The necessity of financial freedom for african-americans

I find myself  often not in agreement with Dr. Boyce Watkins on a few issues, but this is an excellent  op-ed  authored by him.  It  is 100% spot on in terms of how African-Americans need to be thinking with respect to financial independence.    

Dr. Watkin’s op-ed focuses on African-Americans as individuals achieving financial independence, but our thoughts really need to go deeper than that and consider the financial independence of  major African-American organizations in general and various African-American “leaders”.   I’ve done the research and what you’ll find is the same thing that affects us individually on this question–the organizations and  “leaders” who purport to represent us are no more financially independent than the average individual African-American employee and like Watkins says, he who controls the purse strings controls the agenda.  It’s our lack of control of  the agenda that leaves us powerless both individually and in the collective.

3 ways to find financial freedom as unemployment rate rises

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

They say that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but that whole statement is silly. First of all, we know that women eat fish too. But more important, the person who really has power is the one who owns the fishpond, who rents it out to people teaching each other how to fish.

America is a capitalist society, and where there’s wealth, there is almost always power. The problem for African-Americans is that we have not yet learned how to harness this power and we consistently find ourselves dependent on fragile and ethically-challenged corporate structures to help us get the things we need. We know everything about consuming our incomes, but know nothing about how to actually grow and create true wealth in an independent fashion. Economic education becomes a critical commodity in a racist society, since a firm understanding of wealth and institution building can go a long way toward creating the kind of intergenerational empowerment that allows one to control the destiny of his or her community.

When I became a black public scholar, I knew that my work would be controversial. I also knew that once I became controversial, two things would happen: Someone would steal my platform away from me, and someone would threaten my financial security. These tactics of academic imperialism are logical, given that the easiest way to control another person is to remind that individual that you’re the reason his children get to eat everyday. So, in order to prepare myself for the coming volatility, I made sure that my income didn’t come from one source. I also made sure that I owned a piece of the very institutions that fed the belly of my success. So, as my campus buckled under the pressure of Bill O’Reilly calling for me to be fired from Syracuse University, I was able to stand strong in the face of the backlash. The fight for civil rights is not just about being brave; it is also about being in a position where it is easy to be brave.

The lack of financial independence of African-Americans often undercuts our ability to advocate for honest social change on behalf of our people. When injustice calls for us to stand up, our financial situations force us to quickly sit down. That is when the long list of excuses starts to emerge, from having bills to pay, to being worried about finding another job. The pressure of being muted takes a huge toll on the physical and psychological health of an oppressed population.

I’ve always believed that every black child in America should be taught the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, even if they don’t plan to become entrepreneurs. When they learn where babies come from, they should be learning where jobs come from. That way, they can earn income during tough economic times such as the ones we are experiencing right now. Here are some quick entrepreneurial lessons to learn from our current economic downturn:

1) There is no such thing as financial security when you’ve only got one job: The economy has changed drastically since the advent of globalization and even more during the recent financial crisis. Your home is not going to automatically increase in value, and the seemingly solid company you work for may not be so solid tomorrow. You are usually safer financially when earning multiple streams of income.

2) In order to change something, you must own something: An athlete has no power if he doesn’t own the team. An attorney with a high income can still end up living from paycheck to paycheck. As you age, your money should be working for you, and you should not be solely reliant upon your own human capital (i.e. labor) in order to get the things you need.

3) Financial freedom can have almost nothing to do with money: Money is obviously a critical tool for financial freedom, but for some, freedom is simply about being liberated. Money is a wonderful thing, but having what you need can be far more important than having what you want. Imagine how much your day-to-day behavior would change if you could suddenly live life without worrying about money. Money is one of the keys to freedom in a capitalist society, and a critical step in the ability of African-Americans to firmly pursue meaningful social change.

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