What if the African American community channeled its $1.1 trillion disposable income exclusively into Black owned and operated businesses? The explosive growth in that single market sector could rock the foundations of this society – economically, politically and socially. Imagine how many rich Black people there would be. Imagine how many African Americans would actually have jobs rather than be denied employment and ignored by people who don’t want them around. Imagine our community uplifted with joy rather than depressed by hopeless despair. There would be dancing in the streets of New York’s Harlem, LA’s Watts, Chicago’s Englewood, San Francisco’s Bayview and Buffalo’s East Side.
Of course, that vision can’t happen right now. There is still too much to overcome. There are centuries of social and financial engineering designed to cripple us. So, as a result, the African American community is still too fragmented for that kind of unity. But think about the possibilities.
Today’s African American community stands on the shoulders of some very powerful people. Our ancestors are the same people who faced seemingly impossible odds in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. The legal institution of slavery in America formally ended. They were liberated. But liberated to what? The government abandoned them. They had no family connections or legacies, no resources, no education and no money!
Yet, within 50 years, to the amazement of those who had held them captive for over 200 years, those liberated slaves were able to build hundreds of competitive, functioning businesses, communities, and towns including Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. Some of those communities were so prosperous they were called “Black Wall Streets.” But these successes were short lived. Too often, in response to our success, angry, jealous mobs of frightened white people stormed our communities with guns, torches, bombs and overwhelming numbers to destroy them. And because of that insanity, we endured a reign of terror in this country that spanned nearly 100 years.
Besides shackling us with mind boggling violence, the white power structure took steps to make sure that kind of success wouldn’t happen again. They enacted Jim Crow laws and other systemic policies throughout the land designed to diminish our ability to own property, vote and run for office, participate in the justice system and have decent schools. They created redlining to prevent us from acquiring fair mortgages and business loans. They organized workplaces with unions that would not allow our membership. At every turn, we were prevented from being able to participate as full citizens in this country as was our right. And just to make sure the oppression was complete, they launched a full-scale multi-pronged propaganda attack using the power of media and pseudo-science to erase our history, demean our intelligence, steal our creativity, dehumanize us, ridicule us, discourage us, and make us hate the very skin we were born in. And in hating ourselves, we learned to despise those who looked like us.
So what will it take for the African American community to move forward as a unified whole? There have been flashes of successful collaborations over the past 50 years – the magic of Motown, the worldwide explosion of Hip Hop and its cultural influences. But they were just pockets of activity that for the most part did not benefit the community as a whole. What will it take for that mass revival to happen? The answer is not obvious. The answer is Forgiveness!
Aside from all the external impediments that prevent our rising as a prosperous community, one of the most debilitating impediments is internal. It’s our consciousness. Four hundred years of social engineering has inoculated us with anger, fear, suspicion and jealousy. Betrayal after betrayal has warped our consciousness to the point that our ability to work together as a cohesive group now eludes us. That 400 years of social engineering must be overcome. For some of us, it is too late. The damage is permanent. But for many of us, there is still hope. The pathway to that hopeful outcome is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the only tool that will bring about the healing and change that are so necessary for us to progress. We must forgive ourselves. We must forgive our brothers and sisters. We must forgive those who have betrayed us. We must forgive those who have oppressed us.
No, I’m not crazy. Yes, I am serious.
Remember forgiveness is the conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you – even if the ones who harmed us are us. Forgiveness is not for the other person — the forgiven. It is for you — the forgiver. Forgiveness is not explaining away or denying the seriousness of the offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing offenses. And forgiveness does not obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or even release them from legal accountability.
Holding onto anger, resentment and unforgiveness invokes the condition known as chronic stress. And with chronic stress comes the devastating chemical destruction it inflicts upon the human body. Damage like hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, rapid aging, and accelerated cancer. So, succumbing to anger and resentment won’t make us stronger. It actually makes us weaker!
Today, despite the odds, we are still standing. Yes, we are crippled but we are alive. Yes, our backs are bent but they are not broken. Yes, we are down at the bottom of the ladder but we are not out. Here, there and all around us, there are many of us who are already working ready to rise again — entrepreneurs, attorneys, doctors, financial advisors, etc. Admittedly, the wounds that have been inflicted upon us are deep. As I recall all that has been forced upon us throughout our history in this country, my heart aches with cross generational pain. But despite that ache, we must move forward. Despite that pain, we must release the anger, frustration and resentment. We must turn from the past to face the future and begin to move ahead.
If we are to prosper, we must forgive. And we must include ourselves in that forgiveness process. We must forgive ourselves to heal the damage we have done to ourselves. We must forgive ourselves for letting the propaganda convince us that we were substandard. We must forgive ourselves for letting the propaganda convince us we were second class. We must forgive ourselves for letting the propaganda shame us into despising ourselves and belittling ourselves because the evidence against us was so powerfully convincing. We must forgive ourselves and open our eyes to the truth.
The evidence was false and the propaganda was all lies. So let us forgive ourselves and release the pain that we have inflicted upon ourselves. Then let us forgive ourselves for the pain we have inflicted on those around us who look like us and were the targets of our self-hate.
In order to rise as a community, we must be able to work together. In order to work together, we must learn to love and trust each other as Jesus directs us in Matthew 22:39, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is not just a biblical or spiritual concept, it’s a basic tenet of dramatic group achievement. Teamwork makes the dream work. In-fighting leads to defeat.
We have the power to generate a Black Business boom that would shake up the economy. We have the power, but that power will only be effective if we can break the shackles that bind us. So, let us invoke forgiveness for our own well-being. Let us invoke forgiveness to diminish those crippling negative emotions and let it enable us to keep our wits about us. Let it enable us to see the vision of what can be our future and then let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We need to see clearly what is before us and what we have to do to rise.
Of course, we can’t focus our entire pool of disposable income towards Black owned and operated businesses. There aren’t enough of them yet to make a significant difference. But we can make a start in that direction. If we make a conscious effort to overcome the self-disdain and support our brother and sister entrepreneurs, attorneys, doctors, financial advisors, etc to give them a chance to prove their worth, we can begin to rebuild on a legacy of overwhelming success as evidenced by the Black Wall Streets that have already existed and sparkle like beacons in the dark shadows our suppressed American history.