Dr. Julianne Malveaux on Surviving and Thriving in America



Over at Dr. Boyce’s fine blog, Dr. Julianne Malveaux (President – Bennett College and economist and founder of Last Word Productions, Inc.) has some interesting comments on positive aspects of Black Americans surviving and thriving drawing on her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.
(Photo: from her website here)

A prolific book and article writer on racial issues (USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Progressive), in this commentary Malveaux makes some key points about progress under great oppression for African Americans. First she notes the data on the dismal conditions that systemic racism has brought:

When I look at the data that define the reality for African Americans in the economy, I am often alarmed and discouraged. One in four African American lives in poverty. Nearly one in three is out of work. . . . This is hardly the first time African Americans have experienced disproportionate pain.

But in spite of these and many other disturbing statistical data, she reminds us all that

even in harsh times African Americans have been more than survivors, we have been thrivers. We have made it despite horrible conditions, despite unfairness, despite racism. The playing field has never been level, and yet we have played on the slanted field, returning, returning, and sometimes winning.

She discusses numerous cases of those who have survived and thrived against high odds. Here are just a few:

Madame C.J. Walker is on the book’s cover, and everyone knows about this first self-made woman millionaire in the United States, but few know of Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who started the Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia. . . . The most powerful acts of economic history, acts at our foundation, were those African Americans who bought their own freedom. . . . I wrote my book because everyone needs to know about self-emancipation, about the will and the tenacity of people of African descent.

After noting too how enslaved African Americans not only bought their own freedom but that of relatives, Malveaux ends her commentary with a timely call for yet more collective efforts:

And so we need Kwanzaa now more than ever. We need the principle of Ujamaa – cooperative economics. The statistics tell a grim story about our status, but our history is a compelling reminder that in good times and in bad, African Americans have survived and thrived.

I have recently heard Malveaux speak at the U. Pittsburgh conference on racism issues last summer. If you get the chance to hear her, I encourage you to do so. She is one of the powerful thinkers and speakers on race and racism issues in the US today.
Thinking about her book and comments, I would suggest this: They say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but it seems that eternal organization may be even more important.