When it comes to building Black wealth, our community is in serious trouble. Here are some of the statistics according to Forbes:
- According to the New York Times, for every $100 in white family wealth, Black families hold just $5.04.
- The Economic Policy Institute found that more than one in four Black households have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than one in ten white families without wealth.
- The Institute for Policy Studies recent report The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Divide is Hollowing Out the America’s Middle Class (RZW) showed that between 1983 and 2013, the wealth of the median Black household declined 75 percent (from $6,800 to $1,700). At the same time, wealth for the median white household increased 14 percent from $102,000 to $116,800.
It is going to take more than laws, policies, and protests to fix the wealth gap and the racism that has led to our economic disenfranchisement.
In addition to the impact that white supremacy has had on building Black wealth, our lack of understanding has led to our downfall.
Specifically, we have fallen short because we don’t know the difference between money and fiat currency, we don’t know how to create wealth (or where real wealth comes from), and while we are excellent consumers we are terrible at passing our money on to the next generation.
Building Black Wealth Then And Now
Before they were destroyed by colonialism and conquistadors, members of ancient African societies controlled the means of production. They were able to farm their land, mine, and raise livestock. They would then use their labor to turn their crops, precious metals, and livestock into fabric, tools, and food.
The right of every family to own a piece of land was protected by the crown. Land was divided up, distributed equally, and each member contributed a part of their surplus to the collective. They would then sell their extras to purchase items that they needed by either trading or by using currency that was controlled by the state.
With their basic needs met and an abundance of surplus, your Ancestors were able to spend less time working and more time creating works of art out of the surplus.
The bronze sculptures of Benin, the elaborate woodworkings of the Congo, and the regalia of Kemet all came from societies that produced an abundance for the nation and the citizens.
And then…the Maafa began. The word Maafa is KiSwahili for ‘an age of great suffering’. The hordes of the North were unleashed on the indigenous people of the world. Iberian Conquistadors – having learned long distance navigation from the Moors – swept out across the globe with one purpose: to accumulate wealth. They would achieve this using physical, psychological, and even spiritual warfare.
When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “let us close our eyes and pray.” When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land. – Desmond Tutu
In the process, the Black masses were cut off from their only two true sources of wealth – the land and income created from their labor. All extra crop, livestock, and mined material that was produced by slaves in the Americas or subjects of Colonial rule in Africa was confiscated. And those slaves were almost never paid an income. In fact, they were given just enough to keep them alive and working, but never enough to save or fight back.
Once they gained control over Black lands and Black labor, white supremacists created a new scheme – rentier capitalism.
Rentier (property owner): someone whose income derives from rents, interest on investments, and the like. Rentier capitalism, economic practices of gaining profit by monopolizing access to property. Rentier state, a state which derives national revenues from the rent of indigenous resources.
Here is how rentier capitalism works: once a person gains control over assets – factories, housing, land, resources – the property owner makes an income by charging others to use that asset. And by blocking others from accessing those assets, the rentier holds a monopoly. They can now decide who can use their assets, and how much will be paid.
When slavery was abolished (but not really), plantation owners were forced to pay their newly ‘freed’ workers. Here is how this new system of ‘wage labor’ impacts Capitalists:
Workers are paid an income in the form of currency for their labor. That labor is ‘rented’ by the Capitalist to provide a service or to increase the value of raw materials. The difference between what the Capitalist pays her employees and what she sells her goods or services for becomes her income.
Thus, the less she can pay her employees and the more she can charge based on the willingness of the marketplace to buy, the more income she has. This is why slavery is first and foremost considered an economic weapon of white supremacy that we call fraud.
These two factors have combined to turn Capitalism into a tactic used against indigenous people by white supremacists. Specifically…
- When white Capitalists create laws and policies that block Blacks from buying and profiting from assets. (Modern-day redlining: How banks block people of color from homeownership)
- When white Capitalists pay Black laborers less for the same amount of work they do (and in turn the amount of wealth they generate for white business owners. (African Americans are paid less than whites at every education level)
- and when white Capitalists steal our surplus of currency – a surplus that could be converted into wealth – with unequal fees, penalties, and by charging us more for the same services. (Black consumers pay more for loans, rent, car insurance,
As you can see, your Ancestors used a form of Capitalism to build the most beautiful and powerful of African civilizations. How wealth is created, used, and distributed in any given society is determined by the values of that society. Thus, Capitalism, Socialism and other economic systems are not inherently good or bad. It is the values of a nation that determine how wealth is used for the well-being of every citizen – not just the 1%.
If we want to see a more equitable society, then our goal must be to create and acquire wealth and redistribute it amongst ourselves in ways that honor our values.
If we are serious about building Black wealth, here are 5 lessons that every member of the Black community must master.
Click the tab below to see the next lesson!