Amoja Sumler

Black Capitalism Will Not Save You

Aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Photo courtesy of McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.

Amoja Sumler examines Black Capitalism and how no amount of Black entrepreneurship or ownership can overcome the economic disparity.

 

Guys! Guys! After listening to the new (and mostly banging) Jay Z album 4:44, I am now armed with new and vital information on how to save the Black community: credit! That’s right, all it takes is applied capitalism by that ever present “talented tenth” of the Black community.

Except that, mathematically speaking, it cannot work.

It’s not as if Black Capitalism hasn’t been tried before. It’s not like Black people are just now coming to the realization that “credit” is a thing.

In 1888, a mere eleven years after the end of the Reconstruction era, Capitol Savings Bank of Washington, D.C., opened as the first Black-owned bank chartered to operate in the United States. Before there was lottery, Black bankers were utilizing “policy” money to provide lines of credit to Black people that other banks would deny outright. Not ironically, many of those banks were attacked. In the 1920s, Black banks in Harlem came under fire from the local government and what came to be known as the La Cosa Nostra mafia.

In Tulsa, Black Wall Street was burned to the ground because neighboring White citizens were unwilling to watch a Black aristocratic class begin to outpace them. The massive forced integration that followed was utilized as a tool to nullify those gains at least as much as it was any measure of social progress.

What followed was the massive absorption of “Black wealth.” Black owned sports teams (and entire leagues) folded with this new unified America. Though this was arguably good for Black athletes, one must acknowledge this was massively destructive for Black owners.

Most importantly though, capital is not an abstract concept (excepting specific models such as derivatives and so called virtual assets). There are only so many things to own and only so much money to buy them with. The initial utilization of capitalism during the formative construction of the United States disallowed people of color to accrue assets. Because Wealth inherits, this allowed a preponderance of capital to be collected in such a way that no amount of Black entrepreneurship can overcome this inequality. This is why, truly, there should be no greater advocate for reparations than this new class of Black Capitalists.

 

Because Wealth inherits, this allowed a preponderance of capital to be collected in such a way that no amount of Black entrepreneurship can overcome this inequality.

 

Yet, even this cannot overcome the mathematical disadvantage people of color face. Black people are 17% of the population of the United States, yet current estimations show the upper 1% of wealth being populated by over 96% White families.

This isn’t due to lack of financial understanding in the Black community, it is in fact systemic. Imagine playing Monopoly in which your opponent can immediately buy property, but you cannot; in fact, anything you land on they can still buy (because until you pass the board say about five times your labor only benefits your opponent). Worse again, wealth inherits; so, to complete the metaphor, your opponent would start out owning several properties. It is not a matter of intellect. It never was. It is lack of opportunity.

The Walton Family alone is worth more than the combined assets of the bottom 41.5% of America. Wealth flows from them and families just like them and will never willingly disenfranchise themselves to Black Capitalists, no matter how shrewd.

More than that, there is an unstated belief in the benevolence of the Black capitalist class that simply is not backed up by empirical evidence. Or, even adjusted for Blacks, wealth just doesn’t trickle down. TIDAL is famously Black owned, yet less than a quarter of its employees are Black. The same is true for Oprah’s OWN, and so on and so forth.

Capitalism is not inherently imbued with any morality; adding Black owners doesn’t automatically change this. Capitalism is being distributed by Interscope (and being exploited by Jimmy Iovine). Black capitalism is signing with Cash Money (and being exploited by Baby). Exploitation of labor has not been extricated from capitalism, it may not even be possible to do so, because at the end of the day profit is the goal. Where profit ends and exploitation begins is a line so fine it could never be as simple as Black and White. Kanye’s struggles about lack of royalties coming from TIDAL should belay any argument that Black owned businesses cannot be inherently just as predatory.

“You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit.” You know what’s better than credit? Knowledge.

 

Amoja Sumler

Amoja Sumler is a nationally celebrated poet and social activist known for fusing the art of the intellectual into the familiar. As "The Mo-Man," he has headlined spoken word festivals such as the Austin International Poetry Festival, the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, Write NOLA in New Orleans, and Rock the Republic in Texas. A member of both the Arts in Education and Arts on Tour roster for over a decade has seen Amoja serve as a 5-time Poetry Out Loud states finals judge and an artist in residence to Universities and literacy nonprofits across the state of Arkansas. Amoja has also presented at social advocacy conferences like Long Beach Indie Film Pedagogy Conference and Furious Flower as a panelist for The Watering Hole. You may follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/momanthepoet or twitter at @momanthepoet.

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