“There exists today a chance for [blacks] to organize a cooperative State within their own group. By letting Negro farmers feed Negro artisans, and Negro technicians guide [black] home industries and [black] thinkers plan this integration of cooperation, while [black] artists dramatize and beautify the struggle, economic independence can be achieved. To doubt that this is possible is to doubt the essential humanity and the quality of brains of the [African American].”
W.E.B. DuBois, 1935
Today, like The Great Depression in the 1930s, African Americans, are suffering disproportionately in relationship to whites. As Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute suggest, “In the best of times many African American communities are forced to tolerate levels of unemployment unseen in most white communities… National recessions take blacks from a bad situation to a worse one.” In light of this, Africa Americans, and in particular the leadership class, would do well to revisit W.E.B. DuBois writing on the need for cooperative model of economic development. What is clear, and history is a powerful witness is that the masses of blacks will bear untold economic and social suffering as a result of the collapse of the economy. Thus, what is at stake is not merely the loss of jobs for blacks, but the loss and destruction of family, community and social life.
Austin reminds us that there is connection and association between the economy and violent crime and teen pregnancy in the black community. He maintains that “Associated with the strong economy of the 1990s, there was significant decline in black violent crime rate and black teen pregnancy rate. Between 1993 and 2001, the black violent crime rate decline by 60.6 %. Between 1990 and 2004 the black teen pregnancy rate decline by 46.7 %. These improving trends have ended, and it is likely that the worsening economic conditions of African Americans of 2001 have played at least a partial role.” Obama’s economic stimulus initiative notwithstanding, social life in urban core have already deteriorated into a classic model of “All against all”, with the rise of gang violence, drug trafficking and “striping” and prostituting viewed as legitimate avenues of employment- all indicators of hopelessness on the watch of a president who made Hope his watchword.
This brings us full circle to Dubois and his call for a cooperative economic model for African Americans. Unquestionably, his is a model whose time has again resurfaced. What African Americans have to do is defined their own economic interest and model and not rely on President Obama, no matter how well meaning. Obama wants to save and at best humanize the American capitalist system. Even if he is successful, this does not means that the quality of economic and social life of the masses of blacks- working class and the poor-will fundamental be any different or will fortified them against future downward trends in the economy.
A cooperative model will not be easy nor will it be automatic. Yet, there is little choice. As DuBois stated in 1935, “If the leading Negro classes cannot assume and bear the uplift of their own [masses], they are doomed for all time. It is not a case of ethics; it is a plain case of necessity. The method by which this may be done is, first for the American Negro to achieve a new economic solidarity.”