Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Nationalist Math in My Head

Yesterday morning, much as one gets a song stuck in one's head despite all reason, math ("cypherin', as my father would say in his most southern moment) was stuck in mine. This is what it was:

9 x 12 = 108
25 x 120 = 3,000
1.5 x 1200 = 1800
0.5 x 12000 = 6,000


This late summer's reading, (which included a first reading of We Who Are Dark, a second reading of The Covenant and a third reading of Birth of a Nation); hearing that in my little teensy backwater California formerly Black city, we're bleeding more than $100 million a year that could and should be leveraged locally; and feeling an increasing sense of "Fuck, I just give up" when it comes to my efforts to build cross-racial and cross-ethnic coalition in politics based on directness and honesty rather than unthinking dogma at the present time to work on the now life-or-death issues confronting the African-American collective, has me thinking a lot about cyphering.

And yesterday, the cypherin' that kept working my nerves despite a long day of working and living kept bringing me back to the number 10,908.

10,908 Million, that is.

Otherwise known as nearly 11 billion dollars. Not exactly chump change, especially when one considers what can happen to that number if it is subjected to the miracle of compound interest for a time.

It is clear that Black folks have a lot of money that we can and do just spit away, even the poorest of the poor. Recent estimates of our disposible income, aka "buying power" collectively hover at around $800 billion a year. Right now, it's going to lots of causes, some good (churches and charities), some so-so (the mixed bag of The ShopTM, some very bad (the numbers, drugs, $150 tennis shoes and grill work on perfectly healthy teeth amongst the most self-hating.)

What would happen if we asked Blacks to, finally, ignore our detractors and well-meaning yet naive allies, and turn their wallets to a single cause: taking care of their own, where others have proven that they will not, despite their as-yet unpaid slavery debts? What would happen if we banded together, despite political party affiliation, residence in the hood or Buppieville, paper-bag test color, and all other false divides, for a single cause? Our cause?

That type of cause used to be called a Black nationalist cause. But whatever you want to call it (since I know that folks get scared about the words Black and nationalism in the same sentence, thinking that they mean "Kill Whitey" when they don't and never did except in the minds of white folks), the cause is long overdue. At least 85 years overdue, since the first time something similar -- a dues-paying membership society for African-Americans, for a purpose -- was called for. Except that this time, the long-term purpose would not be repatriation to the Motherland, but economic empowerment within the land we built for free. In our home.

How did I get to 10,908, the math above? Well, it's simple.

Even the poorest of the poor can donate $12/year - $1/month per person - to a cause. Indeed, many of the poorest of the poor donate lots more to causes that are grounded in nothing more than desperate hope, such as playing the numbers. (You can't rationally call the or the Lotto anything more than a donation, given that the odds range from 600-1 to nearly 12 million-1). That's where the 9 x 12 comes in: 9 million Black people living below the poverty line, each of whom gives only $1 per month to the cause. That's all.

The next group, the overwhelming mass of Black folks (25 million) who are working and who may be, even if struggling, still spending on everything from hair to cars to clothes, can easily come up with $120/year - $10 per month per person. 1 less movie, 1 less pair of sneakers or mid-tier clothing. Or if folks really need to feel like they are making a sacrifice, 3 fewer monthly visits to Starbucks. 26 million people giving $120 each year, to a cause. We put far more than that in the collection plate each year.

Then there is the next tier - the African-American professional class: those of us who make between $75K and $200K per year. Those of us who, even if we are struggling because historically we keep trying to live beyond our means, and in those people's neighborhoods at inflated housing prices instead of our own at reasonable ones, must admit if we are honest that our educational and professional credentials allow us to nonetheless spend more than $100 month per person on clothes, cars, upscale dinners and vacations, cable television and the big screen TV's to view it on (the latter which I myself have resisted because nobody, but nobody, needs a 42-inch TV.)

Finally, there are our elites: those 150,000 or so African-American households (representing 500,000 Black folks, give or take) with a gross annual income of more than $250K per year. Contrary to myth, they aren't all getting paid by the NBA, and they aren't all Oprah or Bill Cosby - both of who are donating to Black causes enough for themselves and everyone else as it is already. The bulk of this group are "regular folks" (comparatively speaking, anyhow) who happen to have real financial security which they worked hard for. Their financial status comes from their equal status as the elite educated. The business class. The investor class. (Yes, Black folks have one, too.) Surely, it is not going to really hurt this group to to ask them to contribute $1,000/month or so (since, if the vehicle is initially non-profit, they can write it all off anyway and will get back 50 cents or so on the dollar) to share the wealth with their own. Indeed, many of this group are quietly donating the money anyway, just off the radar so that their white patrons don't notice, to similar Afrocentric causes like the Boule - except that the Boule has spent far more time and money on cotillions and social climbing than its original purpose justifies.

And I have not yet even started talking about the Black billionaires and half-billionaires, who no doubt could, if so inclined, take up the slack and then some.

So what if, instead, that 11 billion, that 1/10th of 1% of our collective buying power - that "spit money" compared to our $800 billion in buying power - just a part of the money that 88% of us donate each and every year to religious charity or religious foolishness depending on your perspective, was systematically harnassed for a greater cause? For self-interest? For taking care of our own?

Imagine what could be done. The birth of a nation. We're already donating $11 billion every year anyway - why not aggregate it in a systematic way, for a change? And why not do it in a way that furthers our solidary, not continues to isolate the responsibility to a few individuals?

Just food for thought.

There is one, downside, and it's a big one. All 36,000,000 of those who identified themselves as African-American or Black on the most recent census would have to decide to work together. For a single cause - our collective cause. And to ignore ALL detractors who would try to tell us that we were "hurting our own interests" by banding together racially for a cause, especially the well-meaning liberal ones. Our sad miseducated history demostrates that this would be no easy feat. Slave mentality abounds, from the poorest of us to, most sadly, the richest and most well-educated. We continue (myself included, based on recent events) to measure the validity of what we want and what we say not on what is in our best interests, but instead on what they tell us is our best interests.

But then the numbers come up again. It's hard to argue with the numbers. And 10,908 as a powerful number, when you think about it. For those truly old school folks, I bet I could even find meaning somewhere in the Dream Book for the numbers 109 and 908, even if I didn't "combinate" them. (Hey, old folks in the 'hood still rely on this hoodoo style today to make financial decisions, and the power of numbers is deeply embedded in our culture - so whatever works to engage people, right?)

I cannot possibly be the first person who has thought of this simple idea, a cross between dues and tithes, right now, for a cause. The question becomes: how to try and make it reality? We obviously don't want another version of the crisis that caused the fictional "birth of a nation" called East St. Louis aka Blackland. (I couldn't sign onto a national anthem grounded in the Good Times theme song anyway....) If for no other reason than the fictional response to such a maneuver probably is not as far away from reality as one would like to hope. So what will it take? And who will it take? Perhaps something like *this* should be how we further things. The Covenant has not yet moved to its operational stage, although it's message continues to resonate and propagate quietly throughout our people, a phenomena largely off the radar (which I frankly am grateful for.)

We could spend forever talking about what to do with that kind of money - clearly collective wealth even in the face of individual "no pot to piss in" poverty. But that's secondary; if history teaches us anything about power in America, it should teach us that it is only after you have the resources that you can worry about how to spend them. And making a start by first beginning to harness our untapped financial resources will give us the time to think all those things through. But we have to start sometime.

Much to ponder. Much to hope for. Much to try and DO. I certainly am not up to the task alone, but I'm going to float this idea and see if it gets any traction.


At 4:35 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I like it. Yep, it's gonna be a tough one to get going, but it's a great idea.

Can you imagine the potential power from merely letting this money sit in a black-owned bank for a minute?

At 6:26 AM, Blogger Shanikka said...

That's the thinking I had Paul. Real Commitment plus The Miracle of Compound Interest=Serious Power to actually make some change.

And it's definitely time for a change. Each and every day, I see more and more evidence that African-Americans - not to mention Africans everywhere - are running out of time to take back control of our collective destiny. I'm not sure that too many things frighten me more than that increasingly-nagging belief.

Thanks for weighing in. I need to get brave and actually try and spread the idea in seriousness, to see if it has traction or I'm just another pie-in-the-sky dreamer.


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