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Black Economics 101: clout, class, and courage – black economic power

No matter who won on November 5 (Black Issues went to press before the election), the African American community is in dire need of a heavy dose of economic education.


We sit on a $340 billion economy, hut fail to flex our economic muscles to generate results for our community. We are the margin of profit for hundreds of large companies in dozens of industries. But we ignore our power, all too often because we have not come to grips with the ways we balance a history of racial inequality with the influence that we could wield now. Thus we shrug off racial economic slurs as if we have been socialized to accept inequality.


A young man is forced to strip his shirt off at an Eddie Bauer store, and we all holler about the outrage — but the Bauer cash registers keep ringing, which says something about our ability to tolerate indignity. The racist minutiae that we experience from airline personnel, hotel front offices, department stores, and others is is enough to boggle the mind. But we keep flying, buying.saying nothing.

The power of the economic boycott a power that African Americans have used to change our sociopolitical conditions, has been rarely examined and used in contemporary times. We keep talking loud and doing nothing. Part of this has to do with the economic education that is available to the African-American community. We aren’t clear about the muscles we can flex with targeted boycotts. We aren’t sure whether tax cuts help or hurt us.

We have forgotten the various ways that government intervention helps us, and so many are now talking that “lean government” stuff without understanding that nearly half of all Black professionals work for governments. Some of us have bought the bootstraps rap more passionately than hoot manufacturers. We distance ourselves from people on public assistance, and people who are unemployment as if we do not understand the ways our fates are intertwined with theirs.


Yes, class is an issue in the African-American community. But more than class, there is the issue of clout. The Black middle class buys stocks and bonds, but fails to use them to flex muscles and make a point. When companies say they want to eliminate affirmative action, we ought to start selling their stocks as if they have the smell of spoiled food.

When companies say they can’t bite Black staff, we ought to drop their stock as quickly as the proverbial hot potato. And we can use these kind of tactics to tell who our friends are, and who are our enemies. In other words, like-minded allies can join us in the stock drop game, putting their dollars where their hearts are. Or they can keep holding the stock of oppressors and make a point about solidarity.


The other thing our clout can do is support and encourage Black-owned businesses. We have a $340 billion economy, but we spend just ten percent of those dollars on Black-owned businesses. Why? Part of it has to do with options, but part of it has to do with the fact that some of us believe that the white man freezes ice better than the Black man does. Some of us believe that the white man’s ice is colder, and the white man’s water wetter. We believe we can’t compete, and so somehow we don’t.


Our Black Economics 101 lesson ought to give us the courage to challenge an institutional notion that we are inferior. We ought to be able to understand that Black economic passion can melt the white man’s ice every day and every time. We ought to understand the clout we have, and explore the ways that we can use it. We ought to watch our muscles flex and understand that our flexing muscles are a function of the consumer markets that we influence.


And we need to understand that everything that we buy, from the soda we drink to the shoes that we wear, makes a political statement.


Economics and politics are inextricably intertwined. Too often, we fail to understand the connection, choosing, instead, to act as if we must make a choice between one and the other. But post election, African-American people have to learn thatp we have to play economics as well as we play politics.


That means that the same way that we turned out to register and mobilize voters, we’ll have to turn out to measure and mobilize dollars. Politics are only a partial fix to the racial climate of the late 20th century, with the attacks on affirmative action, church burnings and virulent race-baiting.


Economic power is another way to influence unacceptable behavior. When we African Americans get that straight, and flex our economic muscles, then we may have learned capitalist America’s most important lesson. Money talks, nonsense walks.


We need to use our money to make statements about integrity, solidarity, and racial economic influence.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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