By LENNOX FARRELL
Poverty is violence. But what is wealth? Most of us associate it with money, savings, brokerage, insurance, investments, our homes or other forms of financial capital.
For some textbooks, the prevailing idea of wealth and its indices include what is called the Gross National Product. This, available within particular countries and as defined by an amateur – could include the value placed on goods – e.g., autos available for use and services provided, such as root canal visits to the dentist.
Are there other definitions of wealth apart from those of financial possessions and of the assessments by accountants and economists? For example, objects like land, homes and businesses? Is there also a type of “wealth” as was otherwise defined by Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. presidential candidate assassinated in 1968?
“Wealth are those things and relations which make life worthwhile,” he said.
By any of the above indices, how does the abundance or lack of wealth reduce or increase the pandemics of violence ravaging our communities?
Within the context of looking at Black on Black violence, this assessment looks at how what is called social wealth is not only already overflowing in abundance in Black communities, but also how it has served us in the past and can hopefully do so again in our present.
But, what is social wealth?
In a recent conference on this, Dr. James K. Boyce at the University of Massachusetts, defined and addressed the significance of this concept. He said it is “wealth which is controlled, neither by private, nor public sector corporations, but is instead valued and shared by and between communities to enhance the common good”.
In other words, social wealth is social solidarity. Social wealth is volunteerism. Social wealth is activism against injustice. All of these are conditions which enhance well-being. Social wealth is the health of the land and the waters.
Social wealth is the efforts by strangers to increase goodness, dispense justice and enlarge spaces of peace for those unable to access these for themselves. Social wealth as the pursuit of justice and the sharing of compassion; all volunteer. It is what Black communities are expected to do best and have done since our arrival in this hemisphere, kidnapped and brought to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Therefore, one can conclude that the epic struggles against slavery and imperialism in Palmares, Brasil; Cap Haïtien, Haiti; Birmingham, Alabama and in Kingston, Jamaica; are the 21-carat examples of social wealth eventually serving the common good. How many other non-European communities are not today, unwitting and uninformed beneficiaries of the social wealth soaked in Black blood?
However, is it possible to enhance the possibilities and options available from social wealth for others while ironically undermining it for ourselves?
A good example in answer might be that of the establishing of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario. Its enabling legislation by the Province of Ontario in 1990 came about after the suspicious killings by Toronto police of several unarmed civilians. Mostly the killings of Black civilians, these deaths also included individuals from other communities. These communities were also enraged by the killings…and by the 100 per cent acquittals of Toronto police by mostly White juries.
However, it was the formation of the Black Action Defence Committee two years earlier in 1988 and the militancy of its visionary leadership that forged this historic public institution. In fact, one can state that since the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery a century earlier in Canada and in the rest of the British Empire, no other action by a provincial government in Canada had so publicly and unequivocally acknowledged a vast institutional racism practiced against Black Canadians.
Despite these epic volunteer efforts by Black Canadians, the practice of racism has gone even more virulent into its current anti-Black racism. Its practitioners now include not only White Canadians, but also some non-White communities we sometimes include in the ranks of struggle as “Black and other ethnic groups”.
However, social wealth, defined as volunteer actions undertaken at great expense, personally and communally, as it devolves to the common benefit, is also defined as social solidarity.
In my opinion, under the pennant of social solidarity, we fall far short communally. This is to our detriment, most specifically Black youth. Yes, social wealth is social solidarity, not only practiced between communities, or as inter-ethnic communities, but also within, or as intra-community.
For example, Black communities are fearsome in response when it comes to one of our youth being slain, for example, Trevon Martin. Many of us know the name Rodney King. We might recall how he was beaten by the Los Angeles police, resulting locally in what is referred to as the 1992 “Yonge Street Riots”.
We also know of Dr. Martin Luther King’s marches and assassination…as well as the assassination of others associated with him, like Medgar Evers.
However, the killing of Black youth by other Black youth has a statistic that is as shameful as it is chilling. These details were published in “Protect Children, Not Guns” by the Washington-based, Children’s Defense Fund, in its 2012 report on the effects of gun violence on America’s children.
Among other items, the report stated that the number of Black children killed by gunfire between 1979 and 2012 was 13 times more than the number of Blacks lynched in America between 1882 and 1968.
In short, while we are effective at mobilizing when necessary, we seem able to do so primarily in negative circumstances. In positive circumstances – those which require the instinctual practice of social solidarity for positive outcomes – we do not do well. For example, how many of us would start a business confident that other Black people would automatically support our venture…in similar vein as they readily enhance those from other communities?
It appears that while we are long on providing social wealth in opposing negative circumstances, unlike other communities, eventually we do not benefit from these efforts because we tend to lack social solidarity.
Or, as a colleague, Dr. Asselin Charles wrote, and I paraphrase:
“The instinctual climate within which we function is not communal. It is individual. This is because, specifically within Black communities, each of us is defined, not within community, but within solitude.”
To be continued.