Righting wrongs, the American way
Chandra Bhan Prasad
This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white separate but unequal.
This is the concluding remark of the Kerner Commission, set up to look into civil disorders in the US in 1967. The Commission's report states: "What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget, is that White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it." The report stresses: "The major goal is the creation of a true union a single society and a single American identity."
The Kerner Commission, which came out with a host of socio-economic-educational measures, made a profound impact on white society, resulting in a host of affirmative action packages for the blacks, now called African-Americans. The African-Americans, Hispanics and native-Americans, together called the "minorities", constitute about 18 per cent of the total US population. It all began in 1969. The then US President, Johnson signed an executive order on March 5, 1969, leading to the creation of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). The MBDA was conceived as a nodal body, consisting of senior officials of the federal government, prominent minority businessmen, captains of private industry and representatives of financial institutions, to assist in the growth of minority business.
The basic philosophy behind the creation of the MBDA was to ensure that non-white racial/ethnic communities in the US got their due share of America's assets. The US government coined the slogan, "Democratising capital," when it observed: "Economic growth cannot be sustained without the inclusion of minority business and the infusion of capital into minority business." Today, non-white enterprise has evolved into a major player in the US economy. Diversityinc.com said last week, "For the first time, an African-American, Robert L. Johnson, has been certified to be a multibillionaire".
The list was compiled by New York based Security Pro, a research firm which tracks the growth of African-Americans in business. Now, Robert Johnson tops the list of the 100 richest African-Americans. Johnson's assets are worth over US$ 3 billion. The list for the year 2000, includes 15 more African-Americans, who broke into the US$ 100 million club in the year 2000. "The list does not include athletes or entertainers, unless they have come upon their fortunes while operating their own businesses," asserts the research firm.
Are these 100 richest African-Americans exceptions, which White society is parading before the global community? A survey conducted by the US Census Bureau in 1992 has an answer. According to the survey, of the total registered companies in the US (1.72 crores), minorities owned 21.49 lakhs, or 12.5 per cent of the total. Further, the economic return to minority-owned companies amounted to US$ 2.09 lakh millions, or 6.3 per cent of the total. Thus, what we clearly see is that of the total business transactions in the US, 6.3 per cent belongs to racial/ethnic minorities.
In India, it is difficult to think of one Dalit whose firm is traded publicly, or whose annual turnover reaches Rs the one crore mark. We can hardly name one Dalit (from a total Dalit population of about 21 crores), whose assets reach the Rs one billion mark? Obviously, the Dalits have been left out of the "money" market, out of business and trade, out of the stock exchanges. Dalits don't own land, they don't own urban assets. Barring government jobs and representation in legislative bodies, they don't exist in the nation's economic, intellectual and cultural lives. This prolonged exclusion of the Dalits, prevents them from "owning" India as "nation". This reinforces the belief that Dalits are not a part of India's nationhood. Will this not perpetuate, or rather intensify, social crises in India?
We know, that like American society, India too, has a legacy of split-societies one of touchables and the other of untouchables and tribals. The evolution of India into a Republic provided us a historic opportunity to draw a point of convergence, the same way the Kerner Commission did in the US. The delayed and reluctant response of white society in America is one of the finest examples we have before us. The Dalits' case, if comparable to any society, to any form of exclusion and oppression, is comparable with that of the blacks of America.
We will, in forthcoming columns, examine, how the dominant whites in America are approaching racial/ethnic questions? We will see how the private sector is responding to the federal government's keenness to share assets and institutions with racial/ethnic minorities in America? Maybe, we could learn something from them and perhaps India, as a nation, decides to evolve into a nation for all, the two societies evolving into one into a single social identity.