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100 Ideas, White Supremacy, Entrepreneurs and Income Inequality

January 9, 2018

Try to imagine if you can, what Grand Rapids might look like if no one lived in poverty. Imagine if just those who were African American, disproportionately did not live in poverty. Can you even imagine that?

Some will say that African Americans have had every opportunity to get out of poverty and that there is no reason why a high number of blacks in this city should live in poverty.

Those who are quick to say this fail to acknowledge the history of White Supremacy in the US. They fail to acknowledge that slavery meant that black people earned no money and were not allowed to acquire assets, while white people profited significantly off of slavery.

Those who fail to acknowledge the history of White Supremacy fail to take into account the theft of black owned land, the constant terrorism of armed white people, whether it is the KKK or the local police department. Failure to acknowledge the history of White Supremacy means failure to talk about the history of lynching, segregation, financial red lining, that black people have disproportionately made lower wages than white people, mass incarceration, white flight, gentrification, urban renewal and the defunding of the public sector, which has disproportionate impacted the black community more than any other.

People could read about how the economic system of capitalism doesn’t serve most people, but has particularly impacted the black community, as the great historian Manning Marable documents in his book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.

Along comes Start Garden, which says it wants to give away $1,000 to 100 people for new business ideas in the coming weeks. In July, Start Garden judges (whoever they might be) will have complete say in determining what lucky 10 people will then each get $20,000 to start a new business initiative. 

The funds for this new project are coming from the banks and other financial institutions listed below, with the intent of creating,”10 new sustainable ideas in our Grand Rapids business district,” says, Jorge Gonzalez of Start Garden. Gonzalez went on to say, based on an MLive article, “That means wealth creation.”

Gonzalez’s co-worker in this project, Darrel Ross explained the thinking behind the initiative, when he said, “The solution to poverty is income, and the best way to generate income is through entrepreneurship.” Such a statement not only fails to acknowledge the history of White Supremacy, it fails to take into account how the system of capitalism works.

Capitalism, particularly Neo-Liberal Capitalism, functions best when there are a small percentage of the population keeping most of the wealth, while the masses are living in poverty or just a pay check away from falling into poverty. In fact, the founder of Start Garden, Rick DeVos, and the entire DeVos Family, has been deeply committed to the accumulation of wealth for themselves and influencing public policy to do things like –  defund the public sector, eliminate unions, provide tax breaks and major subsidies to corporations, undermine public education and give the super rich unlimited ability to buy elections at the federal and state level.

Yet, somehow those who currently run Start Garden want people to believe that creating more entrepreneurs is the best way to generate income. Now, this might help a few people get out of poverty, but it is not sustainable and it again fails to acknowledge history and the complex nature of systems of oppression that make it extremely difficult for black and brown communities to experience economic justice.

Real economic justice looks more like what the Movement for Black Lives (MBL) is proposing.

First, the MBL is calling for massive Reparations for the wealth extracted from our communities through environmental racism, slavery, food apartheid, housing discrimination and racialized capitalism in the form of corporate and government reparations focused on healing ongoing physical and mental trauma, and ensuring our access and control of food sources, housing and land. 

Second, MBL is calling for an Invest-Divest strategy, which says, We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations. 

Third, they are calling for Economic Justice, where they say, We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access. 

Each of these strategies and demands comes with lots of details on how the black community can get out of poverty, all of which can be found at this link

The local news reported that there was a large audience for the kick-off of the 100 Ideas  Start Garden Project. This is no surprise, given that 100 people will likely get $1,000 for just pitching a one-minute idea. However, such entrepreneurial ventures will only end up benefitting a small number of people, which will ignore thousands in poverty and perpetuate individualism, rather than promote how we can collectively fight poverty, income inequality and imagine other community-based forms of collective liberation.

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