How often do we hear messages about the amount of money Black people spend every year as consumers? In a recent report by Nielsen, “Black Dollars Matter: The Sales Impact of Black Consumers,” the message was once again highlighted: While African Americans make up just 14 percent of the population, they are responsible for some $1.2 trillion in purchases annually.
It is no secret that a significant amount of money flows through the hands of Black people annually, but what does that mean if Black people aren’t using their collective financial strength to change their overall situation in this country, or better yet, control their own destiny?
According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress titled “Systematic Inequality: How America’s Structural Racism Helped Create the Black-White Wealth Gap,” African Americans have about a tenth of the wealth of White Americans. The report found that in 2016, the median wealth for Blacks was $17,600, compared to the median wealth of Whites being $171,000. The report also found that even when Black people take progressive steps such as pursuing higher education, purchasing a home, or getting a good job or a better job, they are still falling way behind their White counterparts. The report found that the wealth gap between Black and White families in America is inextricably linked to America’s history of structural racism and it came to the conclusion that this gap is getting even worse.
Now, while the statistics and information in this report are alarming, there are some things that Black people can focus on to make things better and improve their overall situation. One of the most encouraging parts of the report is that it emphasized the importance of having a focused approach on introducing targeted and necessary legislative policies, that if implemented could ensure that Black families are able to build the same wealth as White families in America.
The report also stated that improved access to higher education alone, while important, will not be enough to create equal opportunity in terms of wealth-building for all, but that broad and persistent policy attention to wealth creation can address this glaring inequity between Blacks and Whites in this country.
The importance of Black people using their collective financial strength to influence politics, while ensuring that necessary legislative policies are passed and implemented, is more important in 2018 than it has ever been. However, Blacks must understand the power they truly possess, as well as the opportunity they have to make a difference in 2018 and beyond.
In “The Godfather Part III,” the third installment of the classic trilogy, there was a powerful scene in it that every Black person should pay close attention to, in which young Vincent Mancini-Corleone, played by actor Andy Garcia, becomes the mentee of aging mafia Don Michael Corleone, played by veteran screen legend and Academy Award winner Al Pacino.
In that scene, Vincent, who is unfamiliar with politics, has a powerful exchange with an Italian mafia kingpin name Don Lucchesi, played by Italian actor Enzo Robutti, about politics and money. The exchange goes:
Vincent Mancini: Don Lucchesi, you are a man of finance and politics. These things I don’t understand.
Don Lucchesi: You understand guns?
Vincent Mancini: Yes.
Don Lucchesi: Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.
In 2018, Black people have their hands on the money, but need to start using their resources to pull the trigger politically, by funding qualified political candidates, financing voter registration initiatives, creating political action committees, hosting political forums, challenging incumbents who don’t have their best interests at heart and even running for political office themselves.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade group that represents over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., aims in 2018 to register 5 million new, Black voters before the midterm elections in hopes of ensuring the election of candidates in November and beyond who want to introduce legislation that would effectively close the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites and improve the quality of life for Blacks overall.
There is much work to be done, but in order to see that type of change take place, Black people must get engaged in the political process, because everything that has positively and/or negatively affected them in this country has been as a result of politics and legislation.
All one has to do is review American history to see how Black people have consistently been systematically oppressed and have been on the wrong side of legislative decisions since this country’s inception. Going as far back as the Constitution of the United States, which includes the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” one is able to see how Black people have been negatively affected by laws that they did not originate and that have disenfranchised them. Also, if you look at federal, state and local legislation such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Dred Scott Decision, the Brown v. Board of Education, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Jim Crow laws, lynching, sharecropping, literacy tests, poll taxes and other segregationist policies, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the war on drugs, the three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, “stand your ground” laws and the voter disenfranchisement changes that have come as a result of the Supreme Court decision in the Shelby v. Holder case, you will see an all-too-common thread of public policy introductions and legal actions that have either positively or negatively affected Black people in this country.
It is time for Black people to stop treating politics like a taboo subject and start treating politics like the primary solution it is. It is time for Black people to pull the trigger on politics.
Boney serves as associate editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times.