By Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen 
DSW, LMSW, Exe. Dir.
Supreme Family Foundation
Assoc. Prof., Georgia State University

(Initial article in Muslim Journal volume 48, no 10, April 29-May 5, 2023 Issue)

ATLANTA, Ga. – Black American achievement has grown over the past 50 years in a variety of fields. Strong Black executives, business owners, and professionals have become more prevalent. African Americans have advanced to positions of leadership, including CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and successful business owners.a

Their election to the offices of president, vice president, mayor, senator, and representative has made history. And they have returned favorably to their communities by supporting growth- and opportunity-promoting nonprofits. 

Black Muslims who adopted the motto “Do for Self” from the Nation of Islam founded by Fard Muhammad are particularly notable in this regard. Black Muslims sought to create their own economic ecosystem in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, real estate, agriculture, restaurants, and meat markets. 

America today is a shining example of this model’s success, as entrepreneurship offers a way for our community to narrow the racial wealth gap that currently exists. Statistics, however, demonstrate that the gap is significantly wider than what can be explained by variations in wealth, education, and employment prospects. 

Entrepreneurship is a great option, but it should never be the only one used to achieve political and economic advancement. Black-owned businesses are in need of support from the larger community and micro-investment. 

According to research from The Institute for Policy Studies, single Black women had an average net worth of just $200 at the end of 2016, compared to $42,600 for their white counterparts, and it is predicted by a study by Prosperity Now. 

Now that Black Americans will have no net wealth by 2053 if no corrective action is taken. This stands in stark contrast to projections that, more than 20 years later, White Americans could have amassed up to $147k in net assets. The racial wealth gap is a grave issue that has an impact not only on individual Black Americans but also on our entire society. 

The median net worth of White families is $188k, compared to just $24k for Black families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result, Black people who want to invest in their education and careers have fewer resources at their disposal, which has far-reaching effects on future generations as well. 

Organizations and individuals must concentrate on systematic initiatives that close the gap while also promoting equitable wealth-building in order to change this situation. However, we must first comprehend how we got here and how much it cost. 

Systematic racism influenced by a racist history is a contributing factor to the current economic status of Black Americans. Black people’s wealth gap started to develop after their enslavement. After the first group of black people were brought into the country as slaves in 1619, the racial wealth gap continued to grow for more than 400 years. 

These systems include forced segregation, sharecropping, housing discrimination, and mass incarceration. According to Shawn Rochester, author of The Black Tax, $50 trillion was taken from Black Americans who were held as slaves both before and after the end of the slave trade. The term “original sin” has been used to describe slavery. But this is a sin for which no atonement or reparation has ever been made. 

When Black people have inquired about reparations, we have either been ignored or told that because our descendants today did not endure slavery’s suffering, they are not entitled to any compensation. 

However, if this racial wealth gap is viewed through the lens of a domino effect, it is easy to see the connections between slavery and Jim Crow (which may have robbed Blacks of an additional $15 trillion), as well as discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas. There are both patterns and numbers. Simply studying, recognizing, and accepting it is all that is required. 

Sadly, a study by Prosperity Now estimates that it will take 228 years for Black Americans to catch up to their White counterparts in terms of wealth. We don’t have 228 years, so we can’t wait for an oppressive system to make amends for the effects of its oppression. 

We must act now to close this gap and pave the way for a more equitable future for our children because this problem directly impacts the Black American community. Thankfully, the Qur’an and the Nation of Islam’s founding documents have left Black Muslims with a strong foundation of fundamental beliefs. 

These tenets are based on the ideas of community empowerment and economic empowerment. But are Black Muslims aware of the actual economic situation in the Black community? Are Black Muslims still aware of their power?

Imagine a nation that values the contributions of Black people. Imagine a nation where Black people have successful businesses and where entrepreneurship is a means of boosting the local economy. Imagine living in a nation where Black people created excellent educational institutions for their children. Imagine a nation where Blacks design projects that benefit humanity. 

Imagine a country where Blacks created a legacy for their children and passed down wealth for multiple generations. Imagine that this is both our future course and something that has already happened in the past. 

Since its founding in the 1930s, The Nation of Islam (NOI) has employed the motto “Do for self” to create prosperous businesses and encourage economic empowerment within their communities. One of the earliest examples is when The Honorable Elijah Muhammad founded a grocery store in Detroit, Michigan, in 1932 called Muhammad’s Muslim Food Store. 

This store served as a model for other Nation of Islam adherents, creating jobs and giving African Americans a means of supporting one another and themselves financially. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad also founded a number of businesses owned by members of the Nation of Islam, including factories, real estate firms, publishing houses, bakeries, eateries, and beauty parlors. 

In the 1970s, NOI amassed $14.5 million in Chicago-based real estate, operated a $22 million fish import business, and owned land titles worth $6.2 million. In addition to offering members of the community employment and economic opportunities, these businesses also produced income that was used to support social programs and encourage self-sufficiency within the Black community.

(To be continued…)

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen 
DSW, LMSW, Exe. Dir.
Supreme Family Foundation
Assoc. Prof., Georgia State University

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