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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Bacon Bits: Producers over consumers

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In this week’s Bacon Bits column, we will focus on the need for the Black community to become producers over consumers. 

It’s difficult to argue against someone else’s privilege when you lack advantage. It’s hard to trust that the humanistic moral fiber that lives in all of us will be enough to conquer bias and bigotry. Maybe, if we can just present data entrenched with Black disparities, then people will understand that the American Dream isn’t possible for all. If the privilege in power won’t allow data to inform, what will inform? More pandering? Do we need even more data?

If we, the Black community, want to position ourselves to challenge privilege, then we must transform from consumers to producers. 

A consumer is a person or thing that eats or uses something.  A producer, in this sense, a person or company that makes, grows, or supplies goods.

Given these definitions, the key to economic emancipation is entrepreneurship. 

While poverty is a barrier, institutionalized racism is a seemingly impenetrable wall. However, we can achieve self-reliance. We can begin to eradicate poverty and dismantle the ghettos that were formed to keep us from doing so by more of us becoming entrepreneurs. We can become producers, even while enduring poverty disproportionately.

I had the fortunate opportunity of traveling extensively back and forth to Johannesburg, South Africa, for 18 months while leading training initiatives for a global IT firm. Johannesburg is vehemently vibrant with people, place, food and culture. The sense of Black pride was overwhelming as was its poverty. 

I saw living conditions in which entire families were dwelling in the smallest of accommodations. “Houses” were surrounded by tin walls and dirt floor foundations. When the African sun beamed, these homes felt like ovens. When it rained, the entire house flooded.

According to the World Bank, nearly one in 10 South Africans live on less than $1.25 a day, one in four are unemployed, and one in five are infected with HIV.

I was able to see and experience poverty from a very different lens. And while poverty exists here in the states and in Indy, it looks a lot different on the other side of the world. 

Even though poverty was inescapable, people had pride. They had agency and esteem. There was ingenuity and innovation. I saw a host of producers and creators. Producers of food and clothing, houses and art, infrastructure and agriculture. Despite experiencing some of the most glaring poverty imaginable, these people were doing so much more than just surviving, they were thriving. They were creating and producing on their own, relying only on the trust and support of their community. 

After talking to a few leaders in the community, I learned that before this change in behavior — before people became producers — South Africans simply weren’t surviving their circumstance. They were dying because of their reliance.  

The same resilience and creativity I saw in Johannesburg is also in the lifeblood of African American culture, especially here in Indy.

Organizations like Forward Cities is working to strengthen Black entrepreneurship in our city. Kaliah Ligon, local director of Forward Cities, is leading an effort that focuses on incubator and/or coworking spaces, marketing wraparound services and 0% interest revolving loans to help support Black business owners and entrepreneurs. Many efforts like these will further bolster our ability to create and sustain the black business sector.

Black people are masters of creativity. Our music inspires and instructs the world. Our style directs global fashion. Our ingenuity created a billion-dollar sports industry in America. What if we applied that creativity to social innovation and entrepreneurship? Could it be the difference between being relevant versus relative?

If we do not possess our own, we will continue to be slaves to the system. We must ask ourselves the question, “What does our contribution to alleviate poverty look like in America?” We can’t keep wishing for a time to come to fruition when we don’t have to be so careful with the words we choose or when your ability to code-switch is what separates you from better paying jobs and more opportunities. We can’t wait for a time when data will inform and government will add equity as a key priority to their agenda.

In a world separated by the “have” and the “have nots,” people that produce will survive (and thrive). If we don’t produce, we will always have to wait in line to receive. And we see these lines growing exponentially during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many Johannesburg residents wish they had just a smidge of the opportunity we have in the United States. From their perspective, we waste it away. On a large scale, we become complacent and continue to consume. Black Wall Street shouldn’t be history, it should be reality.

To put an end to privilege you need a revolution. You can’t revolutionize without relevancy. You can’t be relevant in America if you don’t produce. It’s time to put an end to the consumerism of the Black community and focus on creation.

Just as the South Africans moved from survival to living because of their mindset shift, perhaps we can emulate that same mindset here in Central Indiana.

Alan Bacon is a humanity advocate, community leader, musician, and innovator. Contact him at alankeithbacon@gmail.com.

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