If you want to know why something is happening, follow the money. To further the discussion to heal the distance between Africa and its Diaspora, let us go over the historical and current economic oppression that influences and determines the Black experience.
In this video and post, I am focusing on Black America and Ghana. For Black people outside of America and Ghana, please do not feel isolated or excluded in this conversation. The point is for all of us to win. Understanding how we can strategically do that is key. As you read further in this post, I widen the focus to other parts of the world.
Let’s dive deeper. Starting with economic oppression and Black America, there are two layers to this agenda: the wealth gap and the income gap. The wealth gap was created by the exploitation of free labor from Black slaves, passing down of profits from that exploitation, and destroying and stealing from Black businesses.
The history of slavery in America is diluted and distorted in American history. The wealth gap began with cotton. America’s first big business, which pushed it to be the leading economy in the world, revolved around slavery. At one point, American cotton made up two-thirds of the global supply of cotton. This was all off the backs of slaves. Americans became millionaires off the bleeding backs of enslaved Black people. This is also where police brutality began. Aggressive and barbaric white “supervision” was used to return runaway slaves to the plantation while violently and brutally questioning the work and movement of slaves. This Vox article gives more details on how slavery became America’s first big business.
Like I mention in the video, there are two historical massacres that are referred to as the illustration of why telling Black people to pick themselves up from their bootstraps is not valid.
The Tulsa Massacre in 1921 occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the Greenwood District, which was also known as Black Wall Street. It was an affluent Black American community that included thriving and peaceful Black businesses and residential areas covering 35 city blocks. The incident that started the massacre is still surrounded by rumors around what happened when Dick Rowland, a Black man, and Sarah Page, a white woman, stood in an elevator. A white mob formed reacting to this rumor that was further embellished as it spread through the town. Rowland was arrested and held at the police station. The mob outside was met with a group of concerned Black residents who understood that Rowland was in danger of being killed by either law enforcement or this white mob. This response added to the rumors that spread among the white mob pitting for a race war. The white mob grew in size and hate. They proceeded to burn and destroy Black Wall Street, leaving around 10,000 Black Americans homeless and murdering around 300 Black Americans. The Tulsa Historical Society and Museum have archived the details of the Tulsa Massacre through documents, photos, and audio on their website. They also provide a free exhibit.
The Rosewood Massacre in 1923 occurred in the predominately Black town, Rosewood, in central Florida. It also was instigated by an alleged rumor that a white woman was offended, in this case sexually assaulted, by a Black man. The white mob that responded to this acted on further embellished rumors to burn the town to the ground and lynch / murder any Black man they could find. Again leaving those who survived homeless. More details are in this Black Past article.
The income gap continues through occupational segregation. Let’s go over some numbers. In 2018, 20.8%, which is 8.9 million, of Black America were living underneath the poverty threshold, being the second largest group in America living in poverty. (Source from Talk Poverty) The overall largest group is Native Americans at 25.4%. Like I mentioned in the video, Black people in America got the shorter end of the stick and Native Americans did not get a stick at all. Systematic inequality cannot continue to wipe them out either. Let me know if you would like to learn more about the Native American experience so I can direct you to the voices you need to listen to. Regarding unemployment, in 2018, the overall rate was at 3.8% and the Black rate was 6.5%. In 2020, the overall rate is 13.3% and the Black rate is 16.7%. America has the biggest incarcerated population in the world. Prison policies and reform has more depth than a few percentages could show. This report gives more details on the issue of mass incarceration in America. The income gap is not only maintained by unemployment. There is an additional layer with wages. This article breaks down how the wage gap is widening further. For more insight, read this report on systematic inequality and economic opportunity.
When we talk about systematic racism and systematic inequality, these numbers are part of the picture. One cannot “catch up” when the game is fixed or when the goal post continues to be moved. The gap is not actually influenced by the mask of education, home ownership, or job title. The gap is only influenced and maintained by the deliberate effort to keep the gap. This article from CityLab about why we can’t close the racial wealth gap has some good insight. This is part of why it is so exhausting to be Black in America. Always working hard and following the rules accepting that you will always have to tolerate less in every industry, field, interaction, and experience.
This is also why America always starts sweating when the conversation about reparations comes up. It is not because it is impossible to calculate the wealth Black America created and never benefited from. It is not because Black America is living so much better now compared to the 1800s or 1960s. It is because America prefers to drag its feet. It is because America prefers to do everything but what was asked for, like painting Black Lives Matter on a street, manufacturing band-aids that match brown skin, and kneeling while wearing cloth that looks like Kente cloth.
How can we learn from this? For the first time in a while, Black America used its purchasing power as an effective tool and Black-Owned businesses made millions of dollars over night. This is a good start. How do we take this further?
Now, let’s talk about economic oppression and Ghana. When I compare what was happening in Ghana with the same historical dates I listed above, I see there is a lot Africa’s people, in and out of the continent, can learn from to heal the distance and enhance the link.
In the 1860s, which was during the height of the cotton empire in America, the export of slaves was gradually diminishing. Even though the import of slaves to America was outlawed in 1808, the demand for slave labor continued after that. Later, Ghana experienced a shift as colonizers pivoted to competing with each other for colonial territories. During this time there were a variety of alliances and struggles for power, including the Ashanti-Fante War and the Anglo-Ashanti Wars. The latter wiped out different levels of British forces.
The debate as to whether Africans sold Africans into slavery is an interesting one. I have noted Africans rebutting that there is no evidence that a sale transaction occurred. I have noted Black people outside of Africa express suspicion on whether Africans were sold or stolen. Some argue that trying to discuss whether Africans sold Africans is like discussing black on black crime, which is a distraction from the movement. To me, it sounds like both discussions trigger people in different ways. I believe in holding each other accountable, which includes looking in the mirror and reading real history. The primary point is to avoid repeating history. Stop trying to distance yourself from the problem. We need to do better.
British authorities in the 1920s in Ghana adopted a system of indirect rule. Even though they put traditional chiefs in position of local authority, they took instructions from their British supervisors. During this era, transportation, water supply, public buildings, schools, prisons, hospitals, and other services were developed by colonial rule and African hands. Ghanaians also assisted Britain in World War I and World War II. A national conscious, which lead to independence, developed after WWII when veterans and the growing educated population no longer were satisfied with the humble position colonial rule kept them in. In some respects, Ghana was lucky compared to other African colonies. They did not experience limbs being chopped off, like Belgium rule in Congo, or complete destruction, like French rule in Algeria. However, one could analyze a wealth gap in how much was extracted from Ghana during this time.
Before I fast forward to the income gap of today, let’s pause here. If we focus on the historical events listed above for both Black America and Ghana, what do you see? Black people in America had a different experience with white people compared to Black people in Ghana during that time. Both set of colonizers utilized economic oppression, but in different ways. I feel this needs to be understood by Africans and Africa’s diaspora. This might be the reason why there is a sense of urgency to fight the power on one end and a sense of confusion and no urgency on the other. Remember, colonizers do not want us to be on the same team. I feel education has a role to play in this too. When I speak to Ghanaians about colonialism and Ghana’s relationship with England now, I do not pick up a sense of animosity or disdain. The narrative is not focused on exploitation, but rather how the British enhanced Ghana, historically speaking. Like I noted above, development did occur during colonial rule. Also focus on the fact that British rule had authority over education and implemented the British educational curriculum in Ghana. Making sure the Ghanaian population learned British history under a British lens, it is no surprise the British continued to frame themselves as a hero. This is similar to the American education system, which continues to frame the founding fathers and corporations as heroes. However, Black Americans have a different narrative when they speak about slave masters, Jim Crow law, and police brutality. Black British and Black French also have a different narrative when they speak about their experience with colonizers, which does include police brutality, economic oppression, and pushing statues back into the sea. I do not have the answer yet, but this disconnect should not be dismissed nor should it allow us to create more barriers between us.
Fast forward to the income gap of today in Ghana. In 2016, 56.90% of Ghana’s population was living underneath the international poverty threshold. In 2018, the unemployment rate in Ghana was 4.16%. There is a lack of transparency in the value of labor and skills in Ghana. This is why the numbers, which are primarily calculated and reported on by NGOs and international corporations, may not always add up. The focus of these numbers are primarily on national policy, like this report on Ghana’s poverty rate and inequality. There is a discrepancy between what Ghanaians are paid and what expats are paid in Ghana. There is inequality between what women are paid and what men are paid in Ghana. More details on this inequality are analyzed in this Oxfam report. As development continues, the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.
These numbers and lack of numbers is part of the picture. This is why the sense for most in Ghana is that nothing you do will really change the bigger things that keep your life the way it is. Some still spend half the day without electricity. The floods, that could be prevented, still kill and displace people every year during rainy season. This supports the assumption that big money only comes from abroad or corruption, not real work. When you compare this to how many foreign companies are making real profits in Ghana and taking it outside of Ghana, like this company producing organic bananas, I have to wonder if this attitude is systematic to reduce competition.
How do we learn from this? There are plenty of Black owned businesses in Ghana and Africa. There is a strong purchasing power in Ghana and Africa. However, there is still a mix-match. How can we fix it?
How do we learn from how economic oppression has been utilized against us to effectively protect what we build? On a people, corporate, and government level. How do we prevent our efforts from being destroyed by those who want to maintain the status quo? Let me know what you think.
The energy we are feeling right now is a golden opportunity. The shift and change is possible, if we continue speaking up, evolving, holding each other accountable, and making a difference. Below are more resources for you to continue supporting Black content and businesses.
Also, feel free to connect with me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I love hearing from you.
Black Owned Apps
JoinMi – safe space for HBCU students to converse about concerns and life.
Gbook – e-commerce platform for students to buy/sell products and services.
#TopIt – fun social challenges with friends.
Blademy – online platform for Black millennials to learn new skills, land better jobs, and reach their full potential.