Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: "Brother, Are You A Republican?" Black America and Financial Literacy

"Brother, are you a Republican?", was the question I heard from a Black man on my left, with a hat on, leaning on the counter, as I handed my money to the store clerk. The question came as I purchased a copy of The Wall St. Journal in a small Black town. Incidentally, it took me six months of lobbying this store, in between travels, before finally persuading it to begin carrying the most influential financial newspaper in America and probably the world. They now get two copies each day, and usually only one is purchased. This store is the only one in this town of over 50,000 people, that carries The Wall St. Journal.

"No Brother, I am not a Republican. I am an Independent. Why do you ask?", I replied. "Oh, I was just asking because most Black people who buy the Wall St. Journal are Republican," he answered, with a Caribbean accent. I told him, "I think every Black person should read The Wall St. Journal." Detecting his accent, I asked him, "Where are you and your family from, Brother?" He replied, "Haiti." I said "Whether you agree with its editorial page or not, the Wall St. Journal covers a lot of what goes on in Haiti's economy and the things that affect it in America and all over the world. You should read The Wall St. Journal and learn more of what goes on in politics, economics and finance that affects your country."

I then went off and rattled some statistics I knew about the fall in the Haitian currency, the gourde, how much the country had in dollar reserves, how much it needed to purchase imports, and some of what was affecting the Caribbean economies. The Brother looked at me in apparent amazement and gratitude and told me, "You are right. I am glad to see that young Brothers like you know what is going on in Haiti." We wished each other a nice day. I have been thinking about that exchange ever since it took place, almost a month ago.

This is not the first time I have been approached like this by a Black person. For years I have been buying The Wall St. Journal, and sporadically I am questioned about my political leanings. I try to use these instances as opportunities to teach about the relevance an understanding of financial markets and economics has for our everyday condition, our ambitions, aspirations and our culture. So as soon as I can spot what interests the inquisitor, I make a connection to how learning about finance and economics affects what they care about. Invariably it works, whether the subject is Hip-Hop, Haiti, or Hollywood. To me, reading The Wall St. Journal and other forms of financial media has little to do with partisan affiliation.

Then, of course, there are the instances where a White person sees me reading a financial newspaper and they become curious about my motivation for doing so. An interesting example of this took place around five years ago when I was on a train from Washington headed to Philadelphia and was reading a copy of Investor's Business Daily. A White gentleman seated near me saw me reading the paper and with great enthusiasm struck up a conversation about what I was reading, why, and for how long. I answered a very little bit of what he asked before getting to the bottom of his investigation. It turns out that the man I was speaking to was John Berlau, a writer for Investor's Business Daily. And we talked for over an hour about politics, economics and the Black community. He followed me around in the Philadelphia train station to keep the conversation going. He too, was amazed that a young Black person knew as much as a I did about the subject. We kept in touch for the next year or so and would speak and e-mail off and on. Last Monday morning I was very pleased to hear Star, of The Star and Buc Wild morning show, state that he had great respect for Investor's Business Daily and had just purchased a copy of it. He then recommended it to his audience.

Financial literacy is not just an issue in Black America. As anyone seriously involved in the financial media, business academia, or politics can tell you, people of all races and colors in this country have problems understanding the stock market, financial instruments, economic statistics, and the role the Federal Reserve plays in America's political system. But, because of some of the unique circumstances and events in the history of Black people in America, the problem is especially acute, within the Black community. I have written about this over the last couple of years, frequently referencing an excerpt of an interview of Minister Louis Farrakhan conducted by Minister Jabril Muhammad, to make a point about the fact that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that Business was one of three sciences that Whites did not ever desire for Blacks to be taught. In personal research that I have conducted at the Library of Congress, I have found articles that refer to this fact, particularly in the banking business. I have an article from a newspaper in the late 1800s that mentions how out of all of the disciplines pertaining to business, banking was the most important and last field that Blacks were maliciously kept out of and prevented from learning about.

I thought about all of this yesterday, as I watched CNBC, waiting for the news of the Federal Reserve announcement regarding interest rates. As I watched nothing but White men and women discuss this important decision, I wondered how many Black people, aside from financial professionals, were even aware of what was happening. I wondered how much of an impact my consistent attention to Federal Reserve monetary policy at BlackElectorate.com was having on our viewers. I thought about some things that I could do in the future to help drive this and other points home about the need for greater literacy, and its practical utility in the worlds of personal, private, and public finance.

So, after watching some analysis on CNBC after the Federal Reserve announced that it would be raising interest rates for the tenth consecutive time, I watched Kudlow and Company and Mad Money - two programs that I have publicly recommended at BlackElectorate.com, for specific reasons. And then I thought of some other sources of good information for Blacks interested in in increasing their financial literacy to read. What mixture of materials could a person read for one year that would not only make them financially literate but in a way that is relevant and applicable to their people and personal and professional ambition?

I thought that the following routine, regime and syllabus - combined properly, for a full year, along with some important supplemental material - could lift a person with no knowledge of private and public finance not only into financial literacy but into a level of mastery and professional and entrepreneurial success that would support self improvement and community development:

- Regular reading of the USA Today business section, Investor's Business Daily, The Wall St. Journal, and Black Enterprise magazine

- A study of the Economic Blueprint of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad contained within Message To The Blackman; and a study of Powernomics written by Claude Anderson

- Consistent reference to "Business: The Ultimate Resource" encyclopedia.

- A study of The Secret World Of Money by Andrew Gause; The Way The World Works by Jude Wanniski; The Jewish Phenomenon by Steven Silbiger; and The Force of Finance by Reuven Brenner

- A Study of the Music Business and Hollywood finance

- Regular viewing of Kudlow and Company and Mad Money

- Regular Reading Of Michelle Singletary's , "The Color Of Money" column in The Washington Post"

So, I have decided that we will be updating and bringing back Black Electorate Economics University, with a unique emphasis on personal, private, and public finance; entrepreneurship; and community development and their unity.

Expect an announcement soon...

Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, August 10, 2005