Decolonizing the U.S. Co-op Movement: Lessons Learned From the African American Cooperative Movement


People of African descent in the U.S. have a long and vibrant but largely hidden experience of cooperative ownership since at least the 1700s and have had a quiet presence at times in the U.S. mainstream cooperative movement. What can we learn from this history and these experiences especially for diversity, equity and inclusion in the U.S. cooperative movement? This workshop will highlight examples of both white supremacist sabotage against Black co-ops, and white micro-aggressions and institutional racism that have limited and discouraged Black and Brown participation in U.S. cooperatives and the cooperative movement. On the flip side, we will also examine how African American cooperators and their co-ops continued to survive and prevail; and the pivotal role of African American women in this movement. We will explore understanding how subaltern populations use cooperative and solidarity economics to address marginalization, discrimination and poverty; the importance of solidarity and trust in the sustainability of co-ops and how cultural, racial and ethnic sensitivities or insensitivities build or destroy trust; and the importance of organizational leadership and support at the local and national levels. African American cooperatives continue to struggle against racism, patriarchy, classism, cultural misunderstandings and the racist micro-aggressions of fellow cooperators, so-called allies, and funders and policymakers. We will examine existing and develop new strategies to mitigate and reduce, if not eliminate, these aggressions and barriers with the goal of building true equity and inclusion.

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