If the problem of the twentieth century was the color line, the problem of the twenty-first is resisting the extension of corporate rule. While the color line has been eased or erased for corporate black elites, it remains firmly in place for the rest of us. And it cannot be challenged without challenging corporate rule itself.
In the 21st Century, It's Black America VS Corporate America
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The problem of the twentieth century, wrote W.E.B. DuBois in 1903 was the color line. It's easy to see that the defining dilemma of the twenty-first century is corporate rule. The domination of human affairs by wealthy corporations is no more rational or just or inherently productive than was the rule of slaveholders and hereditary nobles in centuries past.
Corporations are immensely wealthy, taxed and regulated more lightly than human beings, protected by law from most kinds of accountability, and are immortal. An human who kills someone, even by accident, can be held civilly or criminally liable, stripped of all property and assets, imprisoned or put to death. Corporations can poison and kill thousands at a time, without even the need for apologies. Texas alone puts a couple people to death every month. When was the last time a corporation had its assets confiscated? Why isn't there a corporate death penalty?
Though corporate rule in the U.S. is a long-established fact, there has always been resistance, and that rule has never been fully legitimized. But now the fiction that the U.S., and the market-driven social order it seeks to fasten upon the world are run by and on behalf of human beings is crumbling. International agreements like NAFTA, legislatures, regulatory bodies and even judges in the U.S. frequently assert that corporations have all the rights of humans, along with many humans don't have such as the right to unrealized profits (the takings doctrine), the right to pollute (cap and trade), the right to lie (free speech), rights to the supposedly public broadcast airwaves, and most recently, the rights to spend unlimited amounts in campaign contributions and media to influence elections and public policies.
The color line DuBois pointed to a century ago remains a highly significant factor of life for ordinary African Americans. The historic gaps between black and white America in household wealth, family incomes, health outcomes, joblessness and more grow wider and deeper each month. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate several times that of their white neighbors, mostly for drug offenses, even though white and black rates of actual drug use are the same. Millions of African Americans live in segregated communities with fewer job and public transportation options, inferior or no public services, and higher local property taxes, where they are often redlined by banks, insurance companies, local utilities, and the corporations that own cable networks and the internet. Minority communities across the country are the preferred sites of toxic waste dumps, incinerators, landfills, and dangerous coal and nuclear power plants.
But for the swath of African America we'll call the black elite, the color line has been substantially blurred. The Fortune 500 corporations have thousands of black executives, and at any given moment over the last few years can point to a handful of black CEOs. The US military has a couple dozen black admirals and generals. And while there have always been black business people dependent on African American consumer dollars for their revenues, a new black business class has arisen whose ideology, loyalties and table manners orient them more toward Halliburton than toward Harlem. The new black business class sees no contradiction between lobbying for set asides while cashing in on the gentrification of black communities.
The old line black and latino civil rights organizations, from the SCLC and PUSH to the National Council of La Raza, the top level of the NAACP and others have been wholly swallowed by their corporate donors, who have turned these outfits into their mouthpieces on important issues such as network neutrality and the continued digital redlining of poor communities, and even furnished their CEOs. An entire generation of black politicians too, have been suborned by rivers of corporate cash. The hefty contributions of “corporate roundtables” and such fund the Congressional Black Caucus's annual gala events, paid for the DC headquarters of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Similar bodies of corporate execs write the public policy papers of the National Association of Black State Legislators. In this context, the nation's First Black President, elected with a record-breaking amount of cash from the corporate sector, rather than being one of a kind ilooks at lot more just like the guy at the head of his class.
The corporate sector found Jim Crow, in the fifties and sixties a political embarrassment in its drive to lock up third world markets. And when racist whites sued the University of Michigan law school for enforcing affirmative action, the Pentagon and many Fortune 500 companies weighed in on the side of the university. The companies needed black and brown execs to lock up third world markets. The Pentagon needed black and brown admirals and generals to fight its wars. So for the black elite, the color line is ancient history. They have collaborated in the rewriting of the mid-century Freedom Movement's legacy, portraying it as purely a struggle against legal Jim Crow rather than a struggle for many-sided economic and social justice.
Corporate owners of black-oriented media, like black owned Radio One and formerly black-owned BET decreed an end to broadcast journalism on their stations even before white media corporations did the same. Black America now suffers from the same disease as white America, a withering of its public spirit as what should be its internal civic and political conversation is owned and controlled by corporations who view Black America as just another set of markets to be sliced, diced and delivered to clients.
The drive to dismantle and privatize public education, to break teachers unions and replace public schools with charters, for example has been from the beginning a corporate-funded endeavor. The so-called educational choice and charter school movements were entirely the creation of the Walton, Joyce and Bradley Foundations, who funded them for almost two decades before No Child Left Behind created the booming educational privatization sector we know today. Winning states in the Obama Administration's cynically misnamed “Race To The Top” program of destroying public schools to replace them with charters had their proposals done by with financial and consulting assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There is no way to avoid the conclusion that Black America is paying the highest price of all in the new drive for corporate dominance of American life. The loss even of the possibility of community control over public education, public transit, public wealth, resources and infrastructure which the drive to privatize entails is devastating for our future. A new generation of black leadership, not tied to corporate funding that subverted their predecessors must soon arise. Such a thing is possible. In our great-great grandparents' era Ida B. Wells was one such black leader, not dependent on the patronage of white and corporate America. Where will the next generation of Idas come from? We don't know.
It's time Black America made itself more explicitly visible in the growing movement to oppose corporate domination of every aspect of our lives. One way to begin this process is to visit Move To Amend, to sign the pledge and begin to locally organize to amend the U.S. Constitution in ways that will elevate the rights of human beings and curtail the rights of corporations. Other countries have constitutions with the right to a job, the right to vote, the right to a quality education, constitutions that even grant the environment itself the right to exist. The US Social Forum is in black Detroit this June, a city that has suffered as much as any on this continent from the ravages of corporate disinvestment. That makes it one of the places to be.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at [email protected].