The civil rights movement brought to the forefront a number of Black leaders that are now world renown. In the beginning many civil rights leaders looked only to legislation and voting. They were wishing for Black people to be recognized as people and given opportunities of any other citizen in the country. Many of those goals were achieved; however, not enough emphasis was placed upon one of the most important factors: economics.
Respect My Dollar
Towards the end of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King began to focus his message on economics. In his 1967 address Where Do We Go From Here? Dr. King cited an economic program in Chicago called Operation Breadbasket through which Black people in Chicago were able to lobby to local businesses to demand more Black employees, better wages, and even to develop banking institutions run by Black people that were sensitive to the economic position of Black people in America and their needs. Dr. King stated:
And so Operation Breadbasket has a very simple program, but a powerful one. It simply says, ‘If you respect my dollar, you must respect my person.’ It simply says that we will no longer spend our money where we can not get substantial jobs.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?
Dr. King wasn’t the only leader to realize that economics would serve as the playing ground for the next battle in the civil rights movement. Leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey spread messages to the Black community to take notice of the economic disparity that Black people were facing even as we were gaining liberties. So a focus on economics is not a new idea but one in which we are still stagnant in understanding and taking action.
The problem is that we are economically ignorant and fiscally irresponsible. We laugh at McDonald’s commercials and are angered by white run corporation’s attempts to relate to, engage, and market to us (because so often they get it wrong). But we don’t look at the bigger picture. Which is that they are trying to appeal to us and there is a reason behind that. The reason is they want and need our money. While we are griping about being minorities and being disenfranchised we are missing the fact that disenfranchised is not the same as disregarded. Yes we are not valued the same as White people. And yes we are not offered the same opportunities as White people. And yes we are not treated equally in any manner of speaking as White people. BUT we are here and they do see us. We are not invisable; we just don’t know what to do with the attention.
The Nielson Company’s 2013 study revealed that the Black community is expected to wield a buying power of around 1.1 trillion dollars this year. America has for decades been a consumer society – this is evidenced by the large number of imported products that we have and the fact that even American owned companies rely on foreign labor and/or materials manufactured overseas. That said we will begin to see a vast number of companies trying to appeal to us. Look for the short cropped haired, dark skinned Black women that will pop up in commercials or the curly haired, fair skinned Black women on print ads. Look for the Black male athletes and Hip Hop artist endorsements. Look for the collaborations with Black moguls like Jay Z and Russell Simmons. Look for the fashion lines connected to Kanye West and P.Diddy. But when you look at it, see it for what it is. They see us. They want our participation. They just want to limit the power and influence we have in those connections.
We are discriminated against. We are stereotyped. Our lives are undervalued. But they see us, they want us, and they need us. 1.1 trillion dollars in a capitalist economy is the holy grail. They will come for us and offer us the apple with their left hand and smite us with their right. But if we are informed, conscious, committed, and relentless about the things that matter to us. If we withhold our participation for ransom of respect, we will find that our person will be catered to as well as our dollars.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man