Jan 19, 201511:07 AMMinority Biz Report
with Sam Owens
Is ‘Justified Anger’ ready to be a leading voice on black economic development?
(page 1 of 2)
I was recently invited to participate in the “Justified Anger and Economic Development Committee.” While researching the Justified Anger Coalition, I glimpsed the machinery behind the organization’s operations. What I saw raised some questions about the politics of Justified Anger. These are my personal observations.
On supply and demand
Our newspapers have a curious economic relationship with Greater Madison’s black communities. In the wake of the groundbreaking Race to Equity Report, readers began demanding more stories on black economics. Consequently, in 2014, our newspapers began publishing more of them. Simple supply and demand economics, right? Not quite.
One of the most effective cost-cutting mechanisms for local publications is the outsourcing of content. The amorphous yet ubiquitous Justified Anger Coalition has emerged as our newspapers’ preferred wholesaler of content on black economics. Since the Justified Anger Coalition has cornered the market, it effectively functions as a monopoly. With such a substantial market share comes great power and great responsibility.
On business organization
According to a corporate records search of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions’ website, Justified Anger does not appear to have a formal business organization. But according to an online summary of the group, one of its purposes is to “create a coalition that would empower the Black community to define its own solutions.”
The summary further states that one of the coalition’s focus areas is economic development. In particular, the coalition seeks “to lead and advocate for policies, practices and innovations that result in family sustaining employment, entrepreneurship, and business development in the African-American community.”
As far as mission statements go, it’s hard to argue that the Justified Anger Coalition is not spot on with respect to the fundamental need to eradicate racial economic disparities in Greater Madison. However, things get a little sticky when you begin to parse the public commentary (and private behavior) concerning Justified Anger’s vision for how to get to the metaphorical mountaintop.
It appears as if the current blueprint does not envision full diversity across the cultural and economic spectrums of black communities within Madison. This has led me to question whether certain voices within black communities will (consciously or unconsciously) go unrepresented in the Justified Anger movement.
On barriers to entry
Discussions about power and privilege can be a double-edged sword, especially when analyzed through the narrow lens of black vs. white. Yes, if you compare the relative allocation of power and privilege (between blacks and whites) in Madison, the average white person is better off than the average black person. However, refusing to analyze relative power and privilege within black communities will only exacerbate the racial disparities faced by blacks in Greater Madison.
Is Justified Anger’s intermediate vision to establish a prominent black bourgeois class that will (in the long term) empower a black underclass through trickle-down economics? Or does Justified Anger have a plan for economic development that does not require the most disenfranchised blacks to continue to wait while a black middle-class buffer is established?
In a Dec. 17 editorial, Alex Gee articulates a vision for Justified Anger to create a set of favorable socioeconomic conditions for black communities in Madison. The vision includes “a new table, one at which African-Americans were seated at the head, enjoying the liberty of setting that table, choosing the china, deciding the menu, hiring the cook and inviting the guests we want to eat with. This is beginning to happen, much to my great surprise and pleasure.”
Although part of Gee’s vision is simply a desire for the black community to gain a greater share of power and privilege, it is hard to ignore the potential for making racial disparities worse. We need to carefully examine what subset of African-Americans have an ownership stake in this house/dining room, and whether certain African-Americans might be considered uninvited guests to this soiree.
As I indicated in my previous blog post, dealing with racial disparities in Greater Madison does not usually come down to racial animus toward black communities. The real challenge is overcoming the social constructs that create systemic barriers to the accumulation of social capital.
Likewise, within the current structure of black power and privilege in Madison, it is critical to identify and confront the social constructs that create division and disparity among black individuals, families, and communities. If we do not address this inconvenient truth (that even black folks can discriminate against each other and self-segregate), then the Justified Anger movement might perpetuate a black caste system instead of economically uplifting the core subjects of the Race to Equity report.