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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 18th, 2007 - 01:10:27

African Americans bear brunt of subprime crisis in U.S. economy built on slavery and genocide
By Penny Hess
Online Journal Guest Writer

Dec 18, 2007, 01:08

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The subprime mortgage mess is making headlines, but what the media barely mentions is that the African American community is bearing the brunt of it.

Once again, bankers, brokers, lenders and even regular white working America have profited mightily and are bailed out by the government when their strategy fails. The African American community is used, bled dry, and then criminalized and blamed for the problem.

You have to dig to find out that, for instance, more African American borrowers making upwards of $100,000 a year were given subprime mortgages than were whites making under $40,000. African American communities were targeted for subprime and adjustable rate mortgages as a very lucrative new market for loan sharks.

Cities with large African American populations tell the story: Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Brooklyn, to name a few.

Early in this decade, the government and the Fed began lowering interest rates. Housing prices skyrocketed and millions of Americans began tapping into their home equity, fueling a �wealth effect,� and massive spending.

The lower rates sparked the speculative housing market and gentrification, as lower income white people could suddenly become homeowners by buying in an African American community. Or they could become entrepreneurs by buying up �ugly houses� to flip.

TV channels were spawned by gentrification and a whole economy centered on Lowe�s, Home Depot, Restoration Hardware, Starbucks, art galleries and cute restaurants. Houses of African Americans, including the elderly, were taken from under them as white people demanded that code violations be enforced for their benefit.

As housing prices in African American neighborhoods skyrocketed, the culture of the community was criminalized and police presence intensified to protect the white �pioneers� from the surrounding impoverished population. African American people were dispersed further and further into decaying suburbs, crunched in with other family members or sent to government-sponsored prison housing.

None of this is new, however. It�s the same story that has played out for more than half a millennium.

Since African human beings were first abducted at gunpoint from Africa, turned into a commodity and transported to America as well-insured cargo, stacked on pallets in the holds of ships, the Western world has gotten its economic stimulus from the oppression of others.

More than anything, America sits on the backs of Africans.

Today we talk about oil prices and fluctuations in the stock market, but there were whole centuries when the price of an African was the most important topic at businessmen�s lunches in New York and London. The Wall Street stock exchange sits on the site of New York auction blocks and slave ship docks.

The African cemetery found under a high rise building on Wall Street is the perfect metaphor for this country: America�s wealth resting literally on the bodies of African people.

As Omali Yeshitela proves in his books, Omali Yeshitela Speaks and One Africa! One Nation!, Europe was a cold, barren, impoverished and war-like place in the Middle Ages. It was characterized by oppression, plague and feudal serfdom when it set out to rescue itself by ravaging Africa.

Henry the Navigator of Portugal sent ships out to the coast of West Africa around 1420, and by the year 1500 Europe had already extracted 81,000 African people and 700 tons of gold from Africa.

Around the same time Columbus began the process of massive genocide of the Indigenous people of the Americas and the theft of their land and resources.

We are taught ridiculous myths that somehow Europe worked hard, saved its money and thus became the dominant economic and military power in the world. But an honest look at history shows that the development of wealth and power in Europe parallels its assault on Africa and other peoples every step of the way.

In the 1500s, the Spanish government monopolized the trade in African human beings, even as the governments of Holland, England and France were waiting in the wings. They would all go to war for a piece of this most valuable commodity, just as oil wars are being fought today.

Independent businessmen also wanted some of this loot, financing their own ships as pirates or �privateers� under the banner of �free trade.� Entrepreneurs like Jean Lafitte raided the state-owned slave ships laden with human cargo and made a fortune selling Africans at discount rates off the coast of New Orleans.

As Yeshitela again points out, the trade in African people did far more than make Southern plantation owners wealthy. The plantations are long gone but the wealth of African enslavement has been compounded in the overall economy of America a million times over.

What part of Europe�s and America�s economy did not get started on the human trade? Banking, insurance, ship building, industry, universities, tourism, railroads, housing, hotels, law firms, the garment industry, retail sales, Wall Street itself were all spawned by African enslavement.

We�re taught that Africans became �free� after the official enslavement ended in 1865 in the U.S. In reality other forms of African exploitation were found to be more lucrative for the Western economy.

In Africa, Europe imposed direct colonialism. There was no word for �genocide� when Europe and America were slaughtering millions of African people on the continent as they ripped out diamonds, rubber, ivory, gold, and other precious resources that further consolidated Western wealth and power.

Rarely discussed, but extremely important to America�s wealth, is the system of convict leasing. For more than 70 years thousands of African people were rounded up under Jim Crow laws, kept in work camps and leased out by state governments to plantations, limestone and phosphorus mines, road gangs and logging teams.

The brutal system of convict leasing rebuilt the economy of the southern states following the Civil War. In the late 19th century, more than 80 percent of the revenue of Alabama came from convict leasing. I have read that Hitler modeled work camps on the convict leasing system, which was known to be worse than slavery. The white people�s motto was, �One dies, get another.�

European immigrants coming to America were pretty clear that American �opportunities� came to them because of African enslavement and the genocide against the Indigenous people.

Throughout most of the 19th century, street gangs made up of white workers in northern cities functioned as a terrorist force against African people who had escaped to the north.

Lynching was the popular pastime of white America for a hundred years. These chilling festivals of violence had the avid participation of the whole white family. Children were dressed up and posed for photographs in front of the lifeless bodies of African people. This public torture and murder of African people was accompanied by music, dancing and food vendors.

White people terrorized Africans who were prospering in independent economic communities. Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Rosewood, Florida, are only the most famous examples of this. All over the country Africans banded together, buying land and setting up collective economic ventures that were quite successful, but these were destroyed one after another. White people would never allow Africans to become more prosperous than they.

Similarly, the media tell us the reason Africa is poor today is because its leaders are �corrupt.� But every time an African leader rises up, demanding that the resources of his country benefit the people, the leader has been assassinated or overthrown by America or Europe�from Patrice Lumumba to Kwame Nkrumah to Thomas Sankara.

It�s not corruption; it�s the U.S. policy of neocolonialism, which ensures that Africa�s resources stay in the pocket of Western powers. I have read that more than 80 percent of all the mineral resources the U.S. needs to function are in Africa. This is the basis for the U.S. militarization of Africa under AFRICOM.

In this country, after the leaders of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s were assassinated or imprisoned by the government, the U.S. began flooding African American communities with drugs: heroin and later crack cocaine. This is well-documented from many sources.

We cannot underestimate the importance of this illegal drug trade to the U.S. economy. Said by the United Nations to be worth more than $500 billion a year, illegal drugs constitute the third largest commodity in the world, behind oil and arms.

Clearly those billions of narco-dollars are not floating around in African American communities, but rather buy the cars, mansions and private jets of the Wall Street elite. They also benefit white society as a whole. Since the late '70s drug money has funded real estate, car dealerships, jewelry stores, restaurants and more.

Meanwhile, the African American community is left with a government-imposed, penny-ante illegal drug economy that primarily serves to criminalize the entire African American population. The imposed drug economy feeds the prison industry, another booming component of the U.S. economy.

More than half of the 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. today are African Americans, the cornerstone of a $50 billion industry. Called the new gold rush, the prison industry has spawned countless spin-off businesses, including phone companies, clothing, construction, vending machines, instruments of suppression and more.

Most prisons are filled with urban African Americans but located in rural white America, where prisons are the third largest industry, behind gambling and pig farming. Many states have a conscious strategy to use prisons as economic stimulus for rural counties, providing white high school graduates high paying jobs as guards.

Some people are predicting that the subprime collapse along with the low dollar and high oil prices could bring about the demise of the U.S. economy.

If so, it�s just the logical conclusion of an obese, parasitic economic system that has been sitting on a shaky foundation of enslavement and genocide for more than 500 years.

Penny Hess is author of Overturning the Culture of Violence and the chair of the African People�s Solidarity Committee which is led by the African People�s Socialist Party. Her analysis is based on the understandings of Omali Yeshitela. She can be reached at

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