Episode 20: Black Capitalism or, I'm a Business, Man

A close up of an eye from a $100 bill.  Photo by  Vladislav Reshetnyak  from  Pexels

A close up of an eye from a $100 bill.

Photo byVladislav ReshetnyakfromPexels

“Gentrify your own ‘hood before these people do it/Claim eminent domain and have your people move in/ That’s a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing/ For anybody still confused as to what he was doing /The neighborhood designed to keep us trapped. /They red-lined it so property declines if you live by blacks /They depress the asset then take the property back. /It’s a ruthless but a genius plan, in fact....”-Jay-Z, performing at Webster Hall, NYC on 26 July 2019

We’re quoting Jay-Z not just because of his deal with the NFL, in which Roc Nation partners with the league on matters of “entertainment and social justice,”  or because he claimed that we’ve “moved past kneeling” and “...need actionable items.” The lyrics above and the first glimpses of the Roc Nation/NFL partnership (Inspire Change apparel, Roc Nation’s artists having their songs strategically placed during NFL broadcasts, and a Chicago-centric pair of charity donations, including one to a group that posts photos of young black people having their dreadlocks cut as part of the road to a “better” post-gang life on Twitter) are a great jumping off point for a discussion of black capitalism that we’ve been meaning to have for a long time. 

This is a long one, and we have a lot of… thoughts, and feelings. So many feelings. Listen in as we talk about Reconstruction, economic anxiety, Booker T. Washington, shadow economies, entrepreneurship, space travel, Kamala Harris’s student loan proposal, self-sufficiency vs. self determination, and much more. Capitalism alone is a complex topic, as is Black people’s relationship with it. Consider this episode as a way of laying the groundwork for discussions that we will likely return to off and on in future episodes. 

Mentioned on the show

A note before the show notes proper: Yes, it’s Dooboyz and not Doobwah. We regret the misstatement, which can be charged to late in the day fatigue. Speaking of both W.E.B Du Bois and economics, if you have some free time, it’s well worth checking out his painted data visualizations of Black American life in 1900. You can also read more about them here .

On with the show notes...

Mehrsa Baradan’s The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap and the origins of black capitalism. You can also read an adapted excerpt here and a longer review that discusses Baradan’s conclusions about the origins and perpetuation of the racial wealth gap here

Opportunity Zones and their (mis)uses

From the Atlanta Black Star: 20th century Black land ownership

From the Atlantic Van Newkirk II’s investigation of the dispossession of Black landowners in the present

An 1867 sharecropper contract, with some useful historical context

From PBS: The connection between sharecropping and slavery

From the Nation: exploring the legal loophole that often leads to Black landowners losing their land

Indigenous and black scholars talk about settler identity for Vice

LaTarsha’s not alone: writer Adele Thomas talks about her complicated relationship with land as a Black American

On the National Negro Business Leagues

Booker T. Washington and the” Atlanta Compromise” speech

A Black Marxist take on self-determination from 1965

The roots and impact of Washington’s feud with W.E.B. Du Bois

Boss: The Black Experience in Business  (documentary, but you can read a full transcript if you’re not a PBS member/don’t have a local PBS station)

 Scalawag Magazine’s stories about Maggie Walker and St. Luke’s Bank and  North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company 

Some background on the People’s Grocery (video) and the  episode of the No Man’s Land podcast on Ida B. Wells’s first lynching investigation and subsequent work as a journalist and activist

Ownership is not liberation: Killer Mike, Jay-Z and the pitfalls of black capitalism

Jay-Z,conflicted (?)  capitalist

Kamala Harris’s opportunity gap reduction plan, including that viral student loan forgiveness proposal

From Marketplace: The economy still isn’t working for people of color

Can we turn economic disenfranchisement into a force for good? This article from Black Enterprise thinks so



More interesting links: 

IndiVisible, a joint exhibit of the Museum of the American Indian and the  National Museum of African American History traces the history of African-Native American people in the US, and of the intersections of Black and Indigenous histories more generally. 

The Black/Land Project is a collective that collects and considers stories about Black people and land in North America. If you’re in for a longer, slightly more dense read that contains a lot of interesting personal stories and Black and Indigenous people talking about relationships with land, settler states, and one another, Not Nowhere: Collaborating on Self-Same Land is a great place to start. 


(content warning for language)   Speaking of Killer Mike, you can listen to/watch him talk about community economics here.

A look at the pitfalls of valorizing Black economic achievement that considers gender: Collective Success: The Myth of Progress through Black Capitalism

From the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Let Us Put Our Money Together, a free, book-length history of Black banks

Alternatives to black capitalism: Huey P. Newton’s intercommunalism and cooperative economics

Another approach: The recently-revived Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-1968, Martin Luther King Jr.’s cross-racial plan to achieve economic justice via an active war on poverty