Volume 11, Number 7 January 30, 2008
Gathering "Scattered Dust"
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
How do you serve a man who does not have a permanent address, has a criminal record, has minimal skills, owes child support and trusts no one? Added to that is the fact that real wages are going down for everyone in his generation. This scenario describes the condition of Black males within the age group coined by sociologists as "Generation X".
Generation X is a term used to describe generations in many countries around the world born during the 1960s and 1970s, more or less. As young adults, Generation X drew media attention in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gaining a stereotypical reputation as apathetic, cynical, disaffected, streetwise loners. Generation X was generally marked early on by its lack of optimism for the future, cynicism, skepticism, alienation and distrust in traditional values and institutions.
A study done in 2007 called, "Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?" focused on the income of males 30-39 in 2004 (those born April, 1964 – March, 1974). This study emphasizes that in real dollars, this group (30-39) earned less (by 12%) than their fathers at the same age in 1974, thus reversing a historic trend. The study also suggests that per year increases in family household income has slowed (from an average of 0.9% to 0.3%), barely keeping pace with inflation, though progressively higher each year due to more women entering the workplace contributing to family household income.
In 2003, 68 percent of black births occurred outside marriage, much higher than for any other race. Probably a quarter of black men aged sixteen to twenty-four—and half of those aged twenty-five to thirty-four—are non-custodial fathers. This means that they are prime candidates for being tracked down by child support enforcement. Statistics show that child support withholding seems to have driven down employment among low-skilled young black men as they try to escape this garnishment of their already dwindling pay check.
Data from the 2006 US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, indicates that 25.2% of Blacks between the ages of 18 and 34 changed addresses within the previous year, while only 11.2% of Blacks 35 and older changed addresses. On top of this people even change email addresses every few months.
Not only is it hard to just catch up with these people, but their habits make it hard to develop an economic plan for them. Those of us who would try to develop a plan for these same people are faced with another cold reality as expressed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is his "Economic Blueprint": "It is very hard for an economist to plan a wise program and see his plans carried out, because the so-called American Negroes’ economics are controlled by the white man...Do not become extravagant spenders like the rich, who own the country and everything in it. It is sheer ignorance for us to try to compete in luxury with the owners." (p. 195, MTBM)
Economics is the study of how goods and services get produced and how they are distributed. This problem of distribution is accentuated for a group of people, black people, who are scattered over an area of 2,000 by 3,000 miles and individually surrounded by enemies to their economic well being.
The 1960s and 1970s were in the hay day of school integration and the flight of the Black middle class from traditional neighborhoods to integrate white suburbia. However in the 1960s the Honorable Elijah Muhammad warned us that ..."the offer of integration is hypocritical and is made by those who are trying to deceive the black people into believing that their 400-year-old open enemies of freedom, justice and equality are, all of a sudden, their "friends". Furthermore, we believe that such deception is intended to prevent black people from realizing that the time in history has arrived for the separation from the whites of this nation."
Minister Farrakhan has compared our people to "dust" which can be scattered to the winds with little effort. Love and a common agenda, like water can make those particles stick together like clay which could be molded into some type of useful vessel. However, over the last 30 years jobs have moved from the inner cities, first to the suburbs and latter out of the country all together. In many cases people had to relocate to keep a job in their profession or to get a promotion within the company they worked for. Husbands and wives who had jobs had to make the decision of who was going to make the career sacrifice for them to stay together as their job opportunities moved to other cities.
We did a survey in 2007 in nine of our cities which we have targeted to establish cooperatively owned super markets. We interviewed potential customers who were already culturally aware and ready to participate in the preliminary stages of market development. These were people who came to the local Muhammad’s Mosque in each of these 9 cities. In our sample of 186 respondents we found some information that could prove a challenge for potential development centered around time and distance. On average there were 20.7 respondents per Mosque, however for each of our Mosques these people lived in 4 different cities. This means that no matter which of these cities we choose to put up a store, there will be potential customers who live in three other cities. Although these other three cities would be relatively close to each other, not many people can be expected to have the time or money to travel to another city just to pick up their groceries.
Let me compare this to a nuclear reaction. Within the reactor the scientists put in cooling rods to control the speed of the reaction among the radioactive atoms. If the reaction gets to hot, they put in more rods. In the case of developing potential customers for a store, the distance of a potential customer to your store acts as a "cooling rod" which will slow down the sales for that store. There are two solutions to this problem: 1. move the potential customers closer to one another, or 2. increase the potential customers already close to where you propose to set up the store. The proper combination of willingness to buy and the potential customers’ physical proximity to the store will insure the projects success.
Now we see how our allegorical model of "scattered dust" affects potential economic development. We have been scattered like dry dust. Those who have like minds have been distanced from each other and live within communities that do not share that mind. Either the carrier of that mind must move closer to like minds or he must change the minds of the people surrounding him or his light might go out.
Enough like minds must be brought close enough together to have the critical mass of people to sustain businesses. Rugged individualism and running after the illusive dollar controlled by the white man will keep us scattered. We must either move closer together to form a community or we must completely change the mindset of the communities in which we live, if we want sustainable economic development.