I consider myself a “Garvey-ite” because Marcus Garvey was a master of this philosophy. In early 1900s, Marcus Garvey was a leader of the largest Black movement in our history and his legacy has been treated as buffoonery or a joke. How did he do it, given the unbelievable opposition that he faced during that period? His accomplishments are a testimony to Black greatness and Black power. Marcus Garvey looked at the Black man: degraded, dehumanized and debased as Africa lay prostrate resulting from the slave trade and rampant European imperialism and colonialism, at the turn of the 20th Century. In response, he said, “Black man, where are your men of big affairs?” Looking around, he could not find any.
Marcus Garvey then created organizations such as The Universal Negro Improvement Association, The African Communities League, The Black Cross Nurses, Black Madonna and Child, and The Black Star Line, and created the Red, Black and Green flags. Red is for the blood, Black is for the color of the people and Green is for the land. Marcus Garvey insisted that we lay the foundation for Black men and women to stride towards advancement, advancement, and progress. Garvey coined the phrase, “Black is Beautiful.” He said Black people were “a gifted race with a proud past and a great future.” He founded his own media to get his message to the people. The Negro World published his message on a weekly basis. He also had a daily newspaper called The Negro Times.
In an age of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and others, Marcus Garvey was looked upon as a “foreigner,” even though he is now considered a pillar in the foundation of Pan-Africanism. Just as DuBois challenged Washington, he challenged Garvey. In that era of “Jim Crowism,” lynchings, fear and intimidation of black people, one leader accused the other. DuBois accused Washington of serving the white man’s interests, saying only his own “Talented tenth” idea was most practicable. Garvey accused DuBois of being a “Traitor to the race” and a “white Man’s Nigger.” DuBois, on the other hand, said Garvey was “insane” and “without a doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America, and the world. He is either a traitor or a lunatic.” How harsh were they to each other? This is the behavior that we must change going forward.
Black power can only be found in Black unity and Black unity can only be found in Black thinking – Black Race First thinking. Black power is no different than White power. Black Power is a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies aimed at achieving self-determination for Black people. It also can be seen as Black pride and the creation of a Black political agenda to align, nurture, and promote Black interests and Black values. Black Power expresses a range of political goals, from defense against racial oppression, to the establishment of social institutions and a self-sufficient economy. Power is essential for all living things, and Black people are no different. We have the same needs as all other people. We need power to achieve independence. We need power to secure the ability to do for self.
There are Black leaders who have been convinced by racist propaganda that supreme power lies in the hands of White people. They therefore suffer anxiety attacks and feel as if they are blasphemously rebelling against God, Himself. There are other Black leaders who think that we are inherently incapable of mounting a successful campaign against oppressive White power and therefore must sulkingly seek the least onerous accommodations to challenge their oppression. Black power is not the absence of White power; Black power is Black power and is independent of any other groups’ power. At the end of the day, Black power is having the ability to cause or prevent real change with the specific focus of achieving self-determination. Black people must come to grips with fighting for and securing power. Without it, we will never achieve self-determination and be able to do for our self. Neither can be achieved without being able to think for ourselves and practice a race first philosophy.
We’re at a very serious crossroads in our history as Black people and we must chart a path for independence or we will suffer levels of dependence we haven’t experienced since emancipation. It’s no longer what the White man is doing to us; it’s what we’re not doing. Yes, the American system continues to cripple and oppress our community, but what we do about it is solely up to us. Utilizing the tools within the American “toolbox” is our responsibility. We must fight back. Restated, we should be using every legal effort to defend ourselves and to secure Black power. We must change our behavior. Some social scientists say that if we want real and meaningful change to occur, it will take the coordination and efforts of three generations to have the desired outcome for the fourth generation. Therefore, we must organize our elders, those in their primes, and our young adults in a movement for independence.
Today, some Black leaders are overwhelmed by the idea of what it will take to achieve independence and therefore they do nothing. This is a flawed approach and is also a legitimate reason for not doing anything because independence and the ability to do for self will not happen in our lifetime. With the right plan and the right execution of that plan, success will only be achieved by the future generations of Black people, but we can’t jump over this process. This is not to say that we can’t see progress during our lifetime but we can’t undo nearly 500 years of oppression in one generation. It’s going to take a sustainable strategy. In business, you come to truly understand terms like, “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or “no risk, no reward.” At the end of the day, our leaders must take the risk to build the foundation for future change. That requires that we begin to aggregate our scarce resources (financial and human) to get traction on building an infrastructure to carry the load of establishing a working model on how to “do for self.”
What is dependence and what is independence? As a group, we have been in a state of dependence since we’ve been in this country. We have no power, and everything we have is pretty much to us and controlled by someone else. Starting with the enslavement of our ancestors through Jim Crow segregation and 1960’s civil rights, we have been in an absolute state of dependence. Since our emancipation in 1863, our struggle has been, not only to survive but also to remove the racist “rope” off our neck in the form of overt economic terrorism. While the “rope” has been removed, the sting of racism and racial discrimination is alive and thriving through America’s structural and institutional system. That system requires a different approach than our ancestors to defeat. The war that we now face is invisible to the naked eye because it’s no longer overt but concealed, which means the war is not only economic but is also mental. This is not a physical war, and underlying the fight has be the mindset of “race first” and “do for self”. They’re both one in the same.
As with Marcus Garvey, the message of “do for self” is not something new. In fact, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was the latest advocate of this philosophy manifested in the Nation of Islam’s progress achieved in 1950 through the mid-1970s, until his death in 1975. He represented himself as a preacher of freedom, justice and equality for Black people. All-important Black leaders have promoted and taught that Black Americans should be able to “Do for Self.” Both Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad showed the way of doing for self by organizing businesses and religious organizations. Frederick Douglas sought education in order to do for self. Booker T. Washington emphasized that the best way to do for self was to train to become equipped with practical skills. W.E.B. DuBois predicted that the talented 10th would guide the remaining 90 percent to do for self.
Sadly, Black Americans seem to have lost the connection to this powerful teaching and have not configured ourselves in both employment and in business ownership. As a result, we are unable to do for self in many of the most practical ways (business infrastructure). If we just focus on the basics, we must scrutinize our ability to feed, clothe and house ourselves. If we examine our infrastructure (numbers), they are alarming, challenging, and completely not aligned to deliver independence. True independence will reside in our ability to feed ourselves because we all must eat (agriculture). We must be able to draw from the earth its raw materials (mining) in order to manufacture what we need. We must be able to build structures (construction) in which to reside or produce. We must be able to facilitate the flow of information (information technology). Finally, and above all, we must be able to manage resources and production operations (management). On all of these fronts, the statistics show that we must develop immediate plans quickly or the dependence will become permanent.
The recent data on Black business ownership for 2010 show that less than four percent of all Black firms are not large enough to have employees. Therefore, it stands to reason that the statistics on Black ownership by industry sector is as bleak. We also must examine where Black business ownership is concentrated. Most studies show that Black business ownership is concentrated in health care, social assistance, personal and laundry services, administrative and support services, transportation and warehousing, and professional, scientific, and some technical services – very little within the production and delivery of food. There is no question that Black firms could be better aligned to enable us to do for self but too many have been steered into inconsequential roles in the U.S. economy. Why have we made a choice to forego business ownership in industries that would permit us to, at least theoretically, maintain some sense of independence and an ability to do for self?
Doing for self will require that the Black business community is robust, especially in the areas of agriculture and the delivery of retail, specifically food and food products. We must change the complete wipeout of Black-owned stores. In addition to not being able to feed ourselves, the Black community will continue to suffer from high levels of unemployment, which creates other social and economic problems for the Black community (do for self). Access to jobs are the lifeline for any society and contrary to popular belief, economic statistics show that the biggest job creators in America are small businesses, not corporate America. If our community and our small businesses are anemic, they have a direct impact our ability to provide employment opportunities in the community.
Doing for self will require that we change our behavior and begin to think about our independence. I believe that Black people are true champions and the descendants of greatness, but this generation must rise to the occasion and the challenge and like those before us. We must prove our greatness. We must do the work without fear of failure. Black people must come to understand what power is and how to obtain it. Power can only come from believing and practicing race first. Do for self and accept our own people. No one will do for us what we must do for ourselves. It’s no longer what they are doing to us; it’s what we are not doing.