Ethics, Morality and the Struggle for Black Liberation (Part 2)

by William P. Muhammad

“The black bourgeoisie, as we have seen, has created a world of make-believe to shield itself from the harsh economic and social realities of American life.” (E. Franklin Frazier – Black Bourgeoisie, 1957)

Dr. E. Franklin Frazier
1894 - 1962 

Among the greatest challenges facing 21st century Black America is the necessity of confronting illusion, of coming to terms with our actual position within American society and, in order to effect real change, to develop a producing rather than consuming culture. Furthermore, by distinguishing between wishful thinking and actual facts, we will only garner control over our economics, and earn a seat at the table as a true equal, when productivity outweighs the unfocused and undisciplined mentality of conspicuous consumption.

Stepping beyond the boundaries of America’s unspoken social contract, however, where the wealth and prosperity of others is often built upon the ignorance of the Black consumer, meaningful change is contingent upon reclaiming the resources and intellect of the Black community. Requiring a complete and total, if not radical, break from America’s racial comfort zone, where Black people are usually rewarded for distancing themselves from their historical narrative, a new ethos based upon land, access to capital, ownership of the means of production and the control of distribution, must replace the concept of social advancement through non-economic liberalism.

This radical change, the claiming of our own resources to benefit, uplift and gain advantages for self, is nothing new or extraordinary when applied to other racial or ethnic communities. Often viewed as an obligation, not only for the purpose of legacy and intergenerational wealth creation, but also toward the concept of nation building as seen among Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Jews and other ethnic European-American groupings, building for the sake of self, family and community is the duty of a free and independent people.

In this context, if ethics is defined as being consistent with one’s inner held beliefs and values, and morality, as conformity to a certain group’s norms and ideas, then a Black community that captures its own wealth and resources, for the purpose of taking an equal seat at the table, cannot be faulted for challenging America’s deeply held prejudices while breaking the mold of low expectations.

A new paradigm and its fallout

Has Black America really taken into account the significance of its consumer dollars as it relates to the maintenance of the status quo? Statistics have shown, and many agree, that the collective spending power of Black America, as of 2013, amounts to upwards of $1.1 trillion per year, regardless of the fact that very little of this money circulates back into the Black community.

Furthermore, when looking at the virtual slavery provided by the prison-industrial complex, the so-called public school-to-prison pipeline and the lack of competition among Black Americans in the global marketplace, it is not difficult to see why those who abide by the philosophy of white supremacy wish to
keep it that way. For example, while Civil Rights activists may argue in favor of a policy that educates Black people at a fraction the $10,000 to $30,000 per year that it costs to incarcerate an individual inmate, the monies spent on imprisonment create more jobs and contracts, within a local economy, than does educating a young Black person who may otherwise compete for those same dollars in the future.

Additionally, by hamstringing the black community’s ability to extract dollars on local, national and international levels, by preventing our people from achieving collective economic independence, America’s ruling elite virtually guarantee the denial of meaningful Black participation in the global economy. More than the mortgaging of a house, the financing of an automobile and the amassing of consumer debt, to provide the illusion of having arrived, true freedom allows for the building of institutions to serve the needs of the Black community and, on an individual level, to bequeath wealth to subsequent generations.

As ideals differ among various groups, the Black community can no longer downplay its self-interests for the sake of going-along-to-get-along. While the ethics of Black liberation may challenge the order of White privilege, it is important to consider how conforming to white supremacy has created an acceptance of an unjust equation.

With code words such as “mainstream,” used for approval and “radical,” used to impugn the legitimacy of new ideas, is it in America’s domestic policy interests to make the Black population consumers rather than producers? If 10 million of America’s 40 million Black people stopped smoking, the tobacco industry would be deprived of billions of dollars. Similarly, if the same number stopped drinking, the alcohol industry would be deprived of billions of dollars. With just the example of alcohol and tobacco, who benefits from promoting toxic substances as something cool or sophisticated?

The falsehood of illusion has a powerful impact upon the psyche, and the need to project the image of belonging diverts billions of dollars away from true wealth creation and the freedom it represents. By making changes in our daily habits, not only is the lifestyle of death and non-productivity replaced by an ethos of life, but the emergence of a new morality would also prioritize vision and sacrifice over consumerism and short term gratification. The time for change is now, and we should no longer be in doubt about what must be done to secure our future as a people.