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Looking back to Move Forward: 2019 Marks 400 years since the first Slave Ship Arrived in the US

posted Jan 18, 2019, 8:42 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Jan 18, 2019, 10:24 AM ]
This year marks 400 years since the landing of the first slave ship in the then, English Colonies in 1619. The White Lion and the Treasurer pirated black slaves from Portuguese Trans-Atlantic ships, selling them in Virginia from despite there being no clear laws on slavery in colony at the time.  Some people were able to win their freedom, become tax paying citizens, and buy land as indentured servants up until the 1700s.

Sankofa (Ghana, from the Twi dialect of the Akan Language): "Go back and get it"


Logo for the Sankofa Global Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Depicts the Sankofa bird, which symbolizes the need to learn from the past to prepare for the future. Akan symbolic illustrations of Sankofa are frequently found across many African American architectures. 
Black History Month was established as a time to acknowledge contributions of people of African decent in the U.S, a time to practice the proverb of Sankofa. 

The question still remains how we will be effectively address these divides. The answer may be found by looking back. As we prepare for Black History month and the contributions of people of African decent in America, it may be good to view historical events in the terms of economic events as well. 

People of African decent also continue to be disenfranchised, since the American economy was built on free labor. After the emancipation in the 19th century, the entire Southern economic system had to be rebuilt. This economic devastation would continue well into the modern age, and was seen as the reason for the uptick of lynchings.  These public executions were used to 'socially control' and intimidate black communities that were trying to accumulate wealth.  One event, the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921, had white assailants with airplane fire bombs destroying an entire town of wealthy blacks which resulted in an estimated $32 million dollars in 2019 USD.  

Competing with the Mainstream: Desegregation and Affirmative Action

Some economic solutions proposed were desegregation and affirmative action. However, while desegregation improved many cultural aspects in the U.S, members of the black community know that their black businesses were not included in integration. Many black businesses could not compete with mainstream businesses, leading to a loss of many black institutions since the 1930s.  This aggravated the economic divide, as it reduced the amount of capital going into black communities.

Affirmative action had a similar result. Mandating hiring practices to discourage racial bias against people of color caused many cultural and social advances. As a recipient of affirmative action for example, Barack Obama was given a chance to contribute at Harvard. While there, he was elected by his peers to become editor of the paper, he performed well earned a degree magna cum laude. He would even go on to be elected as President of the United States. Nothing was given to him, except for a chance to contribute at Harvard. However, affirmative action has it's limitations. 

There are issues such as 'academic mismatch theory' where students who haven't received the same academic training are suddenly thrusted into high performance classes. Students can often fail due to different academic cultures and lack of support; similar to black businesses not having the resources to compete in the main stream economy.

Further, Affirmative Action only benefits the individual going to school. This is because affirmative action is only for universities

Affirmative action doesn't ensure that people of color are hired to higher, decision level making positions in companies. This directly impacts economic outcomes. 
Diversity in the private sector is solely up to the culture, and biases, of companies. If affirmative action were ever to be applied to hiring practices as well, it still wouldn't make much of an impact. People are promoted to decision making positions based on the culture of the company: which is not always based on performance and is solely determined by the biases of the company. As such, it may be difficult for people of color to advance without both companies changing their biases and more capital afforded to communities for building their own companies.