Being Able To Do For Self

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by Dr. B.B. Robinson

All important Black leaders have taught that Black Americans should be able to “Do for Self.”

Frederick Douglas sought education in order to do for self.  Booker T. Washington emphasized that the best way to do for self was to train to become equipped with practical skills.  W.E.B. DuBois predicted that the talented 10th would guide the remaining 90% to do for self.  Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad showed the way on doing for self by organizing business and religious organizations.

Sadly, Black Americans seem to have lost the connection to this powerful teaching and have configured ourselves employment-wise and in business ownership so that we cannot now do for self in many practical ways.

The statistics are alarming.  First, let’s look at key industries and the levels of Black employment in those industries.  Second, let’s consider business ownership by industry.

On employment, 2009 data from the Bureau of labor statistics show the following outcomes for the 15.0 million Blacks who were employed (employment and percentage of work force):

•    Agriculture, forestry, and fishing 66,000 – 0.43%
•    Mining 31,000 – 0.20%
•    Construction 509,000 – 3.3%
•    Information 357,000 – 2.32%
•    Management of companies and enterprises 5,000 – 0.03%

In order to survive, we must eat (agriculture).  We must be able to draw from the earth its raw materials (mining) in order to manufacture what we needs.  We must be able to build structures (construction) in which to reside or produce.  We must be able to facilitate the flow of information (information technology).  Finally, and above all, we must be able to manage resources and production operations (management).  The statistics show that we fall short on all counts.

Now consider the data for similar industries, but from a Black business ownership (a total of 1.9 million in 2007) perspective (number of businesses and percentage of total):

•    Agriculture, forestry, and fishing 4,348 – 0.23%
•    Mining too small to mention – 0.0%
•    Construction 125,901 – 6.55%
•    Information 23,453 – 1.22%
•    Management  of companies and enterprises 201 – 0.01%

The just-cited U.S. Census Bureau data on Black business ownership for 2007 do not differentiate between Black firms with or without employees.  However, knowing that less than 6% of Black firms are large enough to have employees, it stands to reason that the statistics on Black ownership by industry—as bleak as it is—paints too rosy a picture of Blacks’ preparedness to do for self.

Where is Black employment and business ownership concentrated?

Black workers are mainly in retail trade (1.6 million – 10.6%), healthcare and social assistance (1.5 million – 9.6%), educational services (1.4 million – 8.9%), public administration (1.1 million – 7.0%), and accommodation and food service (1.1 million – 6.9%).

Black business ownership is concentrated in health care and social assistance (365,137 – 18.99%), personal and laundry services (302,249 – 15.73%), administrative and support services (214,529 – 11.16%), transportation and warehousing (167,498 – 8.72%), and professional, scientific, and technical services (163,761 – 8.52%).

There is no question that Black workers and Black firms could be better aligned to enable us to do for self.

Why have we allowed ourselves to be steared into such inconsequential roles in the U.S. economy?  Why have we made a choice to forego employment and business ownership in industries that would permit us to, at least theoretically, maintain some sense of independence and an ability to do for self?

In a slow growth U.S. economy, what are the implications for a people who are concentrated in industries that are essentially disassociated from critical production?

It goes without saying that Black Americans should be concerned about more than just finding jobs for the 2.4 million of us who were unemployed in 2009.  We should be very much concerned about the types of jobs that we prepare ourselves to accept.

Why?  Because only the unwise make themselves dependent and unable to do for self.

Dr. B.B. Robinson is an economist and director of, a resource for economic concepts, issues and policies affecting African-Americans.

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