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How are Black Power and black capitalism similar? How are they different? Which do you believe has had a greater influence on the African American experience? Why?

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Black nationalism and black capitalism overlap to a certain degree but are fundamentally different concepts.

Black nationalism was a political movement born of the protracted struggle for civil rights among the African American community. The history and legacy of slavery, especially the imposition of the so-called “Jim Crow” laws that institutionalized racial segregation, condemned generations of black Americans to lives of economic and social subordination.

One of the most vocal advocates of black nationalism was Marcus Garvey, who argued that African Americans would never be allowed to exist on an equal basis with whites and that blacks should, consequently, establish their own political and economic institutions. In short, Garvey and other black nationalists wanted a separate nation independent from white America.

Black nationalism was about a black identity distinct from the dominant white culture and political and economic structures that defined the United States. A strong whiff of socialism ran through the black nationalist movement, as capitalism was associated with the white dominant and exploitative economic system. However, the nationalist movement was more about separatism than about any particular economic system. Under the structure envisioned by black nationalists, African Americans would own and operate their own businesses with their own community of fellow African Americans as their sole or primary clientele.

Black capitalism refers to African Americans who may or may not support the more extreme visions of nationalism advocated by Garvey but who believe in the economic and social attributes of capitalist economics. Observing the huge gap between capitalist economies and socialist or communist economies led some African Americans to support the exercise of free market capitalism as the surest way of building up their communities. Capitalism assumes the continued presence of privately-owned property and commercial activities, and this fit into the vision of those in the black nationalist movement who believed that capitalism would best benefit African Americans.

While there is some overlap between black nationalism and black capitalism, the two are distinct concepts. Supporters of black capitalism are not necessarily supporters of black separatism. Politically conservative African Americans support capitalism because it represents a freer economic system less encumbered by government control.

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