“…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”Ibram X. Kendi
Capitalism is a type of economic system that is driven by private owners and individuals rather than by government. The core principle of capitalism is to make a profit, and I would argue and say that this is done at any cost. Capitalism creates an attractive proposition for some – the potential to accumulate wealth, the luxury of freedom of choice, the promise of economic independence; however there are also many flaws to the system. Due to the lack of robust regulation of private companies and individuals, capitalism upholds inequality, as well as damaging the environment, encouraging short-term visions and excess materialism, not forgetting the damaging boom and bust economic cycles that have a crippling impact on the bulk of black businesses.
The relationship between capitalism and racism is hidden in plain sight. Capitalism isn’t inclusive and was never meant to be. The wealth gap created off the back of slavery is so vast, I’d be lying if I said I agreed with or knew a clear strategy to break down this entrenched system and provide black people with the indebted opportunities we have earned. Consequently, this has resulted in a conflicting narrative about the role of capitalism for black people in Western Society. The inauguration of Black pound day has attempted to organise the public on a mass scale to spend their money exclusively with black businesses on a specific day of every month. Although this is a great advertising and marketing campaign, there is more that needs to be done to address the deeper issues behind why black people are so much more economically worse off.
For those moving their sterling to black owned businesses, it’s vital to understand that this alone does not fix the fundamental underpinnings of racial inequality. I want to be clear that I’m not discouraging this movement, I’m just highlighting that a few extra wealthy black entrepreneurs will not result in an anti-racist and equal society. If we really want to bridge the gap, we need to take a closer look at the broken connections that drive inequity, specifically black people’s struggle to obtain quality housing (and ownership), employment, investments and assets.
Building wealth is no easy task, but in the same breath, the journey can be made easier with a solid supporting infrastructure. It’s all good and well to celebrate successful black entrepreneurs, but this should not been seen as the indicative measure of progress for an entire race. The reality is that working-class black folk are rarely able to access capital to build a better future, and those living in poverty do not stand a chance. By failing to connect how the sins of the past are affecting issues in the present, we will continue to face the same challenges.
So let’s talk challenges. Exactly what issues impact black people’s ability to amass wealth? I’ll touch on two areas:
- Issues out of our control such as higher rates of credit, limited investment options, monopolised supply chains, exclusionary policymakers, and the inability to compete with the giants. Due to the financial barriers that discrimination creates, we still see limited progress of black businesses on a scale needed to see change at grassroots level.
- Issues within our control such as spending habits, use of credit, savings and pensions and self-education. In a bid to economically compete, we need to reject the narrative that capitalism promotes and avoid living beyond our means. Designer brands, luxury holidays, contemporary furniture that you cannot truly afford will not provide you with the true financial security you are attempting to project to the outside world. Making the right financial decisions will increase your chances of creating multigenerational wealth for you and your family.
I am not going to pretend to have all of the answers but I would argue that the wealth gap is one of the more emotive topics for black people. Much of this country’s wealth and property was acquired through the proceeds of the slave trade; the UK’s refusal to pay reparations shows a conscious disregard for the continued pain and suffering of a whole group of people – a group who were used; a group who weren’t compensated for their foundational roles; a group who continue to financially trail behind others whilst trying to manoeuvre a system set up to oppress. Whilst we continue to build our case for reparations, we must also take a proactive approach to our financial responsibilities and educate ourselves and our children on money management.
There are some simple steps you can take to build financial stability and avoid the shackles:
- Base your financial decisions on your own situation and do not worry about what anyone else is doing
- Assess your waste spending (coffees, take-outs, clothes, entertainment) and redistribute some into yourself – Consider focusing on building your skills and investing in private healthcare
- Start a Budget to manage, plan and track your spending – this includes reviewing your pensions and savings
- As I mentioned, live within your means. Remember that capitalism is particularly powerful in its ability to indoctrinate the masses with the false notion that we can never have enough
- Create an emergency fund. Always expected the unexpected. Coronavirus is a prime example that nothing is for certain. Having an emergency fund will always provide you with a back-up plan to cope with any unforeseen circumstances. Remember, this is different to savings
- Pay off your debt – I cannot say this any enough! Active debt will always make it difficult to reach financial stability
- Invest in assets – the most common asset for the average person is the purchase of a home
The burning elephant in the room is the question “Will we ever truly be free from capitalist exploitation and racism?” To be honest, the jury’s out on that one, but this shouldn’t dampen our spirits or adjust our goals.