Overcoming “economic apartheid” in the West

By William P. Muhammad

In the epilogue to the 1980s televised mini-series Shaka Zulu, advisers to Great Britain’s Queen Victoria are quoted as saying: “the colonial office suggests that we constitute within the Zulu kingdom a progressive destruction and dislocation of the military and economic system. In so doing, we feel that the Zulu people, deprived of central leadership, will revert to the state of innocuous bliss that they enjoyed before the… conditioning of Shaka.”

While this mini-series was indeed a fictional portrayal of an historical set of facts, it remains true that by the early 1880s the British did destroy the military and economic systems of the Zulu people. Anglo-Dutch machinations in southern Africa, which lead to the eventual establishment of the infamous apartheid system, created such negative conditions among Black people that its effects are still felt to this day.

The 1880s also marked a trying time for Black people in America, in the form of the post-reconstruction era approximately 16 years after the Civil War. Southern Blacks, no long protected by the presence of Union troops, suffered under conditions of racial terrorism, state sanctioned political repression and extreme racism. Forced to either do for self or face additional hardships, those suffering under southern racism, in order to survive, made do with what little they had.

Later leaving the south because of crop failures, unemployment and racist oppression, the early twentieth century brought with it The Great Migration to the North, West and Midwest. Searching for a better life and the opportunity to start anew, Blacks sacrificed much in order to reestablish themselves educationally, economically and politically.

Eventually leading to three schools of thought: accommodation (Booker T. Washington), elite integration (W.E.B. DuBois) and independence (the Honorable Marcus Garvey), the leaders of these ideas achieved limited success. While each had the best interests of their people at heart, where they failed was in the recognition of one another’s merits and subsequently the potential of mutual cooperation.

Backed by whites (with the exception of Garvey) yet divided against one another, each attempted to bring to the table unique ideas toward uplifting their own constituencies. Not unlike three separate tribes competing over limited resources, the failure to unite their ideas slowed the speed of collective progress. Had there been an amalgamation of the intellectual and pragmatic within the context of a Black economic base, there is no telling how much farther along Black people would have come.

However, the old concept of “divide and rule” affected much of what the three attempted to build. Whether from the government’s breaking of the Garvey movement, to conditions placed upon the use of philanthropic dollars or through the threat of withdrawing institutional support, in the name of white benevolence, the Black American was once again forced into a status of dependency.

Not exactly an “innocuous bliss,” the dissatisfaction of Black people soon led to yet more attempts to establish themselves as free and independent people. In the midst of the dominant White culture, the desire of Blacks to assert themselves soon led to two general schools of thought, one of total integration and immersion into White society, and the other of creating and building an independent Black society.

Failing again to establish operational unity between the two ideas, the Black community was once again played off against itself. Through assassinations, government machinations and media propaganda, Black organizations were left either leaderless or in disarray.

With the introduction of drugs, the closing of Black businesses and the subsequent inability to provide for our own goods and services, Black people were again deprived of an economic infrastructure and the means to protect it. Like a nation without an ability to police itself, the chaos that ensued led to communities in disrepair, high crime rates and yet more dependence upon outside interests.

Today, overcoming the intentional undermining of Black people in America will require more sacrifice and dedication from those seeking to build and establish the Black community. “Taking responsibility to build our communities” requires more than lip service and agreement. It requires the merging of diverse ideas from diverse Black organizations and their leaders, keeping in mind that physical freedom is found in the form of land, access to capital, ownership of the means of production and control of distribution.

Furthermore, freedom requires the willingness and ability to qualify oneself for the future positions that may be waiting. Disciplines needed for mastering agriculture, economics, management and technology require a solid education with the aim and focus of graduating to create a job rather than looking for one.

Freedom requires that we take a seat at the table as equals “with the best in civilized society,” even if it means we must build our own chair first. For the sake of ourselves, our families and our people, we need to be about the business of building the Black community to twenty-first century standards. Time is running out and there is no time to delay.

Brother William P. Muhammad is an author and a graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso. Post comments at: www.wisdomhouseonline.com