The Black Power Conundrum — September 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman September 26th, 2014

DouglassFrederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will.” I often wonder what Black people do not understand about that statement. We love to quote it, but when it comes to putting it into practice we fall far short of the spirit of Douglass’ words. Maybe Douglass should have added this caveat: A demand is nothing without power to back it up.

In response to incidents of injustice we are quick to resort to the same old tactics directed by leaders who sell us out. They tell us, as our President told the Congressional Black Caucus a few years ago: “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” and hit the streets chanting and singing in an effort to show our discontent.

We gather in churches and listen to fiery speeches; we hold press conferences and show our disdain for the system and its oppressive behavior toward Black people. We offer milquetoast solutions to the worst of crimes against us. For instance, in Ferguson, Missouri, Al Sharpton advised us to stop having “ghetto pity parties.” John Lewis called for martial law in Ferguson. (I am still trying to figure how he thinks implementing martial law, which has the power to suspend civil rights, is the answer to a problem he and others consider to be a suppression of civil rights.) Other iconic leaders say the problems in Ferguson can be solved simply by “voting.”

Tepid solutions offered by our “leaders” do absolutely nothing to change our situation, because there is no power behind them. Demands sound great and make for good photo opportunities and press conferences, but they fall on deaf ears because they have no power backing them up. Thus, the conundrum of so-called Black power. We know that power concedes nothing without a demand, but a demand not backed by real power gets no concessions.

In their quest to be important, many of our leaders are, as a comedian once said, “Impotent,” which only exacerbates our collective situation and keeps us running like a hamster inside a wheel—going nowhere.

What we hear and see from some of our leaders is shameful and insulting to Black people. Instead of, or even in addition to, putting forth their weak responses to killings on all levels, they should also offer strategies based on economic power. That’s where the issue will be solved, but we are woefully inadequate when it comes to implementing economic sanctions that will bring real change.

Some of the local leaders in Ferguson understand the power of economics and have been promoting solutions thereof, but they had to take a backseat to the fly-in crowd, toward whom the media gravitated. Now that things have calmed down and the opportunists have left Ferguson, the folks who live there, along with continued collaboration with young advocates for economic solutions, can work together.

It is sad to see Black “powerbrokers” strut to the microphones and threaten folks, only to walk away with their proverbial tails between their legs, having received absolutely no concessions from the establishment. Rather than contenders, these folks are pretenders; and rather than powerbrokers, they are really “power-broke.” The conundrum of today’s notion of Black power resides in false bravado and impotence.

Anheuser Busch (A-B), Radisson, and Nike withdrew their economic support from the NFL. They know exactly where power resides: in dollar bills, y’all. They wielded their power immediately to show their “outrage” about domestic and child abuse.

A-B, domiciled in St. Louis, said, “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” A-B took serious action against child abuse in Adrian Peterson’s case, but did nothing in response to Michael Brown’s abuse that occurred in their back yard. Did that go against their “moral code”?

Apparently Nike was not outraged by Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford, being “abused.” Pardon me, but isn’t abuse—no matter the form—still abuse? Pepsi Cola CEO, Indra Nooyi, spoke against the NFL but voiced no indignation about Marlene Pinnock’s abuse on a California highway? Hypocrisy abounds in reactions to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, as with Michael Vick and his abuse of dogs, for heaven’s sake. Dogs! But those company execs and others fail to speak out and use their economic clout to put a stop to the abuse of their Black consumers by police officers because we have no power behind our demands.

Folks with power are not reluctant to use it to punish those who do not operate in their best interests. Black power has been reduced to calling for and falling for voting rallies and worn out speeches laced with demands not backed up by any real power at all. Power



The cost of not doing business — September 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman September 22nd, 2014

Black consumer
Over the past few decades Black people have been led to believe that we have “power” because we earn and spend so much money in the marketplace, now having eclipsed the $1 trillion mark. As the most studied consumer segment in the world, Black Americans are touted by dozens of studies as the most brand loyal and the biggest spenders, especially on specific goods and services such as fast foods, movies, cellphones, hair and skin care, and sweetened drinks, just to name a few. Is that power? Well, it is for those on the receiving end of those dollars, but not so for Black consumers. It’s more akin to a weakness.

You have heard the term, “The cost of doing business,” which means that folks in business have certain costs that come with the territory. Some characterize it by saying, “It takes money to make money.” Agreed, of course; but how much money does it take for businesses that Black consumers support to make more money? What is their cost of doing business within the Black consumer segment? The answer: little or nothing. They get our money with little effort or reciprocity.

So why do studies always point out that we have power in the marketplace? Black spending power, Black purchasing power, and the power of the Black consumer are all phrases that are utilized by researchers who point to our billions in consumption spending. The question is “power.” Are we powerful simply because we spend a lot of money?

Power has many definitions, the most comprehensive list of which is noted by Dr. Amos Wilson, in his seminal work, Blueprint for Black Power. Blueprint In a general sense, according Rollo May, as quoted by Wilson, power is, “…the ability to cause or prevent change.” The application of that definition of power to Black consumers falls short, however, because of the word “ability.” How do you know if you have the ability to do anything until you actually put that ability into action? It’s much like another word we like to apply to Black folks: “potential.” The only way we really know we have potential is to utilize it—or do away with it, as I like to say.

Batteries hanging on a rack in a store are believed to have power, but the purchaser will never know if that’s true until those batteries are put to use. Likewise, all the power that researchers say Black consumers have will never be seen or felt until we exercise it. Until we change our consumption habits we will never have true power; instead we will only have the illusion of power. Influence, yes, but never power.

So we must change the phrase, “The cost of doing business” to a new phrase, “The cost of not doing business.” As consumers, and voters I might add, we are largely taken for granted. Our dollars continue to flow outward and continue to empower everyone except ourselves. Our votes are always on parade, as is the case now with the upcoming elections, but with no reciprocity. How can we even think we have power?

A paradigm shift to the cost of not doing business would cause an enormous change in how things are done in his nation and their effect on the lives of Black people. Moving from business as usual to “business unusual” would send a strong signal that Black consumers are tired of being the profit margins for companies that fail to respond appropriately to our brand loyalty. It would cause the CEO’s and board members of those firms to step up and speak up on our behalf.

When the cost of doing business rises, the producer simply raises prices or hands out pink slips. When the cost of Black consumers not doing business hits those company balance sheets and cash flow statements, the 2% or so they currently spend on Black advertising will rise. The meager sums of ad dollars currently being spent with Black newspapers will explode.NNPA And the amount spent with conscious and conscientious Black media will also increase.

Understand that reciprocity works in a variety of ways. Those Black media firms that reap the benefits of Blacks not doing business must reciprocate by circulating some of their newfound wealth to other Black businesses, and they must make drastic improvements in their programming to Black audiences. Black consumer3

Media is certainly not the only category to leverage reciprocity. Issues of injustice, discrimination, and disparities can all be addressed within the context of not doing business with a targeted group of corporations until they appropriately respond to Eric Garner, Michael Brown, et al.

If we want real power, pursuing a “cost of not doing business” strategy is one way to obtain it. Black consumer2



Putting Our Dollars Under Arrest — September 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman September 13th, 2014

dollars in prison3Here’s an intriguing concept: Arrest the Black dollar. Say what, Jim? You read it correctly. We should arrest our dollars and charge them with neglect. Put them on trial, call the witnesses to testify against them, and convict them of crimes against Black people. Sentence them to a minimum of five years hard labor with no possibility of parole. That’s right, lock them up and make them work for their keep by producing distribution companies, supermarkets, financial institutions, and entrepreneurs.

Since our dollars are not making sense, we should discipline and punish them by keeping them locked up and making them work until they do start making more sense. Right now our dollars are “wilding out” in the marketplace, making everyone happy and secure except us. They are “raining down” at strip clubs; they are beating a path to jewelry stores and exchanging themselves for gaudy trinkets and ornaments; they are hangin’ out at “da club” to pay for expensive vodka, champagne, and other top-shelf liquors. They definitely need to be disciplined.

Our dollars are filling the coffers of profiteers who know that all they have to do is make the most ridiculous item in return for them. Black dollars are strewn at the feet of shyster preachers who “anoint” them by running back and forth on top of them, as they shout, “Money cometh to me!” At least they are telling the truth about that part.

Black dollars are running wild, out of control, in our neighborhoods. They run as fast as they can to the businesses of everyone other than Black people. They are jealous as well and are always trying to outspend one another by purchasing a bigger car, a bigger house, the latest gym shoes, clothing, and all the accoutrements of what they believe to be the “good life.”

More than one trillion Black dollars are acting inappropriately, committing economic crimes against Black people. They really need to be controlled and contained before they destroy us. Our dollars are weak, and are vulnerable to the constant lure of trivial things and dishonest people who are waiting to trap them with their platitudes and false doctrines. If we put our dollars in labor camps where they could work for us all day long, imagine how quickly we could revive our economic power.dollars in prison

Keep in mind though, when we charge our dollars and put them on trial for neglect, we will be charged as willing accomplices and co-conspirators in their criminal acts. Yes, we are guilty too; even more guilty than they are. Slothfulness is a crime; poor stewardship is a crime; waste is a crime; and failure on our part to multiply the dollars we have is indeed a crime that carries the penalty of being “cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” because, “To whom much ($1 trillion) is given, much is required.”

The rich man in Luke 12 who had so much “stuff” that, when he asked himself what to do about it, said, “I will build bigger barns” in which to store my stuff, well, he was called a fool and his life was “required” of him because his dollars made no sense.

This graphic illustration of the crimes we commit with and through our undisciplined dollars is played out every day in our homes and neighborhoods, and we deserve the punishment we have received for decades now. We must now punish our dollars by first arresting them and then making them work for us.

Why don’t you start an Arrest the Black Dollar campaign? Look around; they are everywhere. Arrest your own first, and get others to arrest and charge theirs. Let’s give our dollars the charge to be responsible for taking better care of our children. Give them the charge to be more accountable to us and our families. Give them the charge to work harder for us. Give them the charge to act appropriately. Give them the charge to make some sense for a change.

Instead of allowing our dollars to run wild, let’s circulate and recycle them among ourselves as much as possible before they leave us. Instead of handing them over willy-nilly to others for their fried chicken and fish, let’s just grow and cook our own, and sell it to one another and to everyone else. Instead of whining every time a supermarket closes, let’s buy our own, bring in the best managers and support it with our consumer dollars. Rather than decrying what others are doing to us, let’s start doing more for ourselves. As we charge our dollars with being more responsible, let’s make sure we are taking responsibility in this matter as well.

Arrest the Black dollar; it’s wreaking havoc among Black folks.dollars in prisons4



No Justice, No Profit! — September 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman September 6th, 2014

In a previous article, “The Profit of Protest,” I noted the ridiculous scenario of Black people protesting while others profited, how we travel across the nation to march and never march into a Black hotel, a Black restaurant, or to a Black owned bus company to get to the march, or fill up at a Black owned gas station. I ended that column by noting that we count people “at” our protests while others count profits “from” our protests. Through the years I have wondered when we would “get it.” It took a group of young people who went to Ferguson, Missouri over the Labor Day weekend to encourage me in that regard.

They get it. Howard3The Howard University Student Association (HUSA), led by its incoming President, Mr. Leighton Watson, organized a 13-hour bus trip from Washington, D.C. to protest alongside other students from Washington University and other colleges. They went to stand with the residents of Ferguson to seek real solutions to the issues that plague that city.

An interesting thing happened on their way to the march. Those young people marched to a Black company to charter their bus. When they got there they marched to a Black restaurant to eat. They made every effort to find a Black owned hotel, but the Roberts Hotel in St. Louis is closed. They did, however, manage to get accommodations at a black owned franchised hotel. They let their money speak as they protested; I even saw a sign that said, “No Justice, No Profit.”Howard in St Louis

I was blessed to speak at a teleconference of HBCU’s at which they sought appropriate responses to what took place in Ferguson—and what is taking place around the country between police officers and Black folks. The more I listened to the students, the more I knew that our future was in good hands with them. They are not only intelligent but they are conscious and they have the courage of their convictions. They showed their willingness to sacrifice for a just cause, to stand up against wrongdoing, and to speak truth to the powerful.

I could hardly hold back my emotions as I watched and listened. Leadership, discipline, and respect for one another permeated the teleconference. I thought about how long our elders, who now include me, have tried to make us understand the priority of economic empowerment and economic leverage, how they have screamed at us to use our collective income to obtain reciprocity and equity in all areas of our lives.

Howard13I thought about Joshua and Caleb, two young men who were not afraid to stand up against what the older men thought was an unconquerable obstacle, which led to 40 years of meandering in the desert until all of that older generation died, leaving only Joshua and Caleb. Instead of cowering in the face of evil, the students were willing to “go into the land” and fight for a righteous cause, and they were willing to do it in a way that makes economic sense.

Howard students attended Ron Daniels’ recent symposium in Washington, D.C. and Leighton Watson spoke from the perspective of young people, whom Daniels encouraged to be there and step forward to carry on the battle for justice. They heeded his call to show up and speak up, and now they are putting up, not shutting up.Howard7

Plans are in the works to confront the real powers in this country, those who are in charge and in control the vast majority of the money, primarily by leveraging our economic resources, Black “buying power” as it’s called, to elicit appropriate responses to Ferguson and elsewhere. Howard10 Money runs politics and everything else in the U.S. and the world, and college students understand that withdrawing their consumer dollars from various product categories is the only way to get the attention of those who can put an end to the blatant injustice that festers in our land.

Howard12Finally, HUSA members will be featured each week, Friday at 5:00 PM, on the Carl Nelson Radio Show ( and 1450 AM in the DC/Maryland area). They will give updates on their overall activities, which is another great way to connect with even more students across the country and build a coalition in the mold of Joshua and Caleb.

I am so proud of the students at our various HBCU’s as well as those in other colleges and universities, who have taken up the gauntlet by bringing not only their intelligence but their energy and seriousness to the frontlines of this fight. Like Moses and Dr. King, I may not see it or get there with them, but I am confident in their ability to take us to the next level of economic empowerment, from “No Justice, No Peace!” to “No Justice, No Profit!” Howard6