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Alternative paths to liberation
No examination of the development of Black capitalism is complete without the parallel stories of Black anti-capitalist resistance movements. Through keeping us chasing after the bag and working ourselves to the bone, capitalism puts blinkers on our eyes about what is possible – whilst simultaneously erasing the visibility of movements that show us that there has to be another way.
An example that haunts me is the devastation of America’s ‘Black Wall Street’ in Tulsa in 1921, where Black Americans who were divesting from the exploitation of their labour were massacred by the KKK for daring to dream differently. Because when we collectively divest from capitalism, we threaten capitalism.
During the course of my work at Decolonising Economics, I have the pleasure of uncovering the histories of Black communities resisting capitalism, which are also called ‘solidarity economic movements’ (SEMs). These look like mutual financial aid – such as when freed slaves would pool funds together to save up to buy the freedom of a still-enslaved peer, a process that would go on indefinitely.
One of the most relevant SEMs for Black people in 2020 and beyond is the cooperative movement. A cooperative, defined by Black economist Jessica Gordon Nempart, is; “An autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly-owned and democratically – controlled enterprise.”
In the UK, the cooperative movement (a similar set up to parallel community initiatives like Pardner or Susu) was instrumental in supporting the Windrush generation when they reached the hostile British shores and couldn’t get access to loans, jobs and housing. Black people developed “credit unions”, with the very first union set up in Hornsey in 1964 by West Indian migrants. These unions – which were collectively owned banks where individuals could contribute to a collective pool and members or the community could withdraw and invest from – allowed the Windrush generation to rent and buy houses without being forced to turn to exploitative loan sharks.