There is a crisis of monumental proportion in our so-called “Black communities.” A crisis that if not checked will prove to be our demise. We are bleeding so badly that we are in a comatose state and on life support right now. But we still have a strong heartbeat, so we can be revived by those who have the financial and intellectual talents and the willingness to make the requisite individual sacrifices necessary to restore us to a more healthy state.
A cadre of individuals, not featured in the dominant media, is devoted to leading the charge for economic empowerment among Black people. These brothers and sisters are not afraid. They are not ashamed of being Black. They are not hiding behind organizations and in corporations; they are strong and unwavering in their message of economic empowerment. They are our Emergency Medical Technicians, the first ones on the scene to stop the bleeding and take us to a place where we can be treated and recover from our wounds.
Yes, we are bleeding profusely brothers and sisters, and we must stop the bleeding, not with a Band-Aid but with stitches. Our life-blood—our dollars are flowing out of our neighborhoods. The professionals call this phenomenon “float” or “expenditure leakage,” which translates into what the experts at the Brookings Institution called a “market opportunity to provide competitively priced goods and services to inner-city consumers.” A 1999 report issued by the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, written by Robert Weissbourd and Christopher Berry, cited some glaring and, quite frankly, embarrassingly stark statistics that portray Black people as nothing more than “economic opportunities” for others.
Please note the report was not casting aspersions on Black folks, rather it was simply pointing out some facts about inner-city neighborhoods and their consumers and suggesting ways that businesses and government entities could better serve the residents as well as their own interests. It stressed investment opportunities within under-served neighborhoods and was positive in its approach to suggesting ways to effect much-needed change.
Nevertheless, my take on this issue conjured up visions of massive hemorrhaging, and it very strongly suggested that we need to stop the bleeding. The report compared one of Chicago’s Southside neighborhoods to the affluent northern neighborhood of Kenilworth. It stated, “…urban neighborhoods like South Shore in Chicago have more buying power than the wealthiest of suburbs. South Shore’s median family income was $22,000 back then; Kenilworth’s was $124,000. But South Shore had $69,000 of retail spending ‘power per acre,’ nearly twice that of Kenilworth’s $38,000.”
That means inner city residents, despite their tremendous resources, are virtually bleeding to death. Literally millions of dollars are leaving our neighborhoods, which in turn, also negatively affects our employment opportunities. It continued, “For business, this translates into lost sales, or what marketers call ‘float dollars.’ For inner city residents, these are ‘float jobs,’ as crucial dollars that could employ local residents and fuel the neighborhood economy are spent elsewhere.”
The only thing that has changed during the last sixteen years is our collective annual income, which is much higher. The problem is that we don’t learn from information like this and use it to improve our situation.
We are bleeding, brothers and sisters, and our blood is Type O, the “universal donor”—everybody benefits from it. We have EMT’s ready, willing, and able to apply the tourniquets and even to stitch up our wounds. It’s up to us, however, to access their expertise, to follow their instructions, and to take the prescriptions they write for us. If we are going to stop the bleeding, if we are going to put an end, once and for all, to the preventable loss of lifeblood – our dollars – from our neighborhoods, we must make the changes being recommended by our true economic leaders.
We must consider our “spending power per acre” as cited in the Brookings Report, just as others are considering it and gaining a stronger economic foothold in the billions Black people earn and spend each year. We must redirect a greater portion of our $1.2 billion aggregate annual income back to ourselves via our own businesses, and we must develop a culture of wealth retention, a culture of collective economic empowerment among our people, regardless of where we reside.
In the book Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age, Michael Shuman wrote: “Being poor doesn’t always mean being without resources. Anacostia is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., yet the total income of all its households is $370 million per year. The principal affliction of poor communities in the United States is not the absence of money, but its systematic exit.”
So, put the Band-Aids away; we need sutures. Let’s stop the bleeding, Black people. If we fail do so, our words are merely “Sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
James Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. His latest book, Black Dollars Matter! Teach your dollars how to make more sense, is available on his website, Blackonomics.com.