“Letters to the African Race With Regard to Poverty” by James Forten – An Interpretive Piece Written by Zoey Brown

In my Letters from a Man of Colour that I once wrote anonymously, I stated the most significant aspect of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold this truth to be self-evident, that GOD created all men equal” (White et al. 163). I need to reinforce this constitutional idea because members of the African race are still encountering inequities in modern America; the white men continue to dismiss the fact that God granted the inalienable rights of Liberty and Independence to His children without regard to race. In 1813, the Senate of Pennsylvania was convinced that we were inhuman and attempted to restrain fugitive men of property and free men from relocating to the state. Today, similar prejudice is evident in the States as the people of our colour are disproportionately facing poverty. The United States Census Bureau produced their latest statistics in 2019 which call to mind our overrepresentation, exhibiting that “the poverty rate for Blacks was 18.8%” whereas it was “7.3% for non-Hispanic Whites,” as well as how the “median household income for Black households was $45,438 compared to…$76,057 for non-Hispanic White households” (Creamer). Thus we shall discuss the numerous causes, along with the unspoken effects, and the necessary solutions to the issue of vital importance: African poverty.

One cause of the unequal prevalence of poverty among the African race is the inaccessibility to higher education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared in Section 401 “the assignment of students to public schools and within such schools without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin” (“Transcript of Civil Rights Act”). In spite of this proclamation, the white admissions officers of publick universities are violating the law by not permitting the African to attend based on his subjugated position in the dominant culture and society. In the Ethnic & Racial Studies journal, scholars drew a conclusion in 2017 that contributes to my point by revealing that “access to good schools and colleges is related to access to cultural and social capital which enables the formation of social networks to reinforce those already in privileged positions to maintain, perpetuate and pass on these privileges to their children” (Bhopal 2299). Even though the Civil Rights Movement created the opportunity for equal education disregarding race, the white men are preserving their racial discrimination by labeling the people of our colour as subordinate and limiting our growth in educational institutions. They do not accept us as a part of their culture since they think we possess distinctive mannerisms and assets, deviating from their norms. The white men, therefore, discard our applications to higher education and only seek to admit the privileged white elite, causing the people of the African race to obtain less wealth and mobility and compelling several of us to live in poverty. The oppressors deem the African man as a creature of low social status, without merit or nobility, and avoid developing social connections with us. Consequently, they rob many people of the African race of the right to be justly admitted to publick colleges and push us further away from economic and social achievements and deeper into indigence. 

Another cause of the high levels of poverty among the people of colour is the lack of employment opportunities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 stated in Section 703 that “it shall be an unlawful practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual” and “to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities…because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (“Transcript of Civil Rights Act”). However, the white employers are transgressing these features of the law by rejecting the unemployed African’s job applications and excluding the employed African from upward career mobility. Scholars published a study in 2019 in the Health Services Research journal that supports my claim, since “a majority of black adults in the United States reported that they have experienced discrimination in employment—both in obtaining equal pay or promotions (57 percent) and applying for jobs (56 percent)” (Bleich et al. 1405). Even after the Civil Rights Movement emphasized our common rights, particularly in the labour market, the white men are still embracing the racist belief of African inferiority wherein they refuse to see us as serviceable components of Society. They are depriving the men of the African race of jobs, leaving many of us in destitution. In this country, we cannot fend for ourselves without the money that our careers provide us. If some of us are fortunate enough to obtain labour, we are oppressed, receiving lower wages as well as fewer raises and promotions than the white men. As the cost of living increases, the African man’s pay will remain stagnant and eventually lead him into poverty.

A third cause of the disproportionate rates of poverty experienced by the African race is housing discrimination. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 promulgated in Section 804 that “it shall be unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling…because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin” (“Fair Housing Act”). Regardless of the law, the white real estate agents are committing a wrong by purposely preventing men of colour from viewing particular houses and being unsupportive in the homebuying process. In the Social Problems journal, intellectuals proved my assertion in their research from 2005, “with African Americans treated unfavorably on availability (in 38.0 percent of tests), inspection (38.5 percent), geographic steering (17.9 percent), financing assistance (33.4 percent), and encouragement (27.1 percent)” (Ross and Turner 171). Despite the successes of implicit bias training and moral reform in the past two centuries, the white men continue to allow their racial prejudice to interfere with their job duties and unjustly mistreat the African man, who merely wishes to purchase a place for security. They are denying us of our Liberty, which grants us the privileges of beholding and inspecting every house on the market in any area we desire. As a result, many of us lose the opportunity to buy an affordable home and thus suffer in our homelessness and impoverishment. The white men also do not financially or socially aid a number of us in our search for a spot of residence, as if this is their form of punishment for us. This lack of assistance hinders several members of the African race from securing houses that they could have acquired with a loan; without the white man offering this method of payment, the African man has no choice but to endure poverty, on the streets.

One solution that we must exercise to combat the high rates of poverty among the people of our colour is a revival of the American Moral Reform Society. Along with several other African leaders, I established the Society to promote equity for both the white men and the Africans as well as to destroy the sinful, cursed institution of Slavery. We shall continue our attempt to procure Justice for all, yet we shall slightly adjust our aim to address the prejudices in the contemporary aftermath of Slavery by diminishing the levels of poverty. We shall reintroduce Christian morals to the white admissions officers of publick colleges and encourage them to apply those virtues while they are choosing who shall attend their institution of higher education. By reminding the white men of the principle of dignity, they can view members of the African race as their fellow equals in culture and society and evaluate our applications fairly; this will lead to elevated rates of acceptances and access to publick universities for the people of our colour and simultaneously decrease the likelihood of African poverty. We shall invite the white employers of America to contemplate their inner Christian morals and how they may relate these virtues to the processes of hiring and promoting people. The white Man will understand from these principles that his worth and the African’s worth are identical, which will then guide him to recruit the people of our colour and permit us to gain opportunities to advance in our careers of labour without exposing us to any experience of poverty. We shall restore Christian morals in the white real estate agents and prompt them to exhibit these virtues while showing houses and aiding the seekers of homes. The white men will acknowledge that all men, regardless of race, were made in God’s image and therefore be more willing to reveal every available house to the people of the African race and provide us with useful resources; this will grant us the benefit of affordability and options while we search for a place to dwell and lessen our chances of surrendering ourselves to poverty.

The other solution that we must exert to contest the disproportionate levels of poverty among the African race is the improvement of uplift. This idea was widespread among the people of our colour directly before the Civil War to raise our voices as self-sufficient beings and unify the men of property and the free men. I rejoice to see that many of us are preserving this idea over a hundred years after the War by assuring our Liberty and Independence as free men and boosting the status of every member of the African race, particularly those whom are poverty-stricken. We have already established 101 historically African universities as of 2021 that have accumulated academic, social, and economic success, yet the American Council on Education declared that “in 2015, public four-year HBCUs received about $2.2 billion in federal, state, and local funds, while non-HBCUs received a little over $94 billion from the same sources” (Williams and Davis). We shall now urge the government to reconstruct publick policy to prioritize funding for these colleges. Higher education in consequence will become more accessible to us, elevate our position in the greater culture and society, and drive us away from poverty. We have already victoriously commenced over 2 million businesses in America, but there is a limit to this uplift, since present data from Fundera suggests that “when BIPOC-owned firms do get funding, the amounts tend to be about $30,000 less than comparable white-owned businesses” (Perry). We must now call upon the government to further support the businesses owned by the people of our colour by dismantling the imbalance of power between the African and the bank as well as increasing loan lending. Employment will rise among us, advancement will come upon us in our labour, and poverty will not be a concern to us. We have already boasted of prosperous real estate agencies such as The Peebles Corporation and H.J. Russell & Company, yet the Apartment Therapy company addressed how “according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than 6 percent of all real estate professionals are Black, compared to 74.6 percent who are White” (Williams). We shall petition the government to take the efficient measures of publickly encouraging the people of our colour to examine a career in real estate and providing money to every African-owned real estate agency, who will then extend more loans to homebuyers. We will be capable of purchasing homes outside of minority neighbourhoods from the fair members of the African race, whom will properly assist us with social support and payment options, and we will need not worry about poverty.

The white men, whom have controlled our fate and seemingly doomed us to injustice, produced the current causes and effects of African poverty with their biases. However, we can enforce the discussed solutions to dwindle the high levels of poverty that many of us are suffering from and subject to. I struggled with poverty as a young boy of colour, but I liberated myself from the issue by way of uplift. I took up sail-making and decided to commence my own business. I hired several employees and was fortunate enough to acquire a great deal of wealth and success. I became a father and gave my children and grandchildren many educational opportunities. They believed in the idea of uplift as well and became self-supporting, advancing in their studies and careers as educators. Therefore, all members of the African race shall be able to emerge from the darkness of poverty into the light of equity. Why shall we continue to falter in oppression and destitution when we can engage in change? Yet we do need to keep in mind that poverty is merely one of the issues that the people of our colour experience today; there are a number of other inequities that we must defeat. As we secure our Liberty and Independence as it relates to economic injustice, let us solve the other issues we encounter and fill ourselves with God’s blessed Mercy.

Works Cited

“(1836) James Forten, Jr. ‘Put on the Armour of Righteousness.’” BlackPast, 5 Oct. 2019, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1836-james-forten-jr-put-armour-righteousness/.  

Bhopal, Kalwant. “Addressing Racial Inequalities in Higher Education: Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.” Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol. 40, no. 13, Oct. 2017, pp. 2293–2299. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01419870.2017.1344267.

Bleich, Sara N., et al. “Discrimination in the United States: Experiences of Black Americans.” Health Services Research, vol. 54, Dec. 2019, pp. 1399–1408. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/1475-6773.13220.

“Chapter 4: Slavery and Freedom in the New Republic, 1775-1820.” Freedom on My Mind, by Deborah Gray White et al., 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017, pp. 163. 

Creamer, John. “Inequalities Persist Despite Decline in Poverty For All Major Race and Hispanic Origin Groups.” The United States Census Bureau, 15 Sept. 2020, www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/09/poverty-rates-for-blacks-and-hispanics-reached-historic-lows-in-2019.html. 

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McClish, Glen. “A Man of Feeling, A Man of Colour: James Forten and the Rise of African American Deliberative Rhetoric.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, vol. 25, no. 3, 2007, pp. 297–328. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rh.2007.25.3.297.  

Perry, Nick. “20 Black-Owned Business Statistics for 2021.” Fundera, 16 Dec. 2020, www.fundera.com/resources/black-owned-business-statistics.  

Ross, Stephen L., and Margery Austin Turner. “Housing Discrimination in Metropolitan America: Explaining Changes between 1989 and 2000.” Social Problems, vol. 52, no. 2, May 2005, pp. 148–151. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1525/sp.2005.52.2.152.

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Williams, Krystal L, and BreAnna L Davis. “Public and Private Investments and Divestments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” American Council on Education, Jan. 2019, www.acenet.edu/Documents/Public-and-Private-Investments-and-Divestments-in-HBCUs.pdf.  

Williams, Terri. “A New Program Aims to Increase the Number of Black Real Estate Agents in the U.S.” Apartment Therapy, Apartment Therapy, LLC., 9 Feb. 2021, www.apartmenttherapy.com/black-real-estate-agent-program-36876449.  

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