Assata Shakur once said that “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” The sit-ins in the ‘50s and ‘60s and the Montgomery bus boycott didn’t gain victory because those wanting segregation learned that it was morally wrong. No, they won through risking their life, through a dedicated long-term strategy, and through sacrifice which all eventually led to a huge economic impact.
It was an economic impact that was so large that continuing segregation would produce a greater negative impact than ending it. Yes, there were legal victories, but much of this country wasn’t following the law as these things were going on. They gave those protesting alleged legal backing, but it was the economics of these boycotts that had maybe the largest impact.
We saw that all play out again this past weekend at the University of Missouri, where after a string of racist incidents on campus and a president doing nothing about it, students began to speak out … to minimal national attention. One student even went on a hunger strike. Administration refused to act. Then the black players of the Mizzou football team went on strike, which got the attention of their coach (who makes millions of dollars) and the university (the football program brings in millions of dollars for the university). The economic impact of striking black football players was massive and after a few days the president “resigned.” This may have been one of the most impactful demonstrations of power this budding movement has seen yet.
And there is a lesson to be learned here. Black Americans account for a massive amount of spending power — $1.1 trillion. The 2009 economic stimulus dumped a little under $900 billion into the United States economy and helped turn things around. Black America can hold this nation’s economy hostage if we choose to and if we have the collective will to. Our dollar can bend the will of this nation to invest into our communities, to put forth serious policies that could stop mass incarceration, that could stop mass murder, and that could create an ability for us to self-determine. This protest boycott would have more impact than any other protest we could dream of launching.
The average NBA team, where about 69 percent of NBA players are black, is worth $1.1 billion. The NBA All Star game has about a $1 trillion of economic impact. During the NBA lockout, NBA owners lost about $1 million, on average, every game. In 2009, it was estimated that the Spurs had about a $95 million impact on the local economy .
The NFL is about 68% black; the NFL employs about 110,000 people in NFL cities, and ads about $5 billion to NFL cities. Cleveland brings in about $63 million a year, thanks to the Browns … even though the Browns are a constant NFL bottom feeder. According to this 2011 economic journal article, the economic impact of the men’s basketball Final Four is up to $110 million and the impact of the major football bowl games up to $400 million. According to the business of College Sports, the University of Texas football program had a profit of about $69 million. The 2014 Final Four was projected to generate close to $280 million in spending power.
And none of this accounts for the impact that modern day “pop” music, a.k.a. Hip-Hop has on the American economy. Black culture, black spenders, and black athletes make up for an enormous part of the American economy. This nation still generates a massive amount of money off the backs of black Americans. This is why what happened in Mizzou is nothing to laugh at.
The question we must ask: Is this just the beginning of black America bending its economic muscle? During 2014’s Black Friday, sales dropped 11 percent from the previous year. The media played it off as a typical decline due to online shopping. But this drop was much more significant than past years. It also happened to correlate during a nationwide ask for a black boycott on shopping during Black Friday. This could just be a correlation without causation, but I’m unsure of that as retailers were expecting growth and couldn’t explain the drop in spending .
Now the boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement were very difficult to maintain. The logistics and human impact were massive, and so were the sacrifices. Most people in Montgomery didn’t have cars. The black citizens that had cars created carpools and people walked. Those taking part in the sit-ins risked their lives every day they disrupted business. These were students, working-class black folk, poor black folk, and, yes, wealthy black folk.
So what would happen if all of a sudden a large percentage of black Americans decided to start shopping at black-owned businesses only? Not buying Nike’s, Jordan’s, and more? What would happen if NBA and NFL players boycotted playing until there was massive investment in black American neighborhoods? What would happen if black college athletes — we’re joking ourselves to call them student athletes as universities won’t actually let them be students — stopped playing until universities became serious about ending the white advantage students have on campus and also demanded investment in black K-12 schools across the nation? The immediate end of state violence upon Black America? Or how about a call for reparations? There’s a long list of things we can demand bending this economic muscle.
What if black millionaires and billionaires pooled together to support one another and stop producing music, or stop lending their music out for product placement and endorsements? What if black culture stopped producing products and stopped buying products that white America loves so much? White males buy more Hip-Hop albums than anyone.
Now, I may not pick up Jordan’s, but I still like nice things and I love to have style. This is not easy and I’m not scolding those that love their Nike’s. This tactic would be hard and tough and would take massive coordination and sacrifice. But it would cripple the still tentative American economy.
Much of what I said is talking in a large context; things don’t always need to be in that context. But before you go to a protest or demonstration, or organize one, you must ask yourself: what does this serve? Is this a one day event? Is there a larger purpose to it? We need to find a way to create positive action; we have seen some actions this past year that are exactly that. Even though they had faults, those interrupting presidential candidates created positive action. Mizzou went from reacting in outrage to creating positive action.
Malcolm X said, “The kind of demonstration you and I want and need is one that gets positive results. Not a one-day demonstration, but a demonstration until the end, the end of whatever we’re demonstrating against.”
Being proactive is not a privilege; it’s not trying to predict the next outrageous event. Being proactive is a necessity, and if we keep reacting to outrageous events we will always be reacting. It’s planning demonstrations and actions that make those in opposition to us react to us. Mizzou is exactly at this place; those in opposition are now reacting to them.
This nation’s creation was outrageous, its history is outrageous, and we currently live in an outrageous nation. We can’t let ourselves get stuck in outrage. We can use and channel that anger into positive action, but in order for us to do that we must stop reacting to every outrageous event. We must do that because these events won’t end until we start creating positive action.
Three questions remain.
Can we organize ourselves to create positive action?
Do we have the will to see it through?
What are you willing to sacrifice for your freedom?
The bottom line is that this movement needs to learn how to be proactive and not reactive; until we take the initiative this movement will be stuck in the same gear it’s been this past year and that is reacting to events. And at the times initiative has happened — such as interrupting presidential candidate speakers or most recently at Mizzou — things shifted.
But we must do more. Until we do, we will get little victories here and there, but not the massive change that we need.
These things are difficult and it takes a lot of sacrifice, but we must figure out a way.