SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Black Economics 101; Clout, Class, and Courage

Article excerpt

SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: Black Economics 101; Clout, Class, and Courage.

No matter who won on November 5 (Black Issues went to press before the election), the African American community is in dire need of a heavy dose of economic education. We sit on a $340 billion economy, but fail to flex our economic muscles to generate results for our community. We are the margin of profit for hundreds of large companies in dozens of industries. But we ignore our power, all too often, because we have not come to grips with the ways we balance a history of racial inequality with the influence that we could wield now.

Thus we shrug off racial economic slurs as if we have been socialized to accept inequality. A young man is forced to strip his shirt off at an Eddie Bauer store, and we all holler about the outrage -- but the Bauer cash registers keep ringing, which says something about our ability to tolerate indignity.

The racist minutiae that we experience from airline personnel, hotel front offices, department stores, and others is enough to boggle the mind. But we keep flying, buying, saying nothing. The power of the economic boycott, a power that African Americans have used to change our sociopolitical conditions, has been rarely examined and used in contemporary times. We keep talking loud and doing nothing.

Part of this has to do with the economic education that is available to the African-American community. We aren't clear about the muscles we can flex with targeted boycotts. We aren't sure whether tax cuts help or hurt us. We have forgotten the various ways that government intervention helps us, and so many are now talking that "lean government" stuff without understanding that nearly half of all Black professionals work for governments. Some of us have bought the bootstraps rap more passionately than boot manufacturers. We distance ourselves from people on public assistance, and people who are unemployed as if we do not understand the ways our fates are intertwined with theirs.

Yes, class is an issue in the African-American community. But more than class, there is the issue of clout. The Black middle class buys stocks and bonds, but fails to use them to flex muscles and make a point. When companies say they want to eliminate affirmative action, we ought to start selling their stocks as if they have the smell of spoiled food. When companies say they can't hire Black staff, we ought to drop their stock as quickly as the proverbial hot potato. …