justice eludes black Americans 50 years after MLK’s ‘dream,” written by Gerald Britt. It disclosed, “The average unemployment rate during recession years over the past 50 years has been 6.7 percent. Yet for African-Americans during that time, the average has been 11.6 percent while for whites the rate has been 5.1 percent, at times falling as low as 3.1 percent. Only in 1969 did black unemployment dip below the national recession average to 6.4 percent. The report’s conclusion: Over the last 50 years, the black unemployment rate has been at a level typical for a recession or higher.”
The articles cited above should cause one to rethink the notion of Black obsolescence, as Frederick Douglass and others down through the years have posited. Have we become obsolete? Based on the structural inequities that plague us, is it planned? Was it built into the economic system? If so, how can we overcome it? My suggestion is coalescence.
Other groups in this country, although unencumbered by the exploitation that Black people suffered, have enough sense to work together in support of one another to gain a reasonable level of economic empowerment. In other words, they believe in and practice coalescence. In light of what we have endured in this land of plenty, the wealth of which was produced by the free work of our hands, one would reasonably think that Black people, having the most to lose, would be working more on coalescence in order to stave off obsolescence.
Coalition-building rather than the HNIC model is the best way for Black people to make significant progress in this country, especially when it comes to economic empowerment. From the agricultural economy to the industrial and mass production economy, Black folks, in some cases, had it going on. Many individual Blacks did quite well with jobs and businesses in those areas. As we moved to the technology/information economy and now into the knowledge-based economy, the rules for survival have changed.
“In 1970, Sidney Willhelm’s book, Who Needs the Negro? argued that with the rise of automation within a capitalist economic system, African-American workers were transformed from being exploited to becoming “useless” from the viewpoint of those who controlled the economy and the automated productive processes emerging within it.
Because of the racism of U.S. business interests, the workforce that automation would require could and would be largely White. Yes, business would continue to hire a number of Blacks, but as much as the cloaked face of racism within companies would allow, Black workers would become productively “unneeded.” If Black people disappeared tomorrow, Willhelm maintained, for capital they “would hardly be missed.”
The above statement was written by Gerald Coles, who went on to say, “Willhelm’s assessment is now truer than ever for both poor blacks and many whites who constitute part of the potential U.S. workforce within global capitalism. Since overseas labor is less costly, fewer U.S. workers are needed for the jobs that are and will be available in this country. Why spend money to provide U.S. poor children with adequate food, clothing, healthcare and other basics of life, along with the full funding needed to educate them? For business needs it would be a waste of money.”
I believe it was Marcus Garvey who said, “All the shoes have been shined and all the cotton has been picked.” He went on to suggest that Black people were no longer needed by White folks, therefore, if we did not change our ways when it came to business development we would indeed become obsolete. Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Garvey spoke of a time when we would have to consider this question if we did not awaken from our deep sleep and refuse to be dependent upon the largess of others for our sustenance.
We have two choices: Coalescence or obsolescence. Which one will we choose?
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.