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The fourth generation is the black teenagers. If they live in a city like Baltimore,

seventy percent will drop out of school before they reach 18. They may have never

applied for a job, more than likely already have been in jail, and may already be teen fathers.



The World to Come

A Glimpse of Post-Industrial Society

By Amin Sharif


Charles Dickens began his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by stating,  “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” We know that Dickens was, then, referring to those stormy days at the beginning of the French Revolution. But he may well have used those same words to describe the first stormy days of the Post-Industrial era.  And just as the French Revolution ushered in something new and different—bourgeois capitalism, that upset the entire social order, so, too, post-industrialism threatens to reshape the very fabric of society. What is astonishing is that most people, especially black and minority people, have little or no grasp, at all, of what post-industrialism is or what it means to their lives. This is tragic because one can not change or shape what one does not understand.

But, if most people do not understand post-industrialism, they do feel and understand its effects.  Let me cite a concrete example of what I am talking about:

Walk in any Black barber shop and you will see four generations of Black men. The oldest generation came of age in the heyday of the third stage of industrialism. Sociologists and historians call this period the Mass Production and Mass Urbanization stage of industrialism. This was the period when many Blacks left the South and came north to work in the steel mills. We are speaking of the World War II days and later. This generation of Black men are usually in their late eighties or as young as seventy. These brothers are steeped in the old traditions. They like Blues, Swing, and Big Band music.

The next generations of Black men to be seen in the barber shop are men about a decade or two younger—say in their fifties and forties. They came of age in the Automotive-Petroleum Suburbanization period of industrialization. These are the guys who worked in places like GM or other big factories of the 1950’s and 60’s. They dig Jazz and Motown Soul music.

The third generation of young men is made up of guys who are in their thirties and twenties. They may have never worked in a factory. They may never have known steady work. They grew up hearing older men speak about “back in the day” and “old school” values. And they are the generation that saw the once vibrant industrial cities of the north turn into the Rust Belt. They listen to hip-hop and new style R and B.

The fourth generation is the black teenagers. If they live in a city like Baltimore, seventy percent will drop out of school before they reach 18. They may have never applied for a job, more than likely already have been in jail, and may already be teen fathers. They listen to hip-hop and wonder if they have a future at all. They are cynical and have every right to be so. These are the first children of post-industrialism.

What is significant about these generations of Black men is that, as time passed, their ties to “work” became less stable. Indeed, many in the last generation of Black men have little or no knowledge of what it is to work at all. With these observations comes the first and most important thing we need to know about the post-industrial world: things have changed forever! 

No longer can Black men make money by bending their backs in the “hard” industries of the North. For the most part muscle power is out! Brain power is now at a premium. To put it in street terms, the script has been flipped!! A new world has emerged and everything old is under threat of being swept away.

It is this transition from “hard” industry—steel mills and auto plants—to a new world economy that constitutes one of the basic features of post-industrial society. We have only to look at some figures to understand the depth of this shift away from hard industry to a more technical, service-based economy. Below are listed the major countries of the West and how work in these nations has been restructured.

Nations  Agriculture Industry Service
France    3.3       26.1     70.8
Germany 1.3  32.1 66.6
Italy 3.1  30.4 66.5
UK 1.3  28.8  69.9
US 1.7     26.1   72.2

These figures were compiled in 2002 by the OECD* and show two important facts. First, of all the countries listed, the United States has undergone the largest shift from an industrial to a service economy. Secondly, that the shift from an industrial to non-industrial economy is a universal not a localized phenomenon throughout the West.

The information provided by the OECD begs the question: What caused the shift from industrialism to post-industrialism?

The simple answer is that a multitude of factors—mainly technological—had arisen to challenge modern Western Industrial society as early as 1939. Alvin Toffler asserts that it was the “programmable digital computer” invented to “decode messages during World War Two” that began the push towards post-industrialization. For out of the technology that produced the computer came “even more sophisticated information technologies” that precipitated “a general crisis of industrialism.” And while most people may not understand the history behind the computer, they do understand its impact on their lives.

ATM’s, pc’s, cell phones, digital cable, satellite television—a myriad of gizmos and gadgets that confound older folk and comfort younger folk—permeate the lives of everyone on the planet from Bombay to Boston. It is the production of these gizmos and gadgets that have replaced hard industrial manufacturing as the basis of Western economic activity.

What people must understand is that the days when the General Motors** or United States Steel were considered the giants of the world’s economy are gone forever. Post-industrialization means that the uneducated and unskilled populations of the West are doomed to be left out of almost all significant economic activity. In sociological terms, post-industrialism will create an expanding underclass made up of poorly educated and unskilled Black and minority people!

We have said that the post-industrialization means an end to production/assembly line jobs and the expansion of the tech/service sector. One would think that these sectors would provide security for the post-industrial worker. But there are problems ahead for these sectors also. The high tech sector has been affected by the watchword of the post-industrial age: “downsizing.” Instead of expanding the economy, post-industrialism seems to be contracting the economy. The question is why?

The answer lies in how post-industrialism is structured. For the period of industrialism, bigger was better. Large factories, huge labor forces, massive usage of raw material made enormous output possible. Industrialization was, simply put, a large scale operation. But production in the post-industrial period stresses the exact opposite of what made industrialization work. Efficiency over scale is what characterizes post-industrialization:  Smaller is better.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Take the television. Back in the olden days, televisions were huge. In the 1950’s no one thought that it would be possible to build one that could fit in your hand. If they did conceive of such a thing, it was usually found in science fiction magazines. Today, you can go to any store that sells electronics and get a hand held model—in color no less. I won’t even mention the reduction of the size of cell phones. I have no doubt that one day a cell phone will be produced small enough to rest in a human ear and activated by the human voice. But that’s what post-industrialism does; it makes things smaller by being more efficient.

But efficiency is not just a matter of size. Efficiency also has to do with how much labor goes in to producing an item. And here is the rub of the high tech sector, efficiency means less labor is needed to make a product in the post-industrial age. Translated, this means as we become more and more efficient, there may be fewer jobs to go around. 

Let me give another example to illustrate my point. During the industrial period, the finish on cars was spray-painted on by a given number of workers. But soon robots (post-industrial invention) and not human workers were doing the job. And despite the cry of the autoworkers union (UAW), today not a single car comes off the production line of GM hand painted by humans! If this model prevails, there may eventually be fewer people working in the high tech sector than there are now.

Okay, if there are problems in the high tech sector, then what about the service sector. The good news is that there are a lot of service jobs out there. The bad news is that they don’t pay very much.

What an industrial worker in GM made in a month once upon a time sometimes takes a service worker two, maybe three, months to make. And these jobs usually have few benefits to offer their workers. When they do offer benefits as in the case of those offered to State employees, there is always pressure to make the State worker assume more and more of the cost for these benefits. This can be devastating when without some form of health care a worker’s entire life savings can be wiped out by illness or injury!

But I started this essay quoting Dickens. And, undoubtedly, the reader will complain that I have given every possible “worst case” scenario when speaking of post-industrialism. This may be true. But, if I have been pessimistic, it is all to the good of the reader. Understanding the pitfall will keep the reader well ahead of the game. Still, let me say now that the post-industrial period contains just as many wonderful possibilities as pitfalls.

For example, the pc, websites, and the Internet have allowed human beings to interact on a level heretofore known. Current information technology allows the possibility of real consensus building to occur around issues as diverse as global warming, freeing political prisoners to home schooling.  If you are reading this article than you are most certainly at the ChickenBones: A Journal website. You have been brought here by post-industrial technology and you have at your disposal thousands of files about African-American politics, culture, art, music and other subjects. This website and others currently online, such as Arthur Flower’s Rootsblog: A Cyberhoodoo Webspace, truly allow a handful of brothers and sisters to be real players in how African-American and progressive thought develops in America—perhaps even in the world. 

Moreover, there is the potential for the remaking of the workplace through this technology. For instance, if large industrial factories are gone forever, they might be replaced by new-worker co-opts. These co-opts could be designed to allow several families or any number of persons to enter in to the productions of goods and services that can be both consumed and traded out for other goods and services the co-opt need. Several of these co-opts might come together to take part in bigger projects. After these projects are over, they might choose to operate autonomously or in concert with other co-opts.  And, these co-opts might extend to the creation of art, music, or literature. Alvin Toffler in his futurist book, The Third Wave, speaks of a new consumer/producer society made possible by current on-the-shelf technology.

Today, many students are obtaining degrees through “distance learning.” And there is no doubt that this “electronic” curriculum will expand. This process may make colleges and universities obsolete. Interactive programming may allow a student to study with a “digital” professor. Another possibility is that students may be taught by a computer generated construct that would eliminate the need for human teachers all together. 

One can envision that the entire course of study for Harvard, Yale, Howard, or Morehouse downloaded by a student anywhere in the world. These students’ finals would be taken via a computer rather than in a classroom. Such decentralized learning would eliminate forever the disparity in funding for education. In the post-industrial period, all students would be allowed to obtain the same basic package of curriculum wherever they live and whoever they are!

It is this same post-industrial technology that could make “global democracy” a possibility. We can literally wire the entire world and conduct plebiscites on issues important to the whole of humanity or a nation-even a village. And if “global democracy is denied to us, we can mobilize and oppose those who would force their will on us through e-mailing other like-minded people and calling them into the street for massive demonstrations. 

New local political parties might emerge owing no allegiance to more centralized, hierarchical centralize parties of the left and right. Like economic co-ops, local political parties might come together to elect a presidential candidate and then quickly dissolve to deal with local or regional issues. The post-industrial era can be one of heightened progressive—even revolutionary—activity if we so desire!  Yet, if these promises are to be made real, then we must do it ourselves. We must organize ourselves! We can not afford to be passed over and passed by.

Black people, especially, have a role to play in the post-industrial environment. We were scorned and dismissed during the industrial age. Tied to plantations, then to the plant floor, and now pushed out into the street like refuse. Black people have a chance to make a place from themselves in this new world. But to do so, we must throw off cynicism and we must act boldly, as boldly as the first slave who escaped the plantation. And just as that slave threw off the shackles of slavery by following the North Star. We must find a new pole star to act as our compass in the new post-industrial world! Truly now, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain!!


*Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

** Currently General Motors make more money through mortgages lending than by selling cars!

posted 2003

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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