Our Misguided Priorities

James Clingman | 10/10/2012, 12:34 p.m.

Centuries ago, Black people in America came to realize they had to fend for themselves in order to survive in this foreign land. As enslaved Africans, with talents and skills necessary for building the wealth of this country, they never had to be concerned about their employment rate - it was always 100 percent. What they did have to worry about was how they could someday free themselves from the yoke of bondage.

Our ancestors figured out very quickly that if they had money, they could buy their way off the plantations and become free men and women. They understood the value of their skills and knowledge, and began to "negotiate" with their enslavers for the right to have a little piece of land on which they could grow crops for themselves and sell a portion to others.

As our ancestors accumulated money from their entrepreneurial initiatives, they were able to purchase their freedom and that of their family members and friends. The entrepreneurship skills inherent in those enslaved Africans came to the fore, and set in place the priority of economic empowerment among Black folks in this country. They knew that ownership and control of income producing assets were keys to their success.

I often wonder what our forebears would say to us today about our failure to place that same priority on our economic empowerment. Under the worst of circumstances, they worked hard to gain the economic footing needed to care for their families and send their children to school. They did what they had to do, that is, use entrepreneurship to elevate themselves to levels that would eventually lead to flourishing Black-owned and operated enclaves across this country.

Today our priorities have changed almost to the point of ignoring the very basis of existence in this capitalistic society. The rules have not changed since our ancestors learned them and passed them on to us through their demonstration of individual and collective pursuit of economic empowerment. In general, it seems we have become a complacent bunch of mentally enslaved people, driven by emotional speeches, paralyzed by the passion of what could be rather than what really is, and captivated by the success of others while ignoring our own lack of success.

What have we become and what will become of us? It's simply a matter of priorities, folks. It's a matter of keeping the main thing the main thing, as our relatives did way back when. The main thing in this nation is economics; in second place is politics, and everything falls in line after those two. Chew on this: "Although poverty conditions for Black America have improved, the rates are still staggering when compared to that of all Americans." (Black Demographics.com)

As we move closer to the election, I see excitement, commitment, and boundless energy, especially among Black people, to get out the vote, which is commendable. However, that same energy is missing when it comes to economic initiatives. If Black people would muster the same enthusiastic activism when it comes to empowering ourselves economically, we could carve out a niche in the marketplace and take a permanent seat at the table of commerce.