The winter holiday season is without a doubt the most commercially popular time of the year. Millions of Americans flock to retailers eager to purchase the latest gadgets, apparel, toys and other consumer items at attractively low prices. Values of community empowerment begin to crumble under the weight of aggressive marketing and social costs are ignored in favor of individual gain.
This is the narrative many have come to accept but activists throughout the nation are beginning to defy this trend. From the appeal of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan to boycott Christmas and the refusal of the Mizzou football team to financially enrich a college town divided by racism, to the string of Black Friday actions protesting the tragic killing of Laquan McDonald, Black consumers are visibly more assertive in leveraging their spending power.
As the Chicago Tribune reported shortly after the Laquan McDonald protests, “their goal of forcing retailers to suffer economic pain on what’s historically the busiest shopping day of the year was a success.” In particular, “sales on the Magnificent Mile were 25 percent to 50 percent below projections.” Alongside this growth in activism is an increase in the educational level and income of African Americans.
For example, “the rate of Black high school graduates enrolled in college increased in 2014 to 70.9%” (Nielsen Agency). Additionally, “African-American income growth rates outpaced those of non-Hispanic Whites at every annual household income level above $60,000.” Taken together, these socioeconomic changes open up new, exciting opportunities for Black-owned businesses and consumers to generate the wealth necessary for long-term economic prosperity.
Historically, boycotts and Black-owned businesses have played a pivotal role in shifting the national agenda on topics of race. The Montgomery Bus boycott memorably launched the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. In an effort to draw more consumers to Black-owned businesses Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. initiated Operation Breadbasket, a political project based on the principle that African Americans, “need not patronize a business which denies them jobs, or advancement [or] plain courtesy.”
Unfortunately, institutional racism and discrimination remains a major barrier to collective progress, destroying possibilities for advancement for millions of people. Though generations have passed since this landmark campaign, it is no less urgent that today’s consumers and business owners constructively engage with issues of racial injustice and those fighting to expand the rights of all people.