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Breaking down the role of the great migration on state power

NYT Columnist and Author Charles M. Blow joined Yahoo Finance to break down the impact of reverse migration south on business.

Video Transcript


KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to A Time for Change. Charles Blow is a columnist for "The New York Times," with a new book out today that is sure to get people talking. It's called "The Devil You Know, A Black Power Manifesto." And in it, Blow proposes that Blacks in America should migrate to the south, so that there will be Black majority states and cities, giving Black Americans greater political power. It would be a reversal of the historic great migration. Take a listen.

CHARLES BLOW: I understand why people migrated during the great migration. However, if they had not migrated, Black people would conceivably be the controlling interest in multiple southern states. They could control the Senate seats for up to 14 senators. They could control more electoral college votes than California and New York state combined.

That's what state power looks like. Because of the great migration, it was diluted. If Black people chose or enough of them chose to return to the south, that-- and reclaim that power that was stolen from them because they were forced out by terror, they could reclaim that power.

KRISTIN MYERS: So why going back to the south? So why this reverse migration back there? Why not the west, for example?

CHARLES BLOW: Because you will never control-- you'll never be a large enough percentage of the population in the west to have any real power in the west. California's the biggest state out there. Black people are about 5% of the population in California. How many Black people would it require to flood into California before you had a real base of power support?

The thing about the south is that many of these states are already about a third Black already. It doesn't take that many Black people to move back to the south in order to change the dynamic. Look at what happened in Georgia, both flipping the presidential race and also electing two Democratic senators, the first Black one from the state. When the last time that Georgia went Democrat was 1992, Black people were 25% of the population in the state of Georgia. Now it's 33% of the population of Georgia.

Since 1970, the Black population of Georgia has doubled. That's what power looks like. It doesn't take-- they didn't take over. They're not 51% of the population. But enough of them have migrated so far that it's still changed the political calculation of the state.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now pulling a quote from your book, you say, whenever Black people make progress, white people feel threatened and respond forcefully. Now I went and actually talked to some of my friends about your proposition. And they were concerned that this concentration that you're advocating for, for power in Black communities was also a vulnerability.

In fact, you know, my one friend said in response that they didn't want to be rounded up into one area where they would be an easier target to white anger and white oppression. So what do you say in response to that? Is concentration at all a vulnerability, as you see it?

CHARLES BLOW: No, political power is never a vulnerability. And the idea of letting fear dictate your liberation is problematic. You don't want liberation. If you want to live in a constant state of fear, worrying about what the backlash is going to be, you don't really want liberation. And the idea of concentration being problematic, there are seven states right now where white people are 90 plus percent of the population.

Nobody is freaking out about that. No one's saying that's segregationist. No one's saying that that's problematic to a diverse country where we're moving in closer and closer towards browning of America. No one says a word about it. Every state except Hawaii has been majority white in this country for 90 years. And nobody says a word about it.

KRISTIN MYERS: You mentioned that reverse migration is already happening. And you yourself moved to Atlanta just last year. Why can't the free market at all solve this problem? If the south is, as you mentioned, it is actually not as oppressive as so many folks make out it to be, if it was the most attractive financially, then people will just move back there because that's where opportunity is.

CHARLES BLOW: Well, it is-- the reason that it is happening now is because of the free market, right? Because there are places in the south where the Black middle class is thriving, unlike in other parts of the country. Black-owned businesses here are thriving in the southwest, not like in other parts of the country. What I am saying is to lay on top of that a political imperative, to give the already moving reverse migration an adrenaline boost.

KRISTIN MYERS: Speaking about the business sector, what does this movement to the south mean to businesses around the country? I think of companies like tech companies, and particularly, like, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, companies that we do interact with in our day-to-day lives.

If they wouldn't have any Black influence, if everyone migrated to the south, unless they moved also into some of those states, they would lose a lot of their Black employees. Do you imagine that instead, that the south will become a haven for Black-owned and Black-operated businesses, that they will and can compete with some of these businesses that we already have today?

CHARLES BLOW: Well, first, the south is already a haven for Black owned and operated businesses, number one. And number two, not everyone is going to migrate in any migrational move. Not everyone went west with the Gold Rush. Not everyone went west during the Dust Bowl. Not everyone migrated-- Black people-- not all Black people migrated north during the Great Migration. It doesn't happen that everybody moves. It's just the young, the willing, the more inclined do it.

And so, I'm saying, yes, move back. Force them to chase you. Force them to chase you. When I look at the boards of the companies in Silicon Valley and I look at how much Black people actually use social media, and that's not reflected in those companies, make them chase you. Make them vie for your business. Make them set up shop where you are.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now you ask a question that we've heard a lot lately, which is how powerful it would be if the more than $1 trillion of Black purchasing power was concentrated only inside the Black community. Now, I talk a lot about this with the reparations expert and economist, Sandy Darity.

And he has told me repeatedly that Black folks, through their own autonomous means, cannot achieve the same economic power as whites, that even pooled together and kept strictly within our own community, Black wealth is not going to move the needle compared to white wealth. And so, he argues that reparations need to come first. You argue that reparations will come after. What is your response to an argument that an economist like Sandy Darity is making here?

CHARLES BLOW: Listen, I think the reparations should, in theory, come now. The problem is that I understand the makeup of the Senate and that it's never going to make it through. It's never going to be taken up by the Senate. So what I'm saying is, if you're not going to get it through this particular Senate, first, you need to change the nature of the Senate. You need to move back to consolidate power so that you can get more senators into those ranks who believe what you believe, like reparations.

Number two, the reparations can come not only from the federal government, it can come from the states. The majority of the inflicted wound of slavery was in southern states. They should pay.


CHARLES BLOW: And you have some states and some local municipalities actually looking into and studying the idea of local or statewide reparations, rather than federal ones. I'm saying that you have to attack reparations not just from one vantage point-- the one right then at this point is most likely to lose-- but from every level of government. And some of those, if you take over a state, can actually proceed and progress and actually maybe become law.

KRISTIN MYERS: So on that point, then, right, because you're obviously advocating that if every Black person moves to several states in the south, that they will be able to achieve Black senators that are going to be held accountable to the Black voters that sent them to the Senate. But you only get two senators in each state.

And if you have state control of, let's say, five states and you get 10 senators, right, there's 100 in the US Senate. I'm wondering how you move the needle on a federal level if you only have a very small amount, still very much a minority, of senators in the Senate, especially when you need way more than that to achieve some sort of federal legislation.

CHARLES BLOW: OK, let me just say one thing, you keep saying every Black person. I want to make sure that that is clear that is not what I'm saying. Not every Black person. Not-- even if just half of Black people moved, it would be transformational. It could be less than that. So not everybody. Number two, 10 senators is enormous. You only need 60 to break the filibuster. No one has control of the Senate in recent memory by more than 10 Senate--