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)
The state of Black economic affairs is crippling our community at every level, and it represents the biggest challenge to the positive future for Black America (it’s the new enemy). No matter what way you measure economics in America between White and Black people, you will conclude that the Black community is woefully behind on every measure. The disparities are more like canyons than gaps because the disparities are nearly 30-50 point differentials which contribute to the economic structural deficit.
Unfortunately, this reality is magnified and becomes even more challenging because too many Black leaders and Black opinion makers have been tricked to believe (brainwashed or programmed – you pick one) that these economic disparities we experience don’t really matter that much, and the real enemy of the Black man is the Black man (internal). The oppressors have succeeded in getting the victim (Black community) to believe that they are the culprit.
OBVIOUSLY, I TOTALLY AND WHOLEHEARTEDLY DISAGREE THAT BLACK PEOPLE ARE THE CULPRITS (INTERNAL), AND BELIEVE THAT NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE FOCUS INTERNALLY, UNLESS THE BLACK COMMUNITY GETS A BETTER SHARE OF THE ECONOMIC PIE THAN WE HAVE HISTORICALLY, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT WE DO INTERNALLY – WE MUST COME TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE SUFFER FROM A MASSIVE ECONOMIC STRUCTURAL DEFICIT.
I do believe that we should do all we can to “fix” the internal social-economic issues that plagues us (i.e. demise of the Black family; Black on Black crime; Black economic boycott, erosion of the Black culture, etc.) but we can’t let America and all of its business sectors off the hook for the “absolute” damage that they have caused to our community (i.e. economic, social, psychological, emotional, etc.) from the nearly 500 years of severe oppression. Today, while we’re no longer in physical and legal chains, racist and racism is still alive and prevalent. It’s hidden behind the “status quo,” buried within existing laws, policies, and behaviors that look to be “race” neutral but are nothing but. Most public and private existing policies and behavior has had alarming and negative impacts on the Black community as a whole – this is a structural problem.
When I use the term “structural,” I mean the Black economic deficit the Black community is experiencing at a macro (group) level is “baked” into the American infrastructure and all of its systems, institutions, and the general beliefs and behaviors. Many of the caretakers of those institutions be either Black or White (it really doesn’t matter). If you were to poll many White people in leadership today, the overwhelming majority believe that the Black community is where it is because of the Black community’s own inferiority (they don’t believe that Blacks have been victimized).
In fact, they also wouldn’t acknowledge that anything was done to the Black community nor would they acknowledge that they’ve benefitted from their Whiteness – this is truly amazing. In fact, it’s much worse because the gains made by Blacks in the 60’s and 70’s has produced the election of Donald Trump – Black backlash. Many White Americans have turned against Blacks, and the Black agenda because of the strategies and policies that seem to emphasize benefits to minorities over the past 50 years. This is extremely misleading for the Black community because the concept of “minorities” and affirmative action, which was intended to support the Black community, has ballooned to include everyone except White men (i.e. White women, Latinos, Asian, Disabled, Native Americans, Veterans, and LGBGT).
In the 1960’s, efforts to raise the public’s awareness and conscience about the plight of Black Americans helped to enact Civil Rights Legislation. However, in just 10 to 15 years after this legislation, the civil rights gains were fully and thoroughly undermined, and not just in the expansion of the concept of “minority,” but conservatives were successful in taking the issue of rectifying and addressing the historical and structural issues related to the plight of the Black community (reparations) out of the public forum – the Black community has lost its leverage. In fact, in response to any reference to the disadvantages that Blacks have compared to Whites, White conservatives have coined a new term “playing the race card” which makes it very difficult to address inequities. The “myth of Black progress” played easily into the hands of conservative critics of prorace policies and now we have no leverage.
Contrary to popular belief, the Black community hasn’t progressed economically as many, including the media, has made us to believe. The reality is that the Black community has regressed economically with the Black community, and the Black agenda being relegated to the back of the burner. Others groups who have utilized the “minority” designation have moved ahead of the Black community economically.
We have the highest level of poverty and near poverty; unemployment and underemployment; incarceration of young men; low and no business startups; homeownership; financial loans; and K-12 public education failures – all of these things and more contribute to the structural economic deficit that entraps the Black community.
These and other factors have created and currently sustains the economic structural deficit. We all know that the economic issues facing the Black community has not been resolved and the Civil Rights Legislation achieved in the 60’s was just a start and needed to be sustained over a number of generations – 10-15 years just won’t cut it. Now that the narrative and general opinion of the Black community’s social and economic plight in America (disparities) and the role that America has played in creating those horrible conditions have been completely removed, our ability to hold America accountable has been greatly diminished – you don’t even hear about the concept of reparations anymore.
The Black community is currently trapped in an economic problem that can’t/won’t fix itself without first the acknowledgement and understanding the historical and structural effects of slavery on the Black community – this isn’t playing the race card, this is about being honest and truthful. In addition to this reality, there must be a significant understanding and acceptance of responsibility by American government and institutions that it owes the Black community for what it has done.
Finally, any solution to assist the Black community must be seen as an investment, not a social hand out. Not only should the solution be massive, but solution must be continuous and lasting over several generations which requires that the Black community unify around one economic voice and force America to the position that we need them to be at – our community must have unity around our economic reality.
Many times, when we call for “unity” amongst our people, we are calling for something that is not achievable.
Why? Because, many times the call for unity is an emotional one usually in response to some reactionary outrage that we just experienced (i.e. police killing, adverse court verdict, etc.) and we mobilize for a few days or maybe a few weeks. We must come together and establish “one” voice around the structural economic deficit that will only worsen.