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The Discrimination against Black Co-ops

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Congress 2021 blog edition

By Anurika Onyenso, Third Year General Management Major, University of Alberta, Augustana Campus.

The Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation “Racial Justice and Cooperatives” open event webcast featured a powerful presentation, organised around visual stories, by Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development, John Jay College.

Her presentation addressed ways cooperatives have been used to achieve economic democracy, racial justice and the challenges to achieving racial inclusion and racial justice in the cooperative movement in North America.

Nembhard began by detailing how North America has a history of colonialism including asset stripping, settler attitudes and the economic sabotage of Black co-ops. The White supremacists used financial sabotage to gain an excessive and unfair competition. This included and was not limited to:

  • railroads refusing to haul the co-ops’ products;
  • manufacturers rejecting to sell them needed machinery;
  • wholesalers denying them raw materials and suppliers;
  • banks refusing to lend resources.

This led many of these co-operatives to close by the end of 1888. Some of these Black co-operatives included the Coloured Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-operatives Union and the National Federation of Coloured Farmers.

Still speaking on co-operatives, Nembhard quoted a powerful statement by Clyde Woods from Development Arrested: “Generation after generation, ethnic and class alliances arose in the region with the aim of expanding social and economic democracy, only to be ignored, dismissed and defeated. These defeats were arrogant attempts to purge such heroic movements from both historical texts and popular memory. Yet, even in defeat, these movements transformed the policies of the plantation bloc and informed daily life, community-building activities and subsequent movements.”

African Americans used mutual aid and economic co-operations because they did not have any wealth during their enslavement and were often excluded from the most lucrative economic activities even after their emancipation.

Nembhard concluded that the whole reason for forming cooperatives was to give people economic and political independence.

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