The real challenges in Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, NY, are more about money, poverty, and class than they are about race, police, and the color line.
This is not new to America. W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1897, “The man who won’t control his finances won’t control anything else,” and, “Nothing positive will ever occur in a community that fails to circulate its dollars.”
Frederick Douglass said in 1874, “The failure of the Freedman Bank did more to set freed slaves back than 10 more years of slavery.” The Freedman’s Bank, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3rd, 1865, was chartered to give freed slaves the tools of financial literacy.
Civil rights activist Van Jones said in 2013, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
The Color Challenge Is Green, Not Black or Blue
This does not mean that race is not a problem in America. Race is and remains a big problem here and around the world too. But the real color challenge is green, not black or blue.
It is a recognized fact that young black men have a significantly higher probability of dying at the hands of the police than their white male counterparts (21 times more likely, according to a recent report using FBI data).
The reality is, beneath racial and ethnic challenges are almost always economic realities, and financial consequences. Consider:
Slavery, as horrible as it was in America, was not personal, it was economic. It was a way to build a country for free–with effectively no labor cost during a booming agriculture age.
The Arab Spring was first and foremost an economic crisis. Mohamed in Tunisia simply wanted to peacefully operate his small kart business so he could support his family. But the local authorities would not let him be. They told him he needed a permit, and then said a permit for his business actually did not exist. Feeling a loss of hope, Mohamed went outside and set himself on fire. And right before he ended his own life, he did not cry “death to America,” nor did he call for a Jihad. He said, “I just want to work!” Within a month, the government of Tunisia had fallen totally, and within 90 days the Arab Spring was world history, engulfing an entire region in turmoil.
Michael Brown stands accused of stealing cigars from a local store, and later found himself in direct conflict with a police officer. For sure, there is no excuse for stealing, but at bottom this was an economic problem. If Michael Brown had a job he would been able to pay for his cigars, and in all likelihood he would be alive today.
Eric Garner was selling “loosies” (cigarette singles) in NYC, in conflict with local ordinance. And instead of the men in blue writing him a ticket and giving him an economic penalty, another one of God’s children is now dead. The man may have had the wrong hustle, but the man had hustle! He wanted to work.
Closing the Opportunity Gap
The problem in the world today is a global jobs and opportunity gap. There are 7B people in the world, and only about 1.5B jobs. The world needs 1B-2B more jobs, not more choke holds and gun fights.
At the end of the day, there is an economic problem that has to be resolved in Ferguson, and 100 other American cities just like it. To deal with anything else is ultimately like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The ship is sinking, and we are all picking drapes.
And worse, far too many of our leaders are becoming experts on what we and they are against, versus becoming experts on what we and they are for — and then doing something positive.
What Michael Brown in Ferguson needed — and what Mohammad in Tunisia, and Eric Garner in New York City wanted — was work, and a good job.
The good news? Creating more jobs is a problem we can actually solve. Let’s go.