RAGGED AND POOR: THE COLD CALCULUS OF RACIST CAPITALISM

new poor and ragged (4)

PART I 

The fate of African Americans is not in their hands; instead, our fate lies in the cold calculus of racist capitalists.  Carroll Quigley echoed the thoughts of the 1% wealthiest or elitists in our nation when he said: “…they [Negroes and Latin Americans] are really an educational and social problem for which economic or racial solutions would help little.”[1] Africans were brought to the United States for one purpose and one purpose only; they were brought to the U.S. as labor capital.  After the transition to an industrial economy the overarching national question has been ‘what to do with “negroes”.  Every other socio-political role played by people of African descent in the United States as far as economic elites are concerned is an accident.

We were brought here to do intensive manual agricultural and domestic work.  We were brought to the United States to generate wealth and leisure time for those who owned us and the Federal Government.[2] The value of Africans as labor capital depended upon whether the cost paid for them and their upkeep remained less than the financial returns their labor generated for their owners.  If any labor capital increases in cost beyond the financial returns earned by its use  in comparison to other forms of labor capital like machines or cheaper laborers, then what is more costly to the owner is discarded as being a drag on profit margins. That is the cold calculus of capitalism. That is what has and what will determine the ultimate fate of African Americans in the United States today.

In the beginning, it was necessary to bring large numbers of Africans into the European colonies to work on plantations as their territories expanded.  By 1770, 33% of the population in the colonies was African.  Population is a prime indicator of an ethnic group’s economic role in a nation as either producer and/or consumer.  Historically,
the numbers of African Americans in the United States is associated with the nature of the economy and immigration law.  For example, under slavery Africans had full employment for obvious reasons.  After slavery, African Americans have never had full employment in any industrial market.  In fact, after slavery and during industrialization, African Americans have been disproportionately unemployed.  If we break African American unemployment down by post-industrial markets we see the same pattern.

SLAVE VALUE AND AGRICULTURE

The value of a slave increased during the years 1800 to 1862 from $600.00 to $1,800 per slave.[3]  That is a 300% increase over 62 years.  It is directly correlated with an increase in agricultural acreage and production throughout the United States.  It was also a profitable investment for slave buyers because both the north and south could bet on the past consistency of farm profitability and so grew in wealth on the backs of Africans.[4] The civil war ended slavery but did not end the dependence upon African labor in the southern states in the agricultural market.  Then the economy of the United States was defined by its agricultural market.  Ninety percent of the U.S. population lived on farms or in rural areas. Though the labor capital cost of newly freed Africans would now be greater than it was during slavery it was still less than the profit to be made by using them as laborers especially if they had no cash and depended upon borrowing money.  And so a new system had to be reinstituted. It was one that had been so effective in Europe during the 9th and 15th centuries.  That system was feudalistic in design.

REPARATIONS FOR SLAVERY

The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ended slavery, except for those convicted of a felony.  The market for slaves thus brought to an end, a new market was ushered in; African American citizens were free to own businesses of their own or to hire themselves out in the so called open market after over 200 years.  Then a military policy was enacted which had it remained in effect would have changed the economic fortune of African Americans and upset the status quo.  More than 10,000 African American’s were granted reparations for slavery and given 40 acres and a mule in the State of North Carolina under General William T. Sherman’s ‘Special Field Orders, No. 15’ on January 16, 1865.  It was proposed by Abraham Lincoln; however, it was never made into law by Congress.  After President Lincoln’s assassination, Sherman’s ‘Special Field orders, No. 15’ was revoked by President Andrew Johnson (who was born in North Carolina, a southern democrat, by profession a tailor, and buried in Greenville, Tennessee the birth state of the Ku Klux Klan) and all land which had been distributed to African Americans as reparations for slavery was returned to ‘White’ democratic owners.

What was more profitable and politically beneficial to the power elite after the civil war in the southern states was a sharecropping system.  It became the normative manner of employment for most African Americans. For example, in Mississippi, 85% of African American farmers were sharecroppers up till 1940s.  Sharecropping was based upon a contractual agreement between parties. It is when an estate owner rents land to a leasee for the purpose of farming. The sharecropper promises to pay to the estate owner rent in the form of crops or livestock.  Sharecropping was a debtor’s prison from which none could ever escape.  It signaled a new kind of economic experience for African Americans, i.e., perpetual debt or no wealth at all.[5]

ECONOMIC SELF-SUFFICIANCY OR SERVITUDE

What is overlooked is that during the Reconstruction period (1866-1870) it was the ‘The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands’ which displaced ‘Field Orders, No. 15’ and thus the historic chance for African Americans to become economically vested in the United States.   It was the Freedman’s Bureau which framed and supervised sharecropping contracts as a system of feudalism.  The policy of the Johnson administration was in conjunction with racists’ interest groups in the south. That policy was the exploitation of African American labor within the context of feudalism.  Eventually, President Ulysses S. Grant disbanded the Freedman’s Bureau and with it all hope of economic self-sufficiency by the 40 acres and a mule policy.

A declining value of cotton, the boll weevil, flooding, lynching, and a technological innovation, Harvester International’s mechanical cotton picker introduced in 1947, made the northeast and west-coast economically attractive to African Americans.  So, we moved.

 



[1] Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, by Carroll Quigley, pub. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1966, pp. 1221 (Italics Mine)

[2] Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1; United States Constitution

[3] Black Labor, White Wealth, by Claud Anderson, Ed.D., Pub. PowerNomics Corporation of America, 1994, table 8, pp. 133

[4] How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery: Complicity, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of the Hartford Courant, Pub. Ballantine Books, 2005, pp. 54-55

[5] In 2011, the median net worth of African American Households was $5,667.00; Pew Research: Social and Demographic Trends, July 26, 2011

© Copyright 2013 Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed, All rights Reserved. Written For: Earth Colony

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