African Americans Bear Brunt of Subprime Crisis
U.S. economy built on slavery and genocide
By Penny Hess
12/17/07 "ICH" -- --
The subprime mortgage mess is making headlines, but what the
media barely mentions is that the African Americans 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 Americans 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
borrowers making upwards of $100,000 a year were given subprime
mortgages than were whites making under $40,000. African
targeted for subprime and adjustable rate mortgages as a very
lucrative new market for loan sharks.
Cities with large
populations tell the
story: Atlanta (map),
Detroit, Brooklyn (map),
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
The lower rates
sparked the speculative housing market and gentrification, as
lower income white people could suddenly become homeowners by
buying in an African 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
including the elderly, were taken from under them as white
people demanded that code violations be enforced for their
As housing prices in
skyrocketed, the culture of the community was criminalized and
police presence intensified to protect the white “pioneers” from
the surrounding impoverished population. African people were
dispersed further and further into decaying suburbs, crunched in
with other family members or sent to government-sponsored prison
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.
proves in his books
Omali Yeshitela Speaks
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
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
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
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 off the coast of New Orleans at discount rates.
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
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.”
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.
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 communities with drugs: heroin and later crack
cocaine. This is well-documented from many sources.
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.
billions of narco-dollars are not floating around in African
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.
African community is left with a government-imposed, penny-ante
illegal drug economy that primarily serves to criminalize the
entire African 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, 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 Africans 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.
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
She can be reached at
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