By: James Clingman
A case against Noneconomic Liberalism 12/30/09
A term made popular by the venerable Harold Cruse, noneconomic liberalism is a social strategy which focuses upon political empowerment without adequate attention to economic empowerment. The nascent NAACP, according to Dr. Khalid Tariq Al-Mansour, in his book, Betrayal by Any Other Name, wrote into its constitution a prohibition against owning land. Mansour goes on to describe a call by William English Walling, a white Southern journalist with liberal views on race, for the achievement of “absolute political and social equality” for Negroes. Sound familiar?
Of course, we know the founding meeting of the NAACP was called by white citizens concerned about the so-called “Negro question,” after the lynching of two Black men in Springfield, Illinois. No doubt some of them were sincere about wanting to help Black folks, just like some liberal whites today; but the lingering question then and now is, “How could (can) Black people be empowered politically and socially without being empowered economically?”
The notion that Black people would achieve “equality” simply by participating in the political arena and through new social programming was, and still is, an absurdity that should have collapsed under its own weight decades ago. As Harold Cruse and others have pointed out many times, there is no power without economic power.
Thus, for 100 years the NAACP has been self-constrained by an archaic, antiquated, outdated and, most of all, anti-empowering rule that keeps the largest Black organization landless. It’s time to change our predicament. Among the many local NAACP branches, there is a need for ownership of real estate and rental properties. Imagine the economic impact of local branches owning instead of renting, most of that rent being paid to other ethnic groups; that alone would result in significant economic change.
I am sure there is some rationale for what I consider to be a ridiculous and self-defeating prohibition, other than the original rule made in 1909. But the NAACP is a Black organization, isn’t it? Black folks are at the bottom of the economic ladder in this country, aren’t we? Land is the basis of wealth in this country, isn’t it? We can change the rules, can’t we? Can’t we? Or, should I ask, “can we? Or perhaps the proper question is, “may we?”
Are we in charge of our own economic destiny, or are we still dependent on the largesse of whites who believe in noneconomic liberalism, not for themselves, of course, but for Black people? Established and initially funded by white people, many of whom were Jewish, the NAACP was purported to be the vehicle through which the “Negro” would achieve equality. However, while I daresay that all Jewish civil rights, educational, and social organization are well funded and indeed have an economic infrastructure, it is interesting that an economic infrastructure was not built into the NAACP by those who founded it. Noneconomic liberalism?
Elizabeth Wright wrote an article in her newsletter, Issues and Views, titled, Black Men: They Could be Heroes. She stated, “…black men were not only economically emasculated, they were taught that playing an economically aggressive role was antithetical to black progress—since the goal of integration with whites was paramount.” Wright went on to say, “It is this non-economic approach to black problems…which ultimately led to the loss of black men’s authority within their own communities–for there is a vital link between economic dominance and credible authority. The 1960s should have been the beginnings of our most economically creative period in America. Instead, blacks were encouraged to leave such tasks to others and to settle for the fruits to be gained in the long, unpredictable march to ‘equality.’"
That strategy is so reminiscent of 1909 during the establishment of the NAACP; and it has worked until this day. Give political access to Black people without the benefit of economic strength and leverage, and the result will sustain itself: A permanent underclass of people, laborers rather than owners, consumers rather than producers.
I am not trying to pick a fight with the NAACP, rather I am simply suggesting it take a look at our situation and make appropriate changes that will economically empower our people. How can we expect young leadership to emerge or even engage on a local level, if there is no economic benefit for them and their constituents?
Young National NAACP President, Benjamin Jealous, makes a pretty decent salary. Why not create salaries for local Presidents who work just as hard for the NAACP? If we want new leadership, young, enthusiastic, energetic leadership, we need to throw out noneconomic liberalism. One should not have to take a vow of poverty to work for nonprofits that help Black people. Nonprofit does not mean “broke.” Just ask the Catholics and the Jewish people.
Tyler Perry gave the National NAACP $1 million. I would encourage others do the same for our local branches, and I also encourage our local branches to be creative in the way they raise and spend funds. Stop renting offices and being totally dependent on traditional avenues for financial support; find ways to become self-sufficient; if you are prevented from buying a building, at least rent your office space from a Black landlord, if possible.
We must change our 100 year-old acceptance of noneconomic liberalism. It has not worked and it never will work. It will only keep us “in our place” and prevent Black people from achieving true economic empowerment.