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Will Capitalism Save communities of color? Start Garden and the deception of wealth creation

February 21, 2019

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”         

Martin Luther King Jr. – from his Beyond Vietnam speech – April 4, 1967

Capitalism, and its current form of Neoliberal Capitalism, is very seductive. It offers promises of personal wealth and freedom from poverty, yet too often it has failed people miserably, especially in communities of color. However, despite this well documented history, such as in Manning Marable’s important scholarly work, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, members of the capitalist class continue to promote “economic opportunities” for communities of color.

Take the example of Start Garden, their recent comments in the business press and the beginning of their second straight year of the 100 Ideas project. In a recent article from MiBiz, Co-Director of Start Garden, Paul Moore said:

What the data is pointing to is we’re going to need to do a better job at creating on-ramps for women and minorities, and if we’re not doing that with any intentionality, there’s no reason we should expect to see anything change.”

What Moore and Start Garden believes is that if you can just offer more women and people from communities of color business opportunities, then they will have the same opportunities that men and white people have had. But this is a lie and has been so, since capitalism is by its very nature predatory and benefits only a small sector of the population. Charlene Caruthers, in her book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, makes this observation:

Capitalism with Black in front of it won’t liberate our people. Capitalism is by definition tied to the subjugation of African-descended people. Our collective liberation will not come from models that rely on individual or small group wealth building.

However, this is exactly what Start Garden is doing – attempting to convince some people from communities of color that they can make it individually or create small pockets of wealth. And in many ways it makes sense. To criticize people of color for wanting to build wealth through capitalist means is just another way to practice white supremacy. What I am interested in doing is to challenge entities like Start Garden, which are funded by members of the billionaire class (the DeVos family), and the larger community about the very nature of these types of neoliberal capitalist projects.

Start Garden’s 100 Ideas project is a great example of how we can all be fooled into thinking about wealth and economics. They invite people to submit ideas and for that they will pay you just to submit an idea. However, if there are ideas that they really like, they will reward you with more money. However, as always with venture capitalists, the get to keep some of the profits you make, especially if your new business project does well.

But here is the thing. Start Garden was made possible by DeVos money, which as we know was built on the Amway pyramid scheme. The DeVos family became billionaires by convincing people that they could get rich by selling their products. It works, for a small percentage of people. There are a few who have benefited from this pyramid scheme, but most people are unable to live well, because that is the nature of capitalism…….the few benefit at the expense of the majority.

On top of the fact that DeVos wealth was created through a pyramid scheme, they have also spent decades and millions of dollars to support the Republican agenda of attacking workers, undermining unions, making Michigan a Right to Work state and pushing policies that transfers public money into the private sector.

This is all context. Then, Start Garden steps in and says, we want to help you potentially funding your ideas. The problem with the is that the DeVos family has spent decades promoting policies that have negatively impacted communities of color and now they want to offer “opportunities.” On top of all of that, Start Garden takes no risk, while presenting themselves as providing opportunities, whereby they can profit off of the creative imagination and labor of other people.

One additional fallacy about the lie of Start Garden’s entrepreneurial project and its attempt to create opportunities for people of color is that no where in their vision or philosophy do they acknowledge the history of how white supremacy and structural racism have devastated communities of color, nor do they advocate this the system of white supremacy should be dismantled.

If we look at the Black Radical tradition, we can see that there is a fundamentally different approach to how to work for collective liberation. Zoe Samudzi and William Anderson, in the powerful book, As Black As Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation, make this observation:

Our movements and our work need to avoid neoliberal enticements to corporatize or commoditize or otherwise become caught in the gears of capitalist accommodationism.

Towards the end of his life, Malcolm X also understood that capitalism could never be a solution to the liberation of his people. Malcolm said, “Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America and it’s impossible for a white person today to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

Malcolm X inspired black people to form the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Black Panther’s, in their creation of the 10 Point Program identified capitalism as one of the problems. In point #3 they state:

WE WANT AN END TO THE ROBBERY BY THE CAPITALISTS OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES. We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.

There is a certain insidiousness about what Start Garden is promoting and their deliberate targeting of communities of color. Whatever people from those communities chose to do with what the Start Garden’s of the world are offering is their choice, but for those of us who are white and claim to be progressive or in favor of dismantling the system of white supremacy, we should not be seduced by what the DeVos-funded Start Garden project is offering.

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