In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and calls for change that followed, an interesting solution was brought up and encouraged, the call to buy from black businesses. While black businesses are indeed a way to grow wealth for the black community, they are in no way a solution to the broader source of oppression. In order to truly liberate the black community from the chains of racism, generational poverty, state oppression, and exploitation, it’s not enough to encourage the entrepreneurship of only a few people, one must address it from a collective and anti-capitalist approach. Only with socialism will the black community truly be eliminated from the systemic racism capitalism has weighed over them.
When speaking about black entrepreneurship one is often met with rosy words of praise, all across the political spectrum, even so called “progressives” and “intersectional feminists” gush at the idea of buying from black owned businesses (BOBs). But let us not be fooled, small businesses are not inherently better than corporate behemoths. In fact, small businesses can and usually are worse for workers than larger businesses, including conditions such as offering worse benefits, lower wages, and being exempt from worker protections. This isn’t a defense of big business but a criticism of businesses overall. Small businesses and mega-corporations both exploit their workers. However, small businesses, unlike mega-corps, have a quaint rosy glow which excuses them from the harsh scrutiny received from larger companies. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the business or if the company is large or small. Businesses functioning in the traditional structure are still exploitative; the worker continues to not receive the full value of their labor and are forced to rely on the will and the mercy of the boss to not starve.
Moving on, the origins of black capitalism and the related “opportunity zones” have been a meager scrap thrown to the black community in a lame effort to eliminate the effects of systemic racism and generational poverty. The origins of modern Black capitalism lay in Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. Instead of actual racial and economic justice such as desegregation, more public sector jobs, anti-discrimination measures, etc., mild tax incentives and breaks was the solution to racial ghettos and oppression. These meager crumbs tossed to the black community allowed Nixon to oppose vital economic reforms championed by Civil Rights activists and to crack down on the black community in other ways (most notably the War on Drugs and the War on Crime). In an effort to undermine important economic and racial reforms Nixon started spouting free-market and libertarian talking points, arguing that capitalism was the natural cure of racial ghettos and that black people should “help themselves.” Such rhetoric appears in his Acceptance of the Republican Nomination for President Speech “Instead of Government jobs and Government housing and Government welfare, let Government use its tax and credit policies to enlist in this battle the greatest engine of progress ever developed in the history of man-American private enterprise.”
Black-Americans were thus wished good-luck before being shoved down the meat grinder that is capitalism, often put in a position where they are the ones worse off after every financial crisis and capable of gleaning only the tiniest bits during the good times (especially in comparison to their white counterparts). Decades have passed since the Nixon administration and both parties have continued to champion black capitalism while either cutting social programs or giving very meager assistance. Black capitalism, while it may have started with Nixon, eventually morphed to “enterprise zones” under Reagan, “new market tax policies” with Clinton, and “promise zones” by Obama. All of whom have continued and put into place brutal neoliberal policies where BIPOC typically bear the heaviest burden and draconian treatment of felons, especially those on drug charges (which are disproportionately black), creating a cycle of poverty for generations to come.
The problems that plague the black community are not a lack of entrepreneurship or an insufficiency of capitalism, rather, it is capitalism itself that continues to dig the black community into an even deeper hole. It was “entrepreneurs” and banks run by capitalists who were responsible for shoving subprime mortgages down the throats of black borrowers, resulting in 53% of all wealth in the black community being wiped out, and by 2009 35% of black communities having zero or negative wealth. It is years of mass incarceration, housing discrimination, and red-lining which pushed and continue to keep the black community in poverty. None of the problems listed above can be attributed to the problem of a lack of “black entrepreneurship” or lack of capitalism. Rather, it is capitalism that is at the root of many of these problems. It was land developers and planners who decided to red-line neighborhoods in fear that having integrated neighborhoods would decrease the value of the neighborhoods, and thereby lower their profits. It was the private prison companies who lobbied the government for harsher and more draconian laws and sentencing to funnel more BIPOC into the prison system, which further ruined their chances of building any wealth, and thus made it more likely that they would return to prison – not to forget of course the many companies that rely on and use prisoners as free labor. Minority capitalism isn’t the solution to wider systemic problems caused by the capitalist system itself.
The assumption of black capitalism is that it is possible for society – and especially Black Americans – to buy their way out of racism and oppression. This is an assumption that is verifiably false. It is a bandage upon an internal wound. It is neoliberalism’s way of co-opting an important movement and, like a leech, sucking out all the meaning of the movement. Additionally, “buying black” and supporting black capitalism is an incredibly individualistic approach to uplifting the black community. Black capitalism, as well intentioned as it seems, only uplifts a few members of the black community. True liberation is not adding a few members of the marginalized group to the oppressing group, rather, it is dismantling the system that creates thus conditions. Black capitalism lifts a few members of the community to the position of the bourgeoisie. Having a more diverse bourgeoisie, a more diverse group of people responsible for the suppression of the proletariat does nothing for the vast majority of people who face hunger, starvation, homelessness, poverty, and various other issues that intersect with their identity. The only solution is the dismantle of capitalism.
What are examples then of anti-capitalist societies that have managed to drastically eliminate the legacy of systemic racism? The answer to that is Cuba. Cuba prior to the revolution used to be no different than the US when it came to race relations. Afro-Cubans faced widespread discrimination and segregation. They were given the worst jobs, housing, and education (if any at all). However, immediately after the revolution the newly established government set to work immediately to combat all traces of systemic racism. Anti-racist measures were enforced both legally and socially. In Cuba’s Constitution Chapter 1 Article 42 all people regardless of their identity(ies) are guaranteed equality before the law, in comparison to the US Constitution where such an explicit promotion of equality doesn’t exist. Furthermore, anti-discrimination doesn’t only exist as an empty statute but is constantly and vigorously enforced with militias in any location where black and mestizos could be denied equal treatment. A harsh contrast in comparison to the US where BIPOC are constantly being denied mortgage loans and/or given worse rates, poorer medical care, and denied jobs because of their race. While there’s no doubt that fully eradicating the legacy of systemic racism won’t be solved overnight and people will still hold onto many of their discriminatory beliefs even under a different economic system, in the transcendence of capitalism, the economic and material conditions that produce racial inequality and oppression will be abolished, a vital and necessary step to doing away with racism.
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About the Author:
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.