Note: These are my prepared remarks from my presentation to the 16th annual Clarion Community Martin Luther King Day Celebration, hosted at Clarion University on January 26, 2012.
One of the more compelling human interest stories of 1975 is the tale of Japanese second lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, an intelligence officer in the Japanese Imperial Army who surrendered to his commanding officer after he was persuaded that the war was over. The only problem is that the war he was fighting, World War II, had ended nearly 30 years earlier. Lt. Onoda had been hiding out in the jungles of the Philippines, destroying crops, engaging in shootouts with the local police and actually killing 30 Filipinos, fighting a war that had ended long ago.
We are now in the second decade of the 21st century and we are commemorating the birth of a man of peace, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let there be no doubt, however, that he was also a warrior, battling the foes of liberty and equality with weapons of non-violence, grace and dignity. Each time we come together to acknowledge this man’s greatness, however, I think it is instructive to ask ourselves where we are in the ongoing quest to be equal heirs with all Americans in enjoying the blessings of liberty.
As a former intelligence officer myself, I survey the American landscape, past and present, and questions arise in my mind. Are we fighting yesterday’s battles? Is there another front we’re neglecting? Are we fighting with modern weapons and tactics or, to use a popular phrase, are we bringing knives to a gun fight?
These questions came to mind as I read a recent report, The State of the African American Consumer, commissioned by the Nielsen Research Group and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, representing over 200 black community newspaper across the country. According to this report, the black community in the United States will have a cumulative buying power of $1.1 trillion – that’s trillion with a “T” – by 2015, just three years from now. If black Americans were an independent nation, we would be the 16th wealthiest nation in the world, ahead of nations like Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, which we normally think of as wealthy. By way of comparison, the combined buying power of the entire African continent is estimated at $1.7 trillion.
The same report states that the number of black households earning $75,000 or more increased by 64 percent between 2000 and 2009, a rate 12 percent higher than the overall population in that same time frame. Educational attainment at all levels is up, and black women are outpacing black men in obtaining college degrees, so we men have to step it up a bit!
I have a copy of the report for anyone who wants to peruse it, and it’s available online as a free download. I encourage you to read it because it will alter your thinking about the state of black America today. I don’t want to diminish the problems we still face with fatherless homes, unacceptably high dropout rates from high school among young black men, and all the pathologies that result from single-parent households and a lack of education.
What this report did for me, however, is focus my attention on a key question: What are we doing with this considerable buying power, and what should we be doing with it?