The founder of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington once said in his Annual Address To The National Negro Business League in 1915 that, “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence.” The veracious and timeless nature of those words is part of the reason Booker T. Washington was considered to be one the leading black educators of the 20th century. Essentially, economics is the foundation to success; it is the supportive requisite in the three prospects: education, politics, religion. Financial stability and independence can open or contrarily close a multitude of doors. As slavery traversed through generations, economic illiteracy can do the same, creating a cycle of financial misfortunes amongst a group of people which has proven to be economically crippling.
The first step in countering economic illiteracy within our communities begins with the individual family unit. Parent’s must talk to their children about finances, and upon their child’s arrival to relative maturity they must disclose explicitly all the processes of running a household, from the bills to the mortgage, have conversation about credit and taxes. If these conversations are not happening at home, then they are most likely not happening at all. Some things are best learned through personal experience, finances is definitely not one of them. In improving economic literacy as a race, we take one-step closer to economic independence.
Today, in America there is a substantial wealth gap between whites and blacks. The Great Recession further pronounced this divide with the median net worth of black families wealth being $6,700 in 2007 and dropping to a mere $1,700 in 2009 according to Antonio Moore of Inequality.org. In fact, Blacks in the United States are worse off financially than our South African counterparts during Apartheid. According to data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finance, a median Black family in the United States holds only 1.5 percent of a median white family’s wealth. While under the subjugations of Apartheid in South Africa, Blacks held about 7 percent in relations to whites. This is the distressing reality of Black America: true equality can never be realized under such an immense contrast of economic power. At the start of this wealth race in the U.S., white Americans were dealt an unfair advantage through the effects of slavery and the subsequent oppression, in the form of Jim Crow. This did not allow African Americans to get off their blocks while white Americans started accruing wealth ever since they landed. To diminish this deficit, the mentality towards spending and saving should be more centralized to the empowerment of our own communities. Invest monies in black businesses and banks. In order, for the Black community to grow economically we must support one another, as Booker T. said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”