#BlackoutBlackFriday sends the wrong message to consumers, hurts urban communities

Blackout Black Friday

The jury is still out on the long-term effects of the decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the wake of the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Americans will continue to debate police use of force, urban crime rates, and racial inequality. There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, where leaders like Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr. dreamt of an America where “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

But incidents like Ferguson pull back the curtain on lingering racial and socioeconomic inequality. They tear at the fabric of American life and cause unrest in communities of color. Now, this author isn’t calling for government intervention to solve the problem. In fact, there is a lot evidence that government intervention has only worsened the plight of the poor in America’s inner cities.

That’s why the above tweet from Johnetta Elzie should cause Americans to pause. Elzie argues that a boycott of Black Friday is the equivalent of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which began with the refusal of Rosa Parks to move to the back of the bus at the request of a white rider in December 1955 and ended during the implementation of a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of segregated buses the following December.

The Montgomery Bus Boycotts were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but a boycott of shops like Walmart and others misses the mark.

The Montgomery Bus Boycotts targeted a symptom of institutionalized racism in the South — segregated buses. Boycotts of Walmart and other retailers seem to target consumerism, which wasn’t a factor in the shooting of Michael Brown, and such boycotts — in fact — hurt communities of color.

An ABC report of the boycotts in Ferguson reveals:

The protests began Thanksgiving night and continued early Friday. Protesters spent a few minutes at each store, shouting things such as “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “Shut it down!” while walking through the store aisles. The Walmart in Ferguson was closed overnight as a precaution.

Police officers stood guard at other locations, ensuring that the protests remained civil. There was no immediate word of any arrests.

The demonstrations occurred at Walmart and Target stores. Some protesters tried to dissuade shoppers with a song.

“Back away from the Walmart, back away,” the group sang.

This is odd. Walmart and other large retailers routinely hire members of the community where they are located and often promote from within. That means a Walmart located in, say, Ferguson, Missouri, or Southeast Washington, D.C. would conceivably hire a substantial percentage of black employees.

Refusing to patronize these stores jeopardizes the employment of many of those within that very community. Shorter hours, fewer shifts, and store closings means less take-home pay for many of the same people who might be outraged by the decision in Ferguson.

Furthermore, the purchasing power of black Americans has steadily increased from $316 billion in 1990 to just over $1 trillion in 2012. Why not put this purchasing power to good use?

Perhaps that’s the point: The increased purchasing power of blacks means an orchestrated boycott would have a greater economic impact. But the misdirected campaign actually hurts members of their own community, while sending an incoherent  message.  Consumerism didn’t cause Michael Brown’s death, and implying that it did is a setback for everyone involved in the debate, especially those who have been impacted the most in Ferguson.

Not to mention equating a Walmart boycott to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts cheapens the monumental importance of the Civil Rights Movement.


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