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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ujamaa, the Cooperative Economics of Hip-Hop

From the official Kwanzaa web site:

Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce seven basic values of African culture ... These values are called the Nguzo Saba which in Swahili means the Seven Principles. ... the Nguzo Saba stand at the heart of the origin and meaning of Kwanzaa...

The fourth principle is Ujamaa:

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Here's a column that finds this principle in hip-hop:

Ujamaa, the cooperative economics of hip-hop, by Ladonna Redmond, Austin Weekly News: There is opportunity within black communities. The untapped economic and intellectual capacity of black communities is mind-numbing. Mainstream solutions that promote community economic stability often result in more nail shops, hair shops and liquor stores emerging in our community or a chain store, whose owners are not local. There is nothing wrong with any of these fine establishments. The only issue is ... [g]enerally, these stores are not owned by African Americans or local residents. ... Black communities cannot build wealth by being everyone else’s customer or patient. We must explore production and distribution in order to create wealth and economic stability in communities of color. If the cornerstone of personal wealth accumulation is home ownership, then the cornerstone of community economic stability is community business ownership.

The fourth Kwanzaa principle, Ujamaa, honors the value of cooperative economics. The definition of cooperative economics is "local people cooperating with each other to provide for the essentials of living." The essentials of living include food, clothes, housing, education, and entertainment. An interesting place to explore the principle of Ujamaa can be found within the hip-hop music industry. ...

I have been quite critical of the hip-hop culture. Images of predatory sexuality are disturbing. It seems that so much of what is honored in the music videos and song lyrics are images of hyper-consumption, fast money, guns and drug dealing. ... The objectification of women is never a good thing... It is well known that artists have sometimes been cheated—Little Richard comes to mind. Many blues artists were never properly compensated for music recorded by singers such as Elvis Presley. Even though their songs made Presley an international icon, he too, died broke. White men mostly owned the most powerful music companies until Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, started his ascent to the highest rungs of the music industry. ...

[T]hose who are involved in the business end of hip-hop seem to be following in Gordy’s footsteps ... These present-day entrepreneurs are not just artists, they are part owners of the labels and they produce and create distribution deals that help them build and accumulate wealth. ... The real story is who these artists are and their ability to build viable, successful businesses with friends and family as supporters. The careers of Russell Simmons and Jay-Z illustrate this point. Each has started a small business that now includes recording labels, soft drink products, and clothing lines. Russell Simmons was president of Def Jam, perhaps the most well known if not most successful hip-hop label. Simmons is currently president of Rush communications. ... Simmons has sold off his interest in many of his companies for an estimated $400 million. It is said that Simmons is more successful than Barry Gordy was during his tenure in the music industry.

Simmons is also credited with creating the plan for business diversification that all hip—hop moguls have tried to emulate. None have followed in Simmons’ footsteps better than Jay-Z. Roc-A-Fella Records is one of the largest U.S. hip hop/rap record labels... The group could not secure a record deal for Jay-Z and began Roc-A-Fella out of frustration. The group began pressing records, selling them out of their trunks and requesting time on local radio. From that, Roc–A-Fella branched into other ventures, which included Rocawear clothing company; Roc4Kids, a community outreach program; and other ventures which include producing movies. Earlier this year, Jay-Z was named president and CEO of Def Jam Records and retained control of Roc-A-Fella. Jay-Z is one of the few African-American record label executives.

Ujamaa speaks to the ability to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together. A deeper exploration of Ujamaa teaches that within our immediate network of family and friends, someone has the ability to create businesses that will comfort, feed, clothe, entertain and house millions.

Is the success of hip-hop an example of Ujamaa at work? I am not sure this is the example I would have chosen to illustrate this principle. I am also not sure I fully understand the call to "profit from [shops and other businesses] together." Does this mean that successful people with roots in poor communities have more of an obligation to reinvest in those communities than others even if more profitable opportunities exist elsewhere? If an obligation exists, would it be different for a white owner of a factory that employs lower income individuals? Is this a principle of social insurance, of rewarding all those who helped with success, including the community, or a pure communal ethic? I agree with the principle of community business ownership expressed in the column as means of economic development in poor communities, and I believe the obligation to help is shared broadly across society and that government has a key role to play. But I am not sure I know the best way to increase the pace of economic development within these communities.

Having opened this topic up, I feel obligated to point to follow-up pieces as I come across them. Here's one I just stumbled across. Posting this does not imply I agree or disagree with the policies advocated:

A critique of liberal, black economics, by Corey Buckner, Renew America: ...Since the days of Marcus Garvey, there has been a push for Black Americans to separate from the global community and form our own, independent communities. This on the surface level sounds like a very positive and empowering task, but it is marred in its design. Closely examined ... it is easy to see how this idea, like Communism, will never succeed. Black community leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Luis Farrakhan are pushing this propaganda by using Jewish, Greek and Hispanic communities as the examples to be followed. Unfortunately they are negating to share with us that these are global communities, with sects in multiple countries and spanning several continents. The United States of America is not the hub for Jewish culture and Jewish commerce; they have an entire country to call their own.

The Jews are blessed to have an entire country that feeds finances and people into this global community. There are Jewish communities in Europe, Asia, as well as the United States that are all sharing a global community. ... The same is true of the Grecian communities, and even of the Hispanic communities. But the Black American communities are different, as in a global sense, the classification of "Black" means very little. It is not indicative of any community except in America, therefore it is nothing more than a description of a person's physical body. When Nigerians come to America they do not look for a Black community, they look for a Nigerian community. When Haitians come to America they do not look for Black communities, they look for Haitian communities.

For this reason there is no international commerce being pumped into the Black communities of the United States of America. These communities do not have relatives sending us money from overseas to assist us in establishing new commercial venues, or to comfortably finish our college degrees. The only money being pumped into Black American communities come from the earnings of those that live in the community. Even if we kept the ninety-seven percent that was leaving the community in it, we still do not make enough to compete in the global community because our demographics are too small.

Add into the fold that we are being encouraged to only hire from within our own communities, and only do business for and with our own communities. This is a terrible business model to follow, one that no other communities ... follow. Although Jewish communities have businesses that appear to exclusively service Jewish people, there are also businesses that service the non-Jewish communities. So not only are they servicing a global community of Jews, they are also servicing the global community at large. This, my friends is a model for success.

If we are ever going to see an improvement in the Black slums of America it is not going to happen by having a local community that is miniscule in comparison to the global community separating itself to empower itself. We have to become a part of that global community, and become a partner in sharing of its finances and resources. Ironically, leaders like Jesse Jackson are asking for federal money to be given to Black communities so that we can separate ourselves from the donors. ...

Instead of getting caught up in the double talk of these deceptive leaders we need to closely follow the model being given to us by the Hispanic community. Although they have strong family and cultural values, they do not limit their resources and services to their own community. ... I have a Hispanic friend who started his business with one truck and a lawnmower. Now he is making a living cutting the lawns of the global community. How successful do you think he would be had he only sought to cut the lawns of Hispanic people? ...

Gone are the days when whites hated blacks. Yes, racism still exists, but it is not the Willie Lynch system that some black leaders are trying to get you to believe in. Affirmative action is not necessary anymore because corporate America is regularly surpassing the quotas being set for them. If business on a whole were simply hiring just enough minorities than there would be a case for its continuance, but this is not the case. We live in a country where the market will always correct itself. In this global economy we live in, businesses can no longer afford to look past minority workers if they are the most qualified. In the society we live in, the most qualified will find a place, and any business not tapping into the best of the best will soon find themselves unable to compete and out of business.

Since Jesse Jackson is intent on making a higher minimum wage an issue for the Black community ... I would like to expose why it would be damaging to the American economy to keep raising the minimum wage. If Restaurant X charges $1.99 for an order of fries, and pays their fry maker $5.75 per hour, they can afford to hire two fry makers on the basis of their sales. If you raise minimum wage to $7.00 per hour the Restaurant then has to decide where this extra salary will come from. Restaurant X will have to either, fire one of the fry makers or raise the price of the fries. Raising the price of the fries would undoubtedly decrease sales, which would then decrease the need for the second fry maker, thus resulting in the loss of a job. ... Furthermore, is it fair to ask a mom and pop business to pay a sixteen-year-old with absolutely no work experience $7.00 per hour? ... Finally about the proposal of higher minimum wages, I believe that minimum wage jobs are best suited for teens and college students who have very little responsible. ... High wages for mediocre jobs does nothing to inspire members of our communities to accomplish more. If you start as a fry cook when you are sixteen, our current wage structure inspires you to progress. Therefore if you stay with the same company and you work hard, by the time you are thirty-five you will merit more than just a living wage. Where is the inspiration for me to succeed and work hard if I know that I can bounce around from job to job and wherever I land I will make a living wage?

The answer is for us at an early age to begin getting an education, developing a marketable skill, or getting marketable experience. We ... cannot keep letting underachieving adults steal entry-level jobs from upwardly mobile college students and young adults. ... Black Americans should resist following oppressive, class warfare-ensuing leaders down this road because it will be detrimental to all American communities. We have to achieve more, not ask for more. It is up to us to put ourselves in position for better employment, and not expect the Government to raid the Federal economy to help us underachieve.

If Blacks, as a race of people are ever going to truly progress, we need to stop isolating ourselves. ...don't get caught up in the rhetoric of people like Jesse Jackson and Luis Farrakhan, do your own research and examine why decisions are made. The Black American community cannot compete in the global community by itself. ... If we unite as ... brothers and sisters, we can import and export goods and finances into our communities, and we as a family can begin to see our communities all around the world improving. Let's keep our money in our community. ... I am calling on my black ... brothers and sisters to break free from the oppressive, racist, failing tactics of Jesse Jackson and other similar "preachers." ... As black Americans we cannot do it by ourselves, but as a unified .. body we can...

    Posted by on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 12:54 PM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (5)

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