Economic empowerment is one of the core values of the Republican Party. I guess another way of saying this is, capitalism rocks! But not always has capitalism rocked or rolled with some.
Back in the 70s, capitalism was seen as something less than honorable. I recall students on college campuses referring to anyone who dared to venture there, as being “capitalist pigs”. But then again, back then, during this period of protest, everything for some within the collegiate setting was viewed as swinish. But I dare say, if we find those same individuals today, we would also find their views have changed. In fact, I am willing to bet, even their bellies are now filled with capitalistic swine.
There is nothing wrong with “capitalism”. The very foundation of American society is free enterprise. This freedom means anyone of any race, of any social background, of any religion, and of any persuasion can enjoy the opportunity to create wealth. With this freedom also comes the opportunity and the right to establish a business enterprise, and to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor and investment.
From the lemonade stand to the manufacturing of derivative products that come from lemons, there is a place in America’s business landscape where depending upon how much money, time and effort one has to invest, the opportunity to take that which is sour and turn it into profits exists.
If any race of people should seize this opportunity to build wealth and become economically independent through capitalism, it is African Americans. There was a time when this was the case.
Because of segregation laws, prior to the victories of the Civil Rights Era, Blacks were relegated to their own communities or their own sections of town. In those areas, they also were forced to provide goods and services for those of their own race. It was nothing to see black businesses of all sorts flourish. From barber shops, to grocery stores, to dentists and medical doctors, Black businesses offered African Americans practically everything they needed. But all of this began to fade as integration opened doors for African Americans to venture outside of their own communities and sections of town to do business with the larger society. On one hand, this was a breakthrough in equality. However, on the other hand, it meant the beginning of the decline, and in many cases the death of Black business and entrepreneurs.
In the 21st Century, we now discover it is hard to find those communities and sections of town where Black businesses are thriving, and even harder to find the mom and pop Black entrepreneurs. I remember the time when on a Friday night, you always could find a mom and pop place where you could get a good hot fish sandwich, cooked the way only Blacks know to do it! Or a good rib plate. But even this is becoming hard to find. The once cornered market of Soul Food that was branded by Blacks, is being replaced. To much amazement, such establishments now are being run by those of other ethnicities.
This is not to say that Black businesses do not exist. There are plenty of Black doctors, dentist, lawyers, barber shops, hair salons, and etc. There are even major conglomerates such as Johnson and Johnson, and of course there is bigger than life Queen Oprah – the Ebony Queen of successful black entrepreneurship. This is all good. But what is missing is the spirit of community and family enterprises, as well as the pride of being Black owned and operated, and the handing down of that business legacy to the next generation.
I also have to wonder “what if?”, with the mule and 40 acres of land. What if the Republican Party had been politically successful enough to have carried out the promise of providing former slaves with seed capital, what would have been the results? Let me add that by using the term “seed capital”, I do not mean it in the normal sense. Because for the years of enslavement and forced labor, it certainly was not something that every Black in slavery did not work for and rightfully deserve. In fact, just one mule and 40 meager acres of land were hardly enough compensation for slavery! But at least it was a start, and probably would have endeared African Americans as forever Republicans; especially in light of the opposition coming from the then extremely and blatantly racist Democratic Party.
Hmmmmm. A mule and 40 acres of land? After mulling this over in my head for only a second or two, the lights went on!
A mule and 40 acres of land in the South would have meant African Americans would have cornered the agricultural market in America and globally, as being the major, if not sole producers of anything that grew out of the soil! No group of people knew better the ways of the soil or the sun under which they labored, nor the moon, which directed when to plant and when to harvest, than the Black slave. No people under the sun (literally), had the endurance to work and toil the soil ,and harvest the crops, under such inhumane conditions.
Wow! Now I get it. Major agricultural producers and experts; this could have been and should have been the capitalistic inheritance and legacy of Blacks in the South!
Perhaps this is why that promise was never made good. Sad to think, it also may have been the reason why President Lincoln’s life was shortened. Nevertheless, it was the Party of Lincoln, which made the promise. What a missed opportunity for Republicans! But it is still not too late.
Now the Republican Party has the opportunity to return to truly being the Party of Lincoln. A party that makes it a priority and a part of its political platform and agenda to play an active part in rebuilding the spirit of entrepreneurship for African Americans through policies that support small businesses and opportunities for African Americans and people of all races to be able to invest in, start up, maintain and survive the economic hurdles of small businesses.
Our part as a race?
It is to teach our children the rich entrepreneurial history of the African American race, to put in them a desire and a quest to “build it”, “own it”, “loan it”, and to “pass it” down to the next generation. This is the only way that African Americans can truly become equal in America. Because there is one thing that is for sure in America, he or she who has his or her own, and has the ability to bring wealth to the table, are the ones who become players! I wish it wasn’t this way, …..but it is.
This is “Capitalistic America”. Like it or not! ...And the sooner we as African Americans realize this, and begin seeking the opportunities to get to the table with something in our hands of substantial value, the sooner we will realize that political power is more about money these days, than it is about governing. It is only after getting to the table can we change this. But first, we must find our own mule and 40 acres, create wealth, and get seated at the table as major political players! Then as players, we must take America’s government back to the people. Which by the way, ...is where it really should be!
Dr. Jean Howard-Hill
NRAAC National Republican African American Caucus
Also visit her blog, The Black Olive Branch at http://theblackolivebranch.blogspot.com.