Compared To Stephanie St. Clair, Are You A Total Jellyfish, Chicken, Or A Wimp?

AFRICAN-AMERICANS’ FORGOTTEN BUSINESS HISTORY

African-Americans have a mostly forgotten and little researched business history in this country. As a group, we have peculiar and selective bouts of historical amnesia. We cling to historical fairy tales that are of no benefit to us (such as the people among us who learn their history through fictional tv miniseries such as Roots). Meanwhile, we totally forget the things that could inspire us to achieve more (such as “Black Wall Street” and the families, businesses, and mutual aid societies that we built right after the end of slavery).

We’ve also forgotten more recent accomplishments such as those of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam during the 1950s-1960s. They had a network of private schools, acres of cultivated farmland, businesses in multiple cities, and international trade. If I remember correctly, they were importing seafood from South America for their restaurants.

There are internal and external factors causing modern African-Americans’ near-total lack of business ownership. We discussed the internal problems during this earlier conversation. There’s the normal level of inter-ethnic conflict caused by economic competition. I don’t expect people from other, competing “teams” to want to cooperate with me; I expect them to focus on cooperating with their own team. It’s not their fault that the African-American “team” refuses to work together. So, I’m not shocked or upset about people outside my ethnic group not wanting to facilitate my economic goals.

However, there’s a difference between: (1) noncooperation; (2) normal levels of economic competition and conflict; and (3) efforts to destroy any and all possibility of business activity among African-Americans. We have to acknowledge that this third phenomenon has always been part of our collective experience in this country. Our failures aren’t solely due to our internal problems. Our experiences have shown that there has always been a percentage of non-African-American others who don’t want to see any of us have anything.

There are non-African-American others who will be cooperative with our goals (for their own reasons). I’m simply saying that we can’t be naive about the continued existence of a “we don’t want African-Americans to have anything” faction. Those of us who are Black business owners especially have to be mentally prepared to face this reality. And prepared to find ways to work around it.

It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s what is. Whenever I feel discouraged or exhausted, I think about what our people—and some of our Caribbean cousins like Stephanie St. Clair (also known as Madame Queen)—went through. It helps put things in perspective.

For those who are infected with the “we don’t want African-Americans to have anything” virus, nothing sets them off like our people controlling significant amounts of money. This extends to the criminal underworld. Which brings me to the Black “policy” kings and queens, and state governments creating lotteries to seize the large sums of money they controlled.

THE BLACK POLICY KINGS AND QUEENS

One of the reasons state lotteries (with their “daily numbers”) started up in the 1970s was to capture the money that African-American gangsters in cities like Chicago (and some Caribbean gangsters in New York) had been making off of their own private, illegal lotteries and casinos. These illegal lotteries were called “the numbers” and “policy” rackets. From what I’ve read, the African-American gangsters in the Chicago area held out the longest in resisting White mobsters seizing their gambling rackets. I will add that these Black men (and a few women) were real gangsters, as opposed to gang members. There’s a big difference in terms of sophistication and organization. From The Black Mafia: African-American organized crime in Chicago
1890–1960
:

This analysis will explore the participation of Chicago blacks in organized criminal activity during the period between 1890 and 1960. This analysis will also demonstrate that African-American vice syndicates existed on the South Side of Chicago, just as Irish and Italian vice syndicates flourished in other segments of the city.

Though they did not participate in bootlegging, African-American criminal syndicates ran speakeasies and after-hours nightclubs, and participated in illegal casino and policy gambling for almost fifty years. African-American organized crime differed from other criminal groups only in the fact that they continued to independently exist long after Chicago’s other ethnic-based criminal syndicates fell under the dominance of Italian mobsters. [pg. 34]

. . . One of the reasons that the policy racket was so important was that policy bankers were often the only members of the black community with money to invest. Nineteen policy wheel operators owned at least twenty-nine different businesses in the black community. For example, the Jones brothers owned the Ben Franklin Department Store, four hotels and several large apartment buildings. Policy operator Dan Gaines owned the only black Ford dealership in Chicago. Policy Banker King Cole invested in the Metropolitan Funeral System. Julian Black, owner of the East and West Policy Company, was the manager of world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Matt Bivens owner of the Alabam-Georgia, the Whirlway and the Jackpot policy wheels also owned Bivens Van Lines. It was rumored that his moving vans were excellent places to print policy slips because they were always on the go.

. . . The policy racket was also responsible for the establishment of a fair number of quasi-legitimate but colorful enterprises such as the sale of “policy players dream books,” “lucky number candles,” “lucky number incense” and “sure-fire gigs,” which were all used to create good luck. The dream book would tell a policy player what number to bet. [pg. 51]

I first heard about “policy” and “the numbers” from my older relatives. My mother’s high school boyfriend’s family ran a “policy wheel” in the 1950s. This is why his family was affluent and he had his own car in high school. Real life is filled with shades of gray. Even though I don’t care for criminals, I’ve always had a grudging level of respect for the segregation-era African-American “numbers” mobsters. Unlike (the stupid and disorganized) modern drug-dealing African-American gangbangers, many of them did productive things with their ill-gotten money. My older relatives talked about how a number of the African-American policy kings financed their siblings’ and children’s professional educations and aspirations. More than a few African-American owned car dealerships, medical practices, law and accounting firms, and so on were created this way.

From what they described, all of that fell apart in the 1960s. The nature of poverty and crime among African-Americans changed. For the worse. At that point, African-Americans abandoned almost all Black-owned businesses that weren’t barbershops or hair salons.

STEPHANIE ST. CLAIR SAID “NO” TO THE WHITE MOB

A number of the policy kings and queens in New York City were West Indians such as Casper Holstein and Stephanie St. Clair. From the Black Past.Org entry about her:

St. Clair developed the first numbers bank located in Harlem. Here she and her partners, including Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, made the first significant criminal fortunes in black New York. Initially they had little competition but by the 1930s their undisputed control over Harlem’s numbers rackets was challenged. After the Great Depression began and Prohibition ended in 1932, a number of white New York mobsters saw their profits rapidly diminish. They turned to the lucrative Harlem illegal gambling scene to supplement their loss revenue. Led by Dutch Schultz, a coalition of non-Harlem gangsters engaged in a bloody war with St. Clair and her allies for control of organized crime in that community. Over 40 people were killed in gangland related violence including often the murder of Harlem numbers operators.

Despite the violence against their operation, St. Clair and Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson initially refused to surrender to Shultz. Over time, however, their power weakened. St. Clair made several futile complaints to local authorities about harassment from the New York Police Department which she felt aided Shultz. Without political influence at City Hall, her concerns were ignored. In response, St. Clair took out several ads in Harlem newspapers accusing senior police officers of various forms of corruption. Outraged by this, she was arrested by the police on several exaggerated charges. In response she testified to New York State’s Seabury Crime Commission about the large number of kickbacks she had paid police officials to protect her operations. Her charges led to the dismissal of several police officers.

As St. Clair realized she could no longer oppose Shultz, she agreed to a truce which transferred the power and profits from her organization to Shultz and the Italian Mafia headed by Lucky Luciano. In 1935, Dutch Shultz was assassinated on the orders of Luciano. Although St. Clair was not involved with his murder, she was remembered for sending an infamous telegram to his bed that stated “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The telegram reportedly made headlines across the nation.

St. Clair’s former lieutenant, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson ecame the Mafia’s representative in Harlem while she slipped into obscurity. Stephanie St. Clair died quietly in Harlem in 1969.

LET’S COUNT MADAME ST. CLAIR’S BOLD RESPONSES TO EXTREME ADVERSITY

  • She ran her own numbers racket. She wasn’t a “ride or die” fool risking everything for some man’s enterprise.
  • She said “no” to the White mafia. For the most part, nobody does that. Yesteryear, yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
  • She told on the White mafia and the corrupt police officers they controlled. She took out an ad in the paper to tell on these people. Contrast this “bolder than bold” move with modern African-Americans who have let themselves be intimidated into a “stop snitching” ethos.
  • She didn’t flee the United States or New York. With all of this going on.
  • After all of this, she managed to die “quietly” in her elder years.

I don’t like criminals, but I have to give Madame St. Clair, and the Chicago area African-American policy kings who resisted the White mob their due. When I feel tired or frustrated, I remind myself that any opposition facing a modern, legitimate Black business owner is nothing compared to what Stephanie St. Clair faced—without flinching.

IT’S TIME FOR A GUT CHECK

Like everybody else, I feel tired and discouraged at times. I’m not as bold as Madame St. Clair. I would never put myself in the middle of the criminal underworld. Our times and circumstances are very, very different. But in terms of how I face adversity, I refuse to be an absolute jellyfish, chicken, or wimp in comparison to her. In terms of my personal fortitude and determination, I refuse to be outdone by some “old-school” Black criminal like her! I don’t want to come up short—in a gut check—compared to them.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

If you want to find out more about the policy kings, see here, and here.

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36 Responses to “Compared To Stephanie St. Clair, Are You A Total Jellyfish, Chicken, Or A Wimp?”

  1. Faith says:

    I can also imagine she was forgotten on purpose to not give other black women any ideas! Since every prominent family who’s emerged into legitimacy came into that prominence doing something questionable I’d argue people did what had to be done on some level. Not to condone the criminality but there’s a lot of foul behavior that’s perfectly legal as well. This is a fascinating read that I’m looking forward to.

  2. Faith,

    If I was of Caribbean descent, I would be even more annoyed than I already am about the erasure of Stephanie St. Clair. Whatever the topic, I believe that the whole story should be told. Without erasing any of the participants. From what little I can tell (there’s very little research on this topic), it appears that West Indian gangsters either: (1) brought the numbers racket to AA Blacks in Harlem, or (2) were instrumental in bringing the numbers racket to AA Blacks in Harlem.

    I don’t have a problem with that because the segregation-era numbers racket was a way of Black people harnessing the money that other Blacks were going to waste on gambling anyway. If the West Indian and AA gangsters hadn’t harvested that wasted AA money—which they often recycled into legitimate Black economic activities—then White mobsters would have harvested that same wasted (AA) money. Which is exactly what happened after White mobsters took over reaping the profits of AAs wasting their money on gambling.

    Let me add that I’m not uptight about the existence of gambling. As far as I’m concerned, it ranks pretty low on the vice scale. A certain number of people will always be involved in gambling. And I notice that the legions of AA do-gooders who were so intent on clamoring for police crackdowns on the policy kings (and queens) have been silent ever since the state governments took over raking in that same gambling money.

    I know the state governments claim to spend the lottery money on public education, etc. I’m not entirely convinced of that. All of this makes me wonder whether envy and hateration were part of the reasons why AA do-gooders from previous eras wanted the policy wheels shut down.

    I’m irritated by the sexism angle of Madame St. Clair’s erasure. In all the pop culture references, she’s tossed to the sidelines while the focus is put on (African-American man) Bumpy Johnson. And I had never heard of (West Indian policy king) Casper Holstein at all—he’s been totally erased. My previous ignorance of these people might be partially regional—my relatives only discussed the Chicago-area policy wheels.

    The Wikipedia entry about the numbers racket lists the following pop culture references (which all seem to revolve around Bumpy Johnson):

    Moses Gunn portrayed “Bumpy Jonas” a character based upon Johnson in the 1971 film Shaft.

    The struggle between Bumpy Johnson and Dutch Schultz was portrayed in the film Hoodlum, directed by Bill Duke. In the film, released on August 27, 1997, Johnson is portrayed by Laurence Fishburne.

    Fishburne previously played a character based on Bumpy Johnson, “Bumpy Rhodes,” in the 1984 film The Cotton Club.

    Johnson was portrayed by Clarence Williams III in the 2007 film American Gangster as the mentor of Frank Lucas. Williams had previously appeared in the film Hoodlum as a rival of Johnson’s, in the employ of Dutch Schultz.

    You said, “I can also imagine she was forgotten on purpose to not give other black women any ideas!”

    Yep. The idea that I want modern BW to take away from this historical episode is to NOT be so easily discouraged! The least we can do with all our modern era blessings is to persevere.

    Expect Success!

    • LaJane Galt says:

      I love the historical bent to this post. My mom used to tell me about how folks would play policy.

      You know you can fix the wiki post.

  3. Karen says:

    Khadija stated, “I know the state governments claim to spend the lottery money on public education, etc. I’m not entirely convinced of that. All of this makes me wonder whether envy and hateration were part of the reasons why AA do-gooders from previous eras wanted the policy wheels shut down. “

    Very little of that money ends up in public education (Source: New York Times), some excerpts from the article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/business/07lotto.html?ei=5124&en=d0dd2d9bdfc46817&ex=1349755200&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&pagewanted=all

    “For years, those states have heard complaints that not enough of their lottery revenue is used for education. Now, a New York Times examination of lottery documents, as well as interviews with lottery administrators and analysts, finds that lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools.

    In reality, most of the money raised by lotteries is used simply to sustain the games themselves, including marketing, prizes and vendor commissions. And as lotteries compete for a small number of core players and try to persuade occasional customers to play more, nearly every state has increased, or is considering increasing, the size of its prizes — further shrinking the percentage of each dollar going to education and other programs.”

    We can guess who is most likely not getting these scholarships although their money most likely finances it (i.e. poor and minorities):

    “(Five states — Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee — direct lottery dollars primarily to college scholarships. North Carolina and Florida also give some money to scholarships.)”

    “In at least four states — California, Illinois, Michigan and Texas — lottery dollars as a percentage of K-12 education money has declined or remained flat over the last decade.”

    “The Times review of documents from all 42 states with lotteries and the District of Columbia found that nearly all have increased payouts and lowered the percentage going to programs. And those that have not changed their payout formulas are considering it.”

    Yes, it is quite a “racket” indeed…

  4. Karen,

    You said, “We can guess who is most likely not getting these scholarships although their money most likely finances it (i.e. poor and minorities)…”

    Oh, yeah. That’s who I see faithfully playing the lottery almost every, single day. Some of the (AA) secretaries at work pool their money to buy a batch of lottery tickets every day. Many of the stylists at the (AA) hair salon I go to do the same thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dream books still exist.

    Expect Success!

    • Faith says:

      Dream books do still exist. Your mentioning the numbers got me thinking about my grandparents. My grandmother kept a dream book on her nightstand and would often play based on what she could remember.

      Since there’s little transparency for the lottery funds to actually go towards education I’ve always believed it to be racket. Considering the amount of money that’s collected I always thought it odd that teachers were being laid off and school districts were short of funds.

  5. Bellydancer says:

    As a grandaughter of a numbers runner I can still remember my grandfather getting up early and making his rounds to turn in his “slips” for his customers. I remember watching the nightly news for the numbers to show up in the stock market portion which was what “bank” was based on.
    Oh the memories of hearing people collect numbers and talking about I’m gonna box that tomorrow” when I play the bank.

    Later on came the peashake houses which still exist. People looking those basketball score books and going to different houses at different shake times. Today we call those pull tickets and you play them differently and even Catholics use them to make money.
    Then Bingo came along and women usually went to that and some can play up to 50 boards at a time.
    Now it is the lottery that most black folks play but some of those other games still exist you just have to know where to look.
    Ooops gotta go I got time to make the 9:30 shake. (lol)

  6. Bellydancer,

    Thank you for your comment—you’re helping to educate people about their own forgotten business history! Another reason I decided to do a post about the policy kings and queens is to make the point that there were AAs in previous generations that controlled HUGE sums of money. For a very short version recap, see this site, which mentions:

    By 1938, Chicago policy was taking in eighteen million dollars a year (at a time when 70% of Chicago’s African-American families earned less than $1,000 per year). Out of that eighteen million, the policy kings kept about half. (The rest went to pay employees’ salaries, as well as pay off the winning bets, the police, and politicians.) The policy kings drove the finest cars, wore the most expensive clothes, owned summer homes and private airplanes, and vacationed in Europe and Mexico.

    In other cities, policy created a stream of wealth that ran one direction only: out of black neighborhoods and into the pockets of white mobsters. In Chicago, though, the policy kings gave back. At its height, the racket provided 5000 jobs to the African-American community.

    In addition, the policy kings invested in many legitimate businesses in the neighborhood, from grocery stores to hotels to one of the first black-owned department stores in the country. The kings made substantial and ongoing contributions to neighborhood charities, churches, and hospitals. They helped black professionals set up their practices and supported promising students through school.

    And all of this was totally controlled by our own people. Unlike the modern AA gangbanger/drug dealers who are supplied (and thus indirectly controlled) by non-Black others. So, it’s not like we never knew how to handle an entire industry on our own. Despite sustained, violent opposition from others. WTH happened to us?

    Expect Success!

  7. T says:

    And all of this was totally controlled by our own people. Unlike the modern AA gangbanger/drug dealers who are supplied (and thus indirectly controlled) by non-Black others. So, it’s not like we never knew how to handle an entire industry on our own. Despite sustained, violent opposition from others. WTH happened to us?

    I think I can answer that: when AA's started to look to other communities to dictate our value-and invested in such communities-we gave away our power and ability to generate and sustain what we built. The hip-hop industry is a glaring example of this. If the energy harnessed from this genre were used to create more businesses (examples: publishing houses, record companies, etc.), then there would be little dependence on income and support from other communities. Instead, we have given our gifts and our talents (and subsequently, our money and our souls) to the non-AA communities to exploit and use for their own ends, with the artist himself or herself having little to no creative and financial control over his or her own material.

    Just a little note: I will add that some music artists have created their own companies with moderate success, but with few other artists with real potential to support and grow their companies, some of them stagnated and eventually folded.

  8. Bellydancer says:

    Frank Lucas who was a protege of Bumpy Johnson’s sold heroin and had a multimillion dollar fortune when he was caught(50 million dollars) had problems because no Italian family ran him. He did not bother to buy from them he went straight to Asia for his product this made the Italians and the police nervous and incredulous. Eventually the Italians had to buy from him.
    I am in now way endorsing illegal drugs but using him as an example to cut out the middle man if you can.

  9. T,

    You said, “Instead, we have given our gifts and our talents (and subsequently, our money and our souls) to the non-AA communities to exploit and use for their own ends, with the artist himself or herself having little to no creative and financial control over his or her own material.”

    I agree. That hip-hop mess started off all wrong with folks looking to get signed by White record companies. As opposed to building something that they could control.
    _______________________________________________

    Bellydancer,

    You said, “Frank Lucas who was a protege of Bumpy Johnson’s sold heroin and had a multimillion dollar fortune when he was caught(50 million dollars) had problems because no Italian family ran him. He did not bother to buy from them he went straight to Asia for his product this made the Italians and the police nervous and incredulous. Eventually the Italians had to buy from him.

    I am in now way endorsing illegal drugs but using him as an example to cut out the middle man if you can.”

    Leaving aside the demonic aspects of the drug trade (I hate drug dealers), Frank Lucas was still dependent even after cutting the Italian mobsters out of his supply chain. This is because he still had to go to non-Black outsiders for a critical piece of his enterprise—he had to go to Asians to get the drugs that he sold. It was never his “product,” it was the Asian growers’ product. If they chose not to sell to him at all, or changed the terms under which they would sell to him, then he would be SOL. The only way for him to truly have been in control was if he (or somebody associated with him) had been growing the drugs that he sold.

    Contrast this with the numbers situation: The “product”—the money that AAs spent on gambling—came from Blacks. The bets and the money played were collected by Blacks. It was housed by Blacks. After somebody’s number hit, the winnings were delivered by Blacks back to the Black player(s) who won. Note that this was a CLOSED loop with Blacks folks handling each and every step of the loop.

    This was an example of what Dr. Claud Anderson (author of Black Labor, White Wealth and Powernomics) calls a vertically integrated business—one where a group controls each step in the process from top to bottom. Black businesses are always extra-vulnerable because we never have closed “loops.” There’s always some outside person controlling at least one critical aspect of our service/product “loop.” This control gives these outsiders the ability to seriously undermine and destroy various Black businesses if they want to. There are many examples of this:

    (1) The Koreans essentially controlling the distribution of Black hair and beauty supplies. Once more Koreans get into actually styling BW’s hair, I won’t be surprised if their brethren stop selling hair care supplies to AA hair stylists and salons altogether. Then what will AA stylists do?

    (2) There was an incident in the late 80s-early 90s where Min. Farrakhan was planning to produce some personal products like lotion, etc. Supposedly, the Johnsons of Johnson Publishing and Fashion Fair make-up had agreed to produce the containers for these products. Well, the Johnsons are dependent upon White-owned chain stores to distribute their cosmetics. The White chain store owner(s) told the Johnsons that if they did this with Min. Farrakhan, then they would stop carrying Fashion Fair make-up in their stores. The Johnsons backed out of their deal with Min. Farrakhan.

    A legal example of a vertically integrated business are the seafood restaurants that Dr. Anderson has been involved with. As he said in various interviews, Blacks controlled the process “from the boat to the [customer’s] throat.”

    Expect Success!

  10. Oshun/Aphrodite says:

    This is a deep and interesting conversation!

    Bellydancer, my favorite aunt who passed a few years ago, was a numbers runner. If I only knew then what I know now. She had a job, but she always had a whole lot of um extra.

    I used to play a few here and there to the condemnation of her other sisters. I never did it religiously.

    I don’t know what happened, but after a while she got really good at gambling so that when she traveled to states that had lotteries/casinos she was always winning something and I’m not talking about 3-5 dollars.

    She was doing football boards and all kinds of stuff. I just figure over time she became really good at predicting odds.

    Khadijah, those dream books are still in existence…my aunt used to have tons of them.

  11. Lorie says:

    Hi,

    To answer your question, I guess I am a chicken/wimp. I’ve had a business idea in my mind for some time but have been too scared to finish my business plan. I know this is foolish and am snapping out of it. If others can do well without even letting the law or pressure from criminals stop them, there is no reason why I cannot at least set up a legal sidebusiness.

    Thanks for writing this. It made me realize that the business I’ve had in mind is somewhat dependant upon the assistance of outsiders. I will keep “from the boat, to the customers throat” in mind as I think about alternatives. 🙂

  12. Oshun/Aphrodite,

    You said, “I don’t know what happened, but after a while she got really good at gambling so that when she traveled to states that had lotteries/casinos she was always winning something and I’m not talking about 3-5 dollars. She was doing football boards and all kinds of stuff. I just figure over time she became really good at predicting odds.”

    Maybe she learned whatever the equivalent is to counting cards—like the MIT students that made a lot of money doing that in Las Vegas (and got themselves banned by a number of casinos). I’m happy she was able to do that.

    You said, “Khadijah, those dream books are still in existence…my aunt used to have tons of them.”

    Now that I’ve been thinking about it, I do remember seeing some of those dream books before. After orthodontist appointments (I had braces at one point as a small child), my Dad would take me to a nearby newstand to get some comic books. They had a big selection of these dream books. {smiling at the memory}
    _________________________________________

    Faith,

    You said, “Since there’s little transparency for the lottery funds to actually go towards education I’ve always believed it to be racket. Considering the amount of money that’s collected I always thought it odd that teachers were being laid off and school districts were short of funds.”

    Yeah, the yearly strikes that the Chicago Teacher’s Union had to have during most of my childhood were why I never fully bought into the idea that the state lottery money was going toward public education.
    ______________________________________

    Lorie,

    You’re welcome!

    You said, “To answer your question, I guess I am a chicken/wimp. I’ve had a business idea in my mind for some time but have been too scared to finish my business plan. I know this is foolish and am snapping out of it.”

    Everybody has moments of chicken-hood, wimpyness, and powerlessness. The point is to encourage all of us to resist these moments, make them as short as possible, and snap out of them. I’m not speaking from “on high,” I deal with this also. Earlier today, I made the mistake of continuing to read a discouraging conversation at another forum that I found disturbing. This was a general audience forum (= White blog and audience).

    I knew that I should have stopped reading the comments as soon as I saw the conversation take an unchecked, disempowering turn. The hosts let that go on. A series of people were writing in talking about all the things they can’t do. And how helpless they are. Foolishly, I kept reading a little while longer anyway—and I compounded that mistake by allowing those comments to somewhat sour my mood for the rest of the day.

    This little episode is why I try to be very careful about what sort of messages that I consume. It’s why the message of Philippians 4:8 is so important. [“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”]

    One of the problems with modern AA culture and much of AA discourse is that we encourage each other to linger in a state of wimpyness/powerlessness. In fact, we go so far as to affirm living in fear, wimpyness, and powerlessness. We’re generally no longer telling each other to buck up. Which is the point of this post.

    You said, “It made me realize that the business I’ve had in mind is somewhat dependant upon the assistance of outsiders. I will keep “from the boat, to the customers throat” in mind as I think about alternatives.”

    At this point (decades after our mass abandonment of AA business), it’s very difficult for an AA business owner to “close the loop.” We just don’t have any businesses anymore. Certainly not the range of businesses needed to close some of these various loops. So, it’s almost inevitable to have the extra vulnerability of having at least one outsider controlling a critical piece of our enterprise. I just want more of us to be aware of that. Too many of our business people don’t understand this (like the fool we discussed in the earlier post about the coming demise of AA-owned hair salons—the fool who is connecting Dominican beauty supply producers to AA salon owners).

    Expect Success!

  13. Everybody,

    I forgot to mention:

    Now that we’ve discussed vertically integrated businesses and “closed” business loops, can you see the reasons why non-Black/non-AA business owners would be resistant to contracting with AA business owners?

    Let me give a specific hypothetical example.

    Everything else (quality, service, cost, etc.) being more or less equal:

    (1) How does it serve a Korean-American business owner’s interests to put a Black person in the middle of their business “loop” by contracting with that Black business owner?

    (2) How does it serve that Korean business owner’s interests to make his business vulnerable to a Black person’s choice to deliver the agreed-upon service/goods or to not deliver them?

    (3) Especially when there are fellow Koreans that can serve this same function?

    Answer: It doesn’t. It usually doesn’t serve other people’s interests to put us in the middle of their business loop. So, non-Blacks generally aren’t looking to do that. Since AAs have no concept of keeping resources in-house, it never occurs to us that other people DON’T think like that.

    Expect Success!

  14. mochachoc says:

    What an interesting read. It seems people of old had more grit. My parents generation make the current crop look like wimps. They came to dirty, grimy, ugly Britain only to be equated with dogs by the locals (“no Blacks, no dogs, no Irish”). And they were INVITED to this country to help re-build the infrastructure after the war. Did they cower? No. Did they use their status as a reason not to march on? No. Yet today. Well you know the rest.

    You mention the profits made by these criminals were often recycled into legitimate Black business’, what a contrast with today.

    Since reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eye’s Were Watching God I’ve often wondered what African-American’s think about de-segregation. Her novel and your accounts have pointed to a richer (educationally, culturally, economically etc), autonomous past. There were many losses you rarely read in the history books.

    • ak says:

      Preach it mochachoc girl you’ve read my mind! I was born and raised in London and in the US and I’ve been back in London for these past five years and what you’ve said has been my own observation exactly! My whole family and their friends and neighbours who all left the West Indies to go to Britain decades ago all had true grit and were fearless.

      It has ALL gone. Only some of the Africans can carry it all on in the same way.

    • ak says:

      I don’t think the desegregation per se had anything to do with the degradation of businesses between AAs. I think it was the attitude that they had towards it maybe that for example that when a black person could finally shop at any shop, go to any hotel, or what have you that it was OK to just totally drop all of the support of the AA-run establishments and go off and give their money all to the white-owned establishments.

      Or when non-white Koreans, other Asians, and Middle Easterners started selling black hair care products and weaves, especially if they were selling items at lower prices, that it was OK to run and give all of their money to them because ‘at least they weren’t white’. Of all the things to leave black people’s hands, the black hair care industry should have been the last thing to up and go like that. I mean none of these other people have our hair type for the most part anyway. I’ll never understand why it was so hard to keep AA-run black hair care/beauty suppliers afloat in business.

      Hateration is a disease along with jealousy.

    • Oshun/Aphrodite says:

      I agree. I also think they had more sense generally. When I read about the policy kings and how they were generating 100 million a year

      ” Policy became the biggest Black-owned business in the world with combined annual sales sometimes reaching the $100 million mark and employing tens-of-thousands of people nationwide. ” http://policykings.com/kings-excerpt1.html

      my hair is on end. I am thinking back then that was a lot of money – that has got to be valued at a billion(s) now.

      Also I never thought of vertical integration in a personal way either and how it applies to my ventures. I just always took for granted (ashamed to admit) that someone else would be in my loop. Now I am wondering how can I quickly close this, what would it take… how long… how much.. etc…

  15. Mary Ann says:

    Ms. Nassif,

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom! I found this post and commentary to be positive! I don’t have anything of substance to contribute but I wanted to mention that in my husband’s culture they fellowship with each other once a week at community members home. After their meetings all of the men in that community (middle class to working class) contribute a certain percentage of their income in a box. One of the elders will ask if anyone can’t pay their rent or lost a job. If no one reply’s “yes” they have a drawing. They do this until every family wins. I’ve been married now for almost 9 years and I’ve never seen it change. Doctors, engineers, technicians, businessman, nurses, and truck drivers. Everyone contributes accept the women. My husband is West African and there is no mistaken he or they are black. Since many of us like to chase racism. At any rate, I know many of our families our toxic and we can’t do this anymore but I just wanted to say this model here would eliminate so much of the child neglect and abuse in our communities. And God knows best. Thank you again. I’m learning allot.

    Mary Ann

    • Robynne says:

      I know what you are talking about! The elders in Jamaica have a version of it – it’s called a “partner draw.” It was a way to ensure that credit was available to those who contributed to the pool in the days when formal banks did not do business with blacks. The banks existed only for colonial settlers and sometimes their mulatto offspring. But unlike in your husband’s culture, women did this as well – in fact I think they did this more than the men, especially since the women were often peddlers.

      • Mary Ann says:

        Robynne

        Thank you for your reply.

        The women DO have their own resources. The majority of them are WAHM (work at home moms) and share business leads with each other (helping each other open up African hair salons, restaurants, etc) the women aren’t expected to contribute to the main lottery on Sundays for the community. My husband has NEVER asked me for money (with the exception of do I have change of if he’s a penny short).

        • Robynne says:

          :). That’s a very close knit community.

          Some Jamaican expats in the States carry on this tradition as well – including my cousin once removed (she’s my mom’s first cousin). That’s how she got the downpayment for her house! By throwing 2 hands (cycles) of “partner!”

  16. Mochachoc,

    You said, “What an interesting read. It seems people of old had more grit.”

    Yes, they did. They were as racially self-hating as modern Blacks (after all, modern Black folks didn’t just drop down from the moon—somebody raised our generations). But they were also more mentally resilient—they had MUCH more grit. They had to; in order to survive.

    You said, “My parents generation make the current crop look like wimps.”

    The same here. It looks to me that modern Western Blacks are becoming bigger and bigger crybabies with each generation. It’s not a good look. It invites contempt and distancing from others. Other people aren’t trying to hear the blues. They’re busy working to build a happy future for themselves (and “their kind” as the old NOI phrased it). If we want to wallow in misery, many of them figure that’s our business and problem.

    You said, “You mention the profits made by these criminals were often recycled into legitimate Black business’, what a contrast with today.”

    This factor is the only thing that causes me to have grudging respect for the Black numbers mobsters. Many modern AAs confuse the modern Black drug dealers’/gangbangers’ lack of respect for human life with courage. Modern gangbangers and drug dealers are NOT brave—they simply never valued their own Black lives (much less any other Black person’s life). I count the old-school numbers mobsters as brave—from what I read, they were normal people who, like most normal people, wanted to live. And weren’t so quick to throw away their lives.

    So, for Stephanie St. Clair to put her own life on the line by saying “no” to the White mobsters was a big deal. Not to mention the true grit she must have had to even carve a seat at the underworld table for herself in the first place—as a woman surrounded by violent male criminals. What must she have done or been willing to do to keep these predatory men from robbing her? Again, Madame St. Clair was NOT a “moll,” or “ride or die” chick—she had her own racket. Amazing.

    You said, “Since reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eye’s Were Watching God I’ve often wondered what African-American’s think about de-segregation.”

    While I was in my Black Nationalist trance, I thought that desegregation was one of the biggest disasters to happen to AAs. Now I realize that it only brought to the surface pre-existing deeply entrenched problems such as Black anti-Black racism, Black racial self-hatred, the continued existence of slave mentalities, and so on. Desegregation gave AAs the freedom to give FULL expression to all the self-hating things we previously wanted to do—but Whites wouldn’t let us do before.

    AAs are now free enough to swallow the madness and lies peddled on Faux News, and try to cuddle up to racist right-wing nuts that would have lynched us in previous eras. Just the other day, I read a comment by an AA who was seriously repeating the (racist, White, Tea Party) “birther” lies about Pres. Obama purportedly not having a valid US birth certificate. That’s utterly insane.

    I find it amazing that the Blacks folks who have bought into that madness actually believe that the many, many right-wing White racists at the FBI, CIA, and other alphabet-lettered government organizations would permit any Black-skinned NON-US-born-citizen to be sworn in as President of the US. The FBI, CIA, etc. are NOT known as institutions that are friendly to Black-skinned individuals. No matter how much Black people buckdance or grin and skin.

    During Jim Crow, there was no room for the type of self-delusion that currently allows a segment of AAs to swallow Faux News/Tea Party/Overt Racist propaganda. Previous circumstances didn’t allow large numbers of AAs to say “me too” in response to Klan talking points.

    You said, “Her novel and your accounts have pointed to a richer (educationally, culturally, economically etc), autonomous past.”

    I believe that AAs have nostalgia for the wrong things—such as protest marches (or what Malcolm X mocked as “begging in, and crying in”). I think it would be more productive to have nostalgia for what we used to have—and use this history to inspire us to build new and better things for ourselves.
    ____________________________________________

    Mary Ann,

    You’re welcome!

    You don’t have to “Ms. Nassif” me. LOL! Anyhoo, I’ve heard similar accounts of cooperative economics among various other ethnic groups. Unfortunately, that’s usually not possible with “typical” AAs.

    We’re often afraid to steal from non-Black others. But among ourselves, whenever another AA person suggests pooling our money that suggestion triggers predatory reactions among many of us. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen this behavior pattern over and over again. The slave breakers and masters taught our ancestors well—we’ve been programmed to sabotage any effort at mutual cooperation.

    Expect Success!

    • Mary Ann says:

      Ms. Nassif,

      Thank you for your reply.

      Your response was the EXACT reaction I had internally when my husband first introduced me to this part of his community 7 years ago. I didn’t believe him! I thought he was teasing me! They had men whose occupations range from cashier to IMF world banker to pediatrician in private practice. What I could see of the situation is that nobody stole anything. That includes the poor cashiers, stock clerks, and folks FOB (fresh off the boat). I will add that I’ve seen the folks who were at the bottom in time I’ve attended as a result of this money, support, hard work, and vocational training gravitate toward the middle class. They now can give $1000 instead of $10 or $100.

      Thank you again.

      Mary Ann

  17. ak says:

    I don’t think I’m wimpy necessarily. But I am a total mess! LOL I’ll be working during the day AND studying for a degree in Accounting in the fall. So as I think about dogwalking and petsitting, I’m also here thinking ‘How can I give these people my service when they need it in THEIR own schedules?’ LOL

    I am still going to pursue a second job of some sort for Saturdays and Sundays for sure after I get back from my vacation which starts on Monday.

    What the heck can I do for a sideline, that trust me I DO need, when I’m working and studying in the evenings? Although a friend of mine claims that I don’t need to be trained in any bartending classes to be a bartender in Britain. I don’t know if she knows what she’s talking about though.

  18. shocol says:

    I don’t want to go too far off topic but, I’ve been reading the controversy about Essence hiring a white fashion director. After reading the general cluelessness of most of the commenters, this post immediately came to mind and this phrase…”God bless the child that’s got his own.”

  19. AK,

    Onward and forward!
    _________________________________________

    Shocol,

    Well . . . This is all I’ll say about this latest incident from Messence: I don’t understand why—in the 21st century—Blacks still blindly assume that because a particular product targets them as consumers, that means the product is automatically a champion of their interests.

    First of all, wasn’t Messence founded by some men? With BW as the hired help? People, come on, now.

    Expect Success!

  20. Oshun/Aphrodite says:

    @ Khadija

    “Maybe she learned whatever the equivalent is to counting cards—like the MIT students that made a lot of money doing that in Las Vegas (and got themselves banned by a number of casinos). I’m happy she was able to do that. ”

    I think you may be right because she was very consistent with healthy sums.

  21. ann says:

    For Heaven’s sake STOP BEING SURPRISED.

    By now everyone who reads Messence should know that the magazine is no longer own by blk. people; therefore, we really do not have much of a say in what happens to Messence. The former owners I read did not give anyone black an opportunity or at least enough time to locate funding to buy the magazine, the former owners took their money and ran…forget bw we are super rich.

    I googled the former owners of Messence and found this interesting little statement: “A Voice for Black Women: 1969-85”

    http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Essence-Communications-Inc-Company-History.html

    The “voice” seems to have stopped in 1985? It makes you go, hmmm.

    Got a grip? Write to Time Warner or simply do not NOT BUY ESSENCE. After all how many other races of women really purchase Messence? Not many I am sure.

  22. Oshun/Aphrodite,

    You said, “my hair is on end. I am thinking back then that was a lot of money – that has got to be valued at a billion(s) now.”

    Indeed. It makes our mass amnesia—and AA scholars’ lack of serious historical research—about the policy kings and queens even more shocking. If nothing else, we should be teaching this significant episode in AA business history as an example of what we did and can accomplish when we “close the loops.”

    You said, “Also I never thought of vertical integration in a personal way either and how it applies to my ventures. I just always took for granted (ashamed to admit) that someone else would be in my loop. Now I am wondering how can I quickly close this, what would it take… how long… how much.. etc…”

    There’s no reason to feel embarrassed. Nobody is telling us this—in large part because they don’t know about it either. Our (AA) business people have the same misconceptions as the rest of us.

    The only person I’ve heard break it down like this is Dr. Claud Anderson. AAs are playing as isolated individuals while others are playing as teams. The only reason I found out about “vertical integration” is because I was lucky enough to hear a radio interview with Dr. Claud Anderson. I had never heard of that before.

    AAs generally don’t understand that most other people are playing as teams—we automatically refer to other people’s teamwork as “racism.” Sometimes it IS racism. Sometimes it’s simply other people preferring to trust their own team instead of trusting outsiders (us). It’s not these other people’s fault that AAs refuse to work as a team with each other.

    It’s also not other people’s fault that most of our business people are playing checkers while other folks are playing chess. And some of these other people (like the Korean beauty supply monopolists and Jewish-Americans) are playing the Asian game of “go.”

    Go (碁?), known in Chinese as weiqi (simplified Chinese: 围棋; traditional Chinese: 圍棋; pinyin: wéiqí; Wade-Giles: wei ch’i) and in Korean as baduk (hangul: 바둑), is an ancient board game for two players that is noted for being rich in strategy despite its simple rules.

    The game is played by two players who alternately place black and white stones on the vacant intersections of a grid of 19×19 lines. Once placed on the board, stones cannot be moved elsewhere, unless they are surrounded and captured by the opponent’s stones. The object of the game is to control (surround) a larger portion of the board than the opponent.

    Placing stones close together helps them support each other and avoid capture. On the other hand, placing stones far apart creates influence across more of the board. Part of the strategic difficulty of the game stems from finding a balance between such conflicting interests. Players strive to serve both defensive and offensive purposes and choose between tactical urgency and strategic plans. . . .

    Philosophy

    Go begins with an empty board. It is focused on building from the ground up (nothing to something) with multiple, simultaneous battles leading to a point-based win. Chess, one can say, is in the end tactical rather than strategic, as the predetermined strategy is to kill one individual piece (the king). This comparison has also been applied to military and political history, with Scott Boorman’s 1969 book The Protracted Game exploring the strategy of the Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War through the lens of Go.

    Since we don’t understand what’s actually happening on the game board, we’re “perpetually surprised” (as Evia has described the phenomenon) when we suffer the negative consequences of AAs being too brainwashed and confused to play as a team with each other. AAs’ mass refusal to cooperate as a team puts ALL of us at an extreme disadvantage relative to other people who are functioning as teams.

    Expect Success!

  23. ***Note to Readers***

    In making this new site the kind of project that’s sustainable for me over the long-run, I’ve had to streamline how I handle certain things. The comments section is one of them. What this means is that I’ll give substantive responses to those folks who enter the conversations early (as I did across the board at the previous blog).

    After each post is a couple of days old, I’ll generally continue to publish new comments from readers. (That meet the commenting guidelines as set forth at the previous blog—those who are unfamiliar can read the comment “box” at the previous blog.)

    But, after a each post is a couple of days old, I generally WON’T continue responding to new comments.

    In other words, I’ll continue to publish comments to this post, but I’m not going to reply to any more comments in this thread. FYI. Please feel free to talk among yourselves!

    Expect Success!

  24. Nysee says:

    Dear Khadija,
    I was thinking about your previous posts on femininity and I make more trips to the hair salon and working on getting pedicures because of the summer having on ore sandals. Also I was thinking about relocating and I wll like if you and your readers may have some experience in this. Thank you for your great blog and I will pass on the blog information to other Black Women due to the fact many I believe want more and they need to know that others have escape the “matrix” so they can too. I am shraring your site to inform them. I can only inform them and then they will make their own decesions. I feel when opprotunities are presented to them they will have their eyes open to all possiblities.
    Again thank you for your very enlightening blog.