I try to stay away from discussing my research online. A recent thread trying to blame the British Empire for American slavery (and, then, celebrating the United States for abolishing slavery “as soon as it could”) pushed me to write a brief reflection. For you, FB friends, here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been doing for the last three years.
When banks, local governments, law enforcement, and corporations (of every size) stop profiting from the discrimination and segregation against African Americans (as well as several other ethnic groups), then the smaller economic problems of African Americans organizing for household survival might be addressed effectively.
Every state had slavery at the start of the American Revolution. The British military moved to eliminate it because so many colonists relied on it for their financial stability in the late eighteenth century. The United States did not *need* slavery to grow; the states that adopted gradual emancipation profited from the irrational desire of other states to maintain and expand it. By 1850, the property in kidnapped Africans equaled approximately 44 billion USD, in today’s terms. This capital literally built the foundation of the American economy, yet it was grossly wasteful specifically due to the irrationality of the largest landholders – namely, white supremacy. The total asset value of the US related to slavery likely exceeded 150 billion USD, and still, this figure represents a contraction exceeding 60% from the potential value if VA, NC, SC, and other states had followed New England and Mid-Atlantic states by reducing the role of slavery at the local level by 1810. The contraction, if segregation and other forms of racial exploitation had been eliminated, comes to nearly 300% of national asset value by 1900.
In contrast, small enterprises dedicated to uplifting African American culture and families represented less than 1 billion USD in 2012. No state or federal subsidy exists to promote these causes through infrastructure creation, ownership, and maintenance. No private sector firms systemically partner with African American communities at the local level to increase participation in the most profitable trends in globalization. Trillions of dollars annually rely on the same patterns of local and regional investment that were established in the antebellum South.
At the peak of the national sentiment against slavery (1865), less than 10% of all Americans supported abolition. The continuing century of exploitation (now reproduced in the prison-industrial complex) affirms that slavery remains the spiritual heart of the American economic order – it was not a British creation to divide the colonies; it was (and is) a core, American virtue.