Western education provides the black student with knowledge and skill without any context. The knowledge we are taught is supposedly universal hence we go to “universities” but have you ever stopped to think what universal according to our education system is? That we are actually being taught the European perspective of the universe and that universal really means European (or Western)? And that this universality by its very nature undermines the black identity and living context of being systematically oppressed? Does that not seem, then, like indoctrination?
This education fails to teach the black student how to make use of these skills to improve their lives within the context of systemic racism. Think about it, which learning institution integrates the reality that is racism in South Africa and the world within its curriculum – other than in a historical context of course? None. Hence, when the black students leave the education system they leave confused or ill-prepared to make the economic, legal, etc systems to work for them. Instead, due to the sweeping under the rug of racism at learning institutions, they leave there truly thinking it does not exist, hence why some of the most educated people are also some of the most assimilated. This process becomes even worse for those who, due to their education, become upwardly mobile within the economic system – without attaining ownership thereof or with ownership in form but not in substance as it lacks key elements of control; they are the ones that become so assimilated that they essentially become a highly efficient component in the same oppressive system that is keeping their families and communities underdeveloped and dysfunctional.
As a defective product of neo-colonial education; it is painfully clear to me that we do not understand the system, in particular the economic system. Having received “an education” myself it was so disheartening to discover that my main role was to maximise white shareholders wealth; you see my education left out the part where more than ninety percent of the economy is controlled by whites capital, it also left out the part where in order for me to do “my own thing” I would need capital from those very same whites who in turn want ownership of or passive income in the form of interest from “my own thing”, it left out the fact that the money I maximise for these golden shareholders never finds its way to my community and my neighbourhood. In the end my peers and I end up not knowing just how to make it work for ourselves and our people; provided we are not the breed who has been successfully indoctrinated into disassociating themselves from their black people – a fundamental course in mis-education 101. Basically, we cannot make it work for anyone other than those who indoctrinated us in the first place and we eventually resort to taking what we can i.e. living on bigger crumbs than our community and relatives, a sad reality.
So then in what way can we use the knowledge and skills we have to make progress? The only way is by focusing our energy (labour) towards the creation, maintenance and growth of black infrastructure.
What is Black infrastructure?
Black Infrastructure can simply be defined as: All the Black Assets within a particular geographic area. The International (note: lack of context, especially a black context) Accounting Standards [IAS 1] define assets as resources controlled by the entity as a result of past events from which future economic benefits are expected to flow. This is admittedly a pretty useful definition, but as I have mentioned before it lacks context. So, in order to make it useful, we need to contextualise it to make it relevant to the African plight. We will have to re-imagine certain key concepts within that definition – mainly:
Resources can be naturally occurring (Africa has an abundance of these) or can be human, specifically human solutions (Africa is equally blessed with an abundance of these). In our definition, the sole function of resources is to maintain or improve quality of life and not necessarily just to generate economic benefits. Quality of life is a complex issue and is governed by a fine line between environmental, social and economic factors. By social benefits we are talking about resources that nurture the communal identity – black identity – whilst also providing social security. By environmental benefits we are talking about the use, maintenance and preservation of naturally occurring resources. And by economic benefits we are talking about the products and services produced by these communities to be used for trade within and between them and others.
Controlled by blacks
Once again we have already defined blacks as Individuals or groups that are authentically African. And have extensively explored the African identity. Therefore melanated people with Eurocentric identities cannot be identified as black.
Control on the other hand is the ability to restrict access to these assets whilst, at the same time, being able to direct their use towards any purpose that one desires in our case for the benefit of the community. Control is derived from power. Within this system, it should be noted, that power exists and is maintained mainly through the legal system and through a racially-motivated assignment of organisational authority. Further, for most black-created assets white funding often undermines control.
For the long-term benefit
The operation of these assets needs to be self-sustainable – meaning that it should not be reliant on external “help” which often comes with terms, conditions and/or ulterior motives. These assets should be able to be transferred from one generation to the next within the same community. This is also an area where white capital undermines the longevity of black assets by increasing their financial risk in the form of debt and interest.
Of the community
Black power is undermined through undermining black communities. Therefore in order to truly be in a state of power as blacks we need powerful communities implying that we need to have black assets within these communities. Communities are critical because they form the fundamental growth environment for human beings. Each and every person develops within some kind of community and the primary role of a community is to ensure the well-being of a group of people. All living generations, young and old, are simultaneously influenced by the community. It is the macro-structure that dictates the overall quality of life and therefore unhealthy communities will, more often than not, produce unhealthy schools, businesses and eventually people. So it is within or in close proximity to black communities that these resources need to be created, maintained and optimised along with community-centric business models, products, reinvestment policies and shareholding. Thus melanated people with Eurocentric ideology end up with an almost religious belief in free market principles, pro-institution over community and guilt-free/unconcious reinvestment of economic gains in white communities (schools, businesses etc).
Why this definition?
Because it is extremely difficult to differentiate positive gains from progress – many good things happen even in the midst of systemic racism. A fair amount of artists own their own production setups/studios, a smaller amount of those reach the main stream distribution channels, an inconsequential amount end up controlling parts of those distribution channels; a black minority does become “educated”, an even smaller minority becomes employed, an infinitely smaller minority lives debt free or with enough disposable income to invest in their communities and an embarrassingly insubstantial, in the greater scheme of things, amount are able to build wealth. So small-scale good does actually happen but can it really be called progress with regard to the negatively skewed power dynamics? Are we becoming more or less self-sufficient? Are our communities becoming more or less dysfunctional? We find this definition a useful tool in understanding the substance of what is going on in our economic system. Next time you are witnessing an asset first of all you will be able to identify it – they are everywhere – but more importantly you will be able to assess whether they are empowering or disempowering to you as a black person. What kind of benefits are they generating? For whom? Who is in control? Which communities benefit from them? These are the critical questions.
Marena “Wa Ditlou” Mothoa