up my father would regularly say to me that while the Great Depression
officially ended during World War II, for African Americans it never
really ended. While most economists would take issue with my father’s
analysis, he was onto something that both mainstream economists
and political figures wanted to avoid: structural racist oppression
has represented, to borrow from Columbia University Professor Manning
Marable, the underdevelopment of Black America. Specifically, the
conditions under which we have operated, often in the so-called
best of times, have represented recession or sometimes near depression-like
realities for millions of people.
father’s analysis was not his alone. Discussions about the economic
underdevelopment of Black America have taken place, and continue
to take place regularly in our community. The majority of White
America either ignores or is oblivious to these exchanges, and in
fact, tends to live in denial as to the realities of structural
racist oppression, making the current discussions of an alleged
‘post-racial era’ nearly laughable.
Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, a progressive think tank
which over the last several years has given special attention to
the economic impact of racist oppression, has done a further service
for progressives both within and without the African American movement
with their recent publication of The Silent Depression: State of the Dream 2009. This report
takes as its point of departure not the formal commencement of the
current economic crisis (officially dated December 2007) but looks
at the chronic economic malaise within Black America pre-dating
the current slide.
had the opportunity to recently read this report following the Inauguration
of President Obama. What is striking about the report is that it
provides the data necessary to debunk those right-wing (and some
liberal) pundits who insist that racist oppression is a thing of
the past. Consider just two points. UFE notes that “Nearly 30% of
Blacks have zero or negative worth, versus 15% of whites.” (p.7
of the report). But let’s add to this the following:
According to a study completed by Demos and the Institute
on Assets and Social Policy, ‘ninety-five percent of African-Americans
and 87 percent of Latino middle class families do not have enough
net assets to meet three quarters of their essential living expense
for as little as three months’ compared to the national average
of 78% among middle class families.
(p.31 of the report)
this together it reminds one of the saying very common in our community
that most of us are about one check away from poverty, homelessness,
etc. This turns out to be no exaggeration.
report is worth attention for at least two reasons. First, as noted
earlier, it places before all to see that despite the fact that
the USA now has a Black President, the reality for the mass of Blacks
(and Latinos) is not one of equal opportunity or even equal suffering.
Instead, we find ourselves disproportionately excluded in good times
and in jeopardy during the worst of times compared with whites.
other reason that this report is of such importance is precisely
due to the economic crisis that the USA has found itself in since
December 2007. In moments such as these there will be various calls
for progressive responses, including responses that target all those
who are victims of capitalism’s current calamity. While efforts,
such as President Obama’s proposed stimulus package, must be supported,
we would be remiss in not addressing the particular ways that this
economy has and continues to crush Black America specifically. In
other words, it is not enough to fight for an economic recovery
if economic recovery means that we - Black folks - continue to find
ourselves drowning while others have been rescued. This point must
be central to any progressive response to today’s economic disaster.
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University
of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor
in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.