In America, we work within a capitalist economic system, otherwise referred to as a free market. This free market allows for competition to determine status and the consumer to have the ultimate outcome. It ultimately situates the public in a system of socio-economic classes that are essential for the survival of the system. Beretta Smith-Shomade, in her book Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy, defines capitalism as “…a system that privileges and demands accumulation of capital (money) for the sake of the individual. For the media industry, it rewards producers, creates and requires consumers, and mandates the existence of poor folks in order to operate successfully.” Capitalism is a system in which those in control of business rely on those lower than them to perform some form of labor for wage in order to make a profit.
Post-emancipation, black businesses began to develop, which included professions such as lumbering, life insurance, real estate, and tailoring. From the 1880’s onward, black leaders began to place emphasis on the production of black business and property as a means of escaping poverty, rising through the ranks of the American socio-economic ladder, and becoming economically independent. Smith-Schomade quotes Abram Harris who stated that “…Negro business enterprise was motivated primarily by the desire for private profit and looked toward the establishment of a Negro capitalist employer class.” The goal was to have blacks own business and become the employers rather than the employed to create a system of “black capitalism.”
The media played a very important role in the promotion of black business and the ways in which society views African – Americans. Between 1960 and 1980 there was a rise in the creating of minority productions in the media. Many viewed films as a way in which to create societal transformation and many others took to television. It appears that media began to take a leading role in its supposed ability to showcase, subvert, and possibly invert the demoralizing and longstanding effects of slavery, including racism and the exclusion from progress within a capitalist society. Elijah Mohammed’s Economic Blueprint of 1963 even explicitly mentioned the media as a specific way in which the economic upward mobility of blacks can be attained. A primary and well known example of the media utilization as an essential aspect of the black capitalistic idea is Robert Johnson’s, Black Entertainment Channel (BET).
Written by Mike Petronek