In a recent debate with a CNN contributor, the conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elder declared that “if black America were a country, it would be the 15th-wealthiest country in the world.” His math proved incorrect, and his invocation of “black America” was followed by a refutation of the concept by a fellow black conservative. Shortly after Elder’s remarks, the Republican strategist Ron Christie argued that there is no such thing as "black America" and, further, that the very notion of it is antithetical “to our national motto of E Pluribus Unum.”
Whether these men know it or not, they are continuing a debate that W.E.B. Du Bois gave voice to 80 years ago in his resignation speech from the NAACP. In a farewell address titled, “A Negro Nation Within a Nation,” Du Bois asserted:
The peculiar position of Negroes in America offers an opportunity. … With the use of their political power, their power as consumers, and their brainpower … Negroes can develop in the United States an economic nation within a nation ...
Though Du Bois eventually took an extreme turn toward communism and emigrated to Ghana, the goal of “fellowship and equality in the United States” remained his burning desire. As for the belief that black America is an immense, multifaceted asset to the United States, his instincts were right: Black Americans boast enormous capital that has been exploited over the course of the nation’s history and has yet to be fairly and fully employed to increase prosperity for all Americans.