Sunday, January 11, 2009

Doing for self in a Time of Crisis

by William P. Muhammad

According to many political experts, commentators and financial analysts, the United States has entered into a period of uncertainty not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. From lay-offs and factory closings to Wall Street scandals and the collapse of various banking institutions, Americans are hoping that one of the changes promised through an Obama administration will be a revived national economy.

However, with two wars, a volatile Middle East and an ever increasing national debt, Congress is haggling over the gravity and mechanics of Mr. Obama’s ideas. Regarding his proposed “stimulus package,” which intends to pump as much as one trillion dollars into the public and private sectors, Republicans and Democrats alike are bickering over how to jump-start the economy through both tax cuts and continued deficit spending. Leading to questions about higher prices, inflation and a further decline of the dollar, Mr. Obama’s recovery plan may only provide a temporary fix to a much more intrinsic problem.

Though much optimism is accompanying Mr. Obama to the White House, “the pecking order,” often determined by one’s level of economic and organizational activity, may once again find the masses of African-Americans at the back of the bus. With a citizenry already stressed from unemployment, increasing household expenses and mounting debt, Black people, like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, are usually among the first to feel the pain of an economic downturn.

Although it is often mentioned that Blacks, as consumers, contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the American economy each year, which surpasses the GDP of most countries, to date Black Americans have yet to harness those dollars for recirculation. While the time is long overdue for us to examine, analyze and correct not only our fiscal priorities, but also the type of thinking that has hampered and undermined our productivity as a people, the monies needed to solve our unique problems continue to hemorrhage through conspicuous consumption, credit card debt and a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

According to his famous book, “Message to the Blackman in America,” the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote that as individuals we must take into consideration the need for unity and understand the implications of pooling our resources. He also wrote that Black people must resist wanton criticism of Black owned businesses and understand that jealousy and envy only destroy our sense of brotherhood. Furthermore, and perhaps unknown by most of his critics, he also wrote: “Observe the operations of the white man. He is successful. He makes no excuses for his failures. He works hard in a collective manner. You do the same.”

While many Black leaders have taught self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-discipline as a means to overcome our daily challenges, the root of our problems has been in our division as outlined in the much referenced “Willie Lynch letter.” With male against female, young against old, light skin against dark skin and a myriad of other exploitable differences within the Black community, it is not difficult to see why we do not control our own local resources.

Although it is not too late to change these self-destructive mindsets, the time to do so is fast running out. Mr. Obama has described the economy as being in a much worse condition than his team originally believed, and he expects for it to get worse before it gets better. But what exactly does this mean within the context of two major wars, an economy in recession and unemployment levels not seen since the end of World War II?

The new economy Mr. Obama is advocating calls for an educated people who will renovate America’s infrastructure and retool its manufacturing base. Requiring skilled tradesmen, technicians and qualified professionals, unskilled labor may be found unnecessary, if not obsolete; therefore, as a people we must have both the will and the desire to achieve greater goals and objectives.

As this country continues to slide deeper into recession, one of Mr. Obama’s plans is to make opportunities available through the expansion of science and technology. As Black people we have an unprecedented opportunity to advance under his ideas, but only if we are motivated to adequately prepare ourselves for them.

Mr. Obama predicts difficult days ahead, and failing to act upon what we know is in our best interests would be a tragic mistake. The incoming administration intends to make room for 3 million new jobs, inviting stiff competition between the unemployed and those entering the job market for the first time; and as always, “it’s the early bird that gets the worm.”

While political leadership debates Mr. Obama’s recovery plan and the pundits argue over who should be blamed, Black folk need to be about the business of recognizing the time and doing what must be done. The time for action is now and for the sake of us as individuals, our families and our people, it’s time to build.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

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