Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
While it’s been more than 150 years since the Black community was physically freed from chattel slavery, when it comes to the consequences of our economic situation we have what can only be termed as an economic structural deficit. In essence, this economic structural deficit represents a 21st Century form of slavery, and unlike when we were physically enslaved, our community has no active defense or fight.
I’ve heard many of our scholars refuse to classify those that were physically enslaved under chattel slavery as slaves because there was ample evidence that, at every level, our ancestors fought to rid themselves of this brutal and horrific condition. They conclude that the definition of a slave is not being physically forced to be a slave but the acceptance of this condition as a matter of fact (no resistance). Facing the threat of death, physical torture and holocaust type of retaliation, our ancestors did all they could do to voice their hate and disdain for the enslavement until this horrific institution ever was abolished.
Black people, like all other people, want and deserve freedom. In a capitalistic society like America, real freedom isn’t physical freedom – that should be automatic. However; real freedom in a capitalistic society is economic freedom, and as a result of outright oppression, the Black community in America lives in economic poverty that is now structural in nature.
What do I mean by economic poverty? I don’t mean what most people believe when they hear the word economic poverty. Many people relate the term of economic poverty with individual poverty and believe that individuals not having enough resources to cover the basic needs of life. Even though we have a disproportionately level of individuals living in or near poverty, not all Black people fit this category. However; as a group of people, we have economic poverty because we have no ability to economically do for ourselves; we are unable to feed, clothe, house, or protect ourselves as a group – this is economic poverty.
Dr. King was extremely focused on the economic disparities that our community faced as a result of our oppression in this country – he had a history of holding America accountable to the social and economic conditions that our community faced. In many respects our efforts for economic fairness has always been interrupted one or another. Prior to his death, Dr. King stated that the liberation of our people was divided into two phases: Phase 1) the civil rights phase was designed to derail and eliminate the mean and evil treatment that Blacks was experiencing post emancipation – it was both lethal and violent and Phase 2) with the violence against us reduced, we were supposed to take on the real fight which is the fight for economic freedom.
Black people, for reasons that are still unclear to me, have faced the worst enemy that humanity has ever been confronted with – White Supremacy. This enemy of the Black man was on full display for nearly 450 years, which included nearly 350 years of chattel slavery and another 100 years of the Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and legal segregation and open discrimination until the Civil Rights Movement was able to secure legal protections under the historic Civil Rights legislation in the 1960’s. Today, the enemy of the Black man is the economic structural deficit created by this oppression.
We don’t have physical slavery today nor do we have open racism and discrimination against Black people, but we have an entire society and all of its institutions that have either minimized or outright negated the economic impact of this long-term oppression of our people in this country – they say things have changed and there is no open racism anymore, therefore the Black community has no enemy and all is well. But American institutions, led predominantly by White people, enables, supports and maintains Black economic poverty.
White supremacy has morphed into every American institution and like all institutions, American institutions are self-protecting, and seek to protect itself and the status quo. Not only has the damaged already been done to our people in this country, most, if not all, American institutions continue to uphold the oppression of our people and refuse to acknowledge their roles in this travesty. There has been little to no reconciliation by American Institutions to correct this historical past and this is another form of racism – America owes the Black community.
America owes the Black community a real economic debt which it has refused to pay. What’s even worse is that our issue has gone practically unnoticed and represents the biggest secret in America. American institutions are either in collusion or at least complicit in the oppression of Black people.
America through its media, political, financial, and educational perpetuate the lie denying the economic impact of past practices, and have made the Black people, who are the victims, to be made to be the culprit which is now supported by public opinion.
This is further misleading when we measure today’s economic gains by both White and Black without consideration of the start for both groups. There is little to no empathy or sympathy to even have any dialogue on the economic condition of the Black community in America as a result of our start in this country. What we hear for the most part is, “Why can’t the Black community do better, you’ve been free for 150 years.” Too much emphasis is placed on the inadequacies of the Black community without any reference to our past in this country – where and how you start matters, especially in an economic race.
Dr. King stated that it didn’t cost America one red cent to allow Blacks to sit next to Whites at a lunch counter nor did it cost America one red cent to give Blacks civil rights (sometimes I have a hard time just accepting the ignorance embodied in the fact we had to fight for the right to be treated as human). The real cost will come when America pays the Black community for the Black Holocaust and its current derivatives that it has placed on the Black community.
The result of this oppression has placed the Black community in an economic structural deficit which is unable to be fixed without the infusion of reparations (this problem can’t be fixed without a massive investment that is reflective of the value of hundreds of years of free labor).
The American institution of slavery was a crime against Africa, Africans, and all of humanity. When you express this in economic terms, slavery was the largest and most lucrative economic windfall the world has ever witnessed. American slavery was the catalyst for the massive expansion of a global economy creating wealth beyond anyone’s comprehension. Not only did Americans become extremely wealthy, but nearly all the countries of Europe were direct participants and beneficiaries of slavery on the backs of free black labor. Slavery was beyond profitable; its economic impact was the foundation for today’s position as the clear superpower and global leader today.
Since the 1960’s, guided by so-called White liberals and many naive Black leaders, Blacks have been chasing social equity in this country when the real race that we should have been chasing is “economic equity.” In fact, one can’t have social equity in America without economic equity. At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it, Black people have yet to secure its fair share of America’s nearly $100 trillion in wealth and capital which was secured largely off the backs of our ancestors.
Because of long-term oppression that Blacks have experienced, our community now has accumulated hundreds of years of economic gaps that has become structural in nature. Our community will continue to lose ground in every social and economic category if this fact isn’t acknowledged and made a part of any solution going forward.