The experience of Black people in America has been distinctly economic. Our labor is the very foundation of the greatest economy in world history. Our presence has been used to depress the cost of labor across the country for centuries. Thereby, driving up profits for the elite class. From slavery to sharecropping to mass incarceration. Our pain has always meant a financial gain for others.
This represents the greatest irony of all when it comes to the racist sentiment among poor and working class Whites. Their racism and discrimination facilitated their own poverty and misery. It still does. My Mother says there is an axiom from her era growing up in central Alabama in the 40s and 50s:
“You want to keep me in the ditch;
you gotta stay down there with me.”
This simple sentence perfectly encapsulates economic racism in America. Movement leaders have always sought economic solutions, and the dominant society has denied us at every turn possible. The simple reality is that “economic power is social and political power.” That is why we are intentionally excluded from our share of national resources. More on that in the future.
Frederick Douglass sought economic liberty. Marcus Garvey worked toward economic independence. Malcolm X preached economic empowerment. The Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program was largely economic in nature. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed while helping Black sanitation workers in Tennessee gain economic justice. That was the essence of King’s Poor People’s Campaign. It’s the economy, stupid.
Now some jailhouse economist or social media pundit will tell you the economy is disconnected from race and should be handled separately. The greatest thinkers of our history say otherwise. Our leaders made it plain: Liberation and justice are inextricably linked to economics. That is their wisdom. Historically, race has been a tool used to manipulate financial policy & practice. This is done by tilting resource distribution toward the dominant class. Exclusion of other classes or groups leaves a larger portion of the pie for the in-group. The result is crumbs for the out-group(s).
Every aspect of American life; jobs, education, housing, politics, healthcare, social safety net is dictated by economics. Economics is the conduit through which race impacts our lives. Nothing is more intersectional in American life than money.
Education is also an economic solution. A more educated electorate means better political outcomes. It means more young Black doctors, lawyers & entrepreneurs. This creates higher incomes, more jobs & businesses which increases tax revenue. In turn, this improves public education. But, all starts with pecuniary remedies like a $15 minimum wage. Economics.
We are all concerned about racism & police brutality. The deaths of our young men and women are always tragic. In this country, Black people with resources suffer less from racism & police brutality. Being financially secure allows you & your community to pool resources, take legal action and sustain activism. Your voice is more effective when it is backed up with money. That is powerful. Did you ever see Martin Luther King or Malcolm X going to a 9-5? No. Why? Because they had access to stable resources. This made them more effective leaders & activists. Economics.
Ask your friendly neighborhood activist on Twitter this question: Could you do more for the cause with more money? Ask some of these new media oracles the same question. I wonder if all these Twitter rants would be more effective in essay form on a well developed, hosted & promoted website. Economics.
Politics is how this country is managed & resources distributed. What if we had the people, education, and funds to run our own candidates for mayor, city council, district attorney or county sheriff? Even primary or recall someone who is failing. That would have a dramatic impact on police practices & local budgetary allocations. We could even do it the easy way and just give money, as a local community or political action committee (PAC), to the person we want or against the candidate we don’t. The political formula of money-plus-votes can change a community in one or two cycles. Broke people can’t do that. Economics.
Bernie Sanders has Civil Rights credibility and is saying the very same things that Marcus, Malcolm, and Martin said. Before you start with the bullshit; I am not comparing Bernie to these greats. I’m pointing out the similar message. He has been speaking truth to power for decades. He is offering economic power and a seat at the table. We now have the political power to hold him to it. However, we are too busy trying to get Bill and Hillary back in the White House. While they tell you someone putting their life on the line in the movement has no value. Being mislead by people that do not understand history or hope that you don’t. Let’s do a short recap on how the Clintons worked for us last time:
- Clinton Era brought us NAFTA that took our jobs.
- Financial reform took our homes and wealth.
- Mass incarceration took our freedom and destroyed our families.
Next time someone tries to tell you economics have nothing to do with race, send them this article and tell them to kick rocks. Because they are uninformed, or they don’t have your or your community’s best interest at heart.
Note: The original version of this article contained a video. It can be seen here: Video Link
This is an excerpt from Our Bernie Sanders, Writing Revolution Vol. 2.