February 10, 2017
From the Archives: The Shibboleth of "Black Buying Power” by Jared Ball 02/09/2010
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Dr. Jared Ball
We've been hearing the same song for decades: “Black people's buying power is [x] billions of dollars. When will we harness our buying power?” But it's all a crock. Nobody has ever shopped their way to freedom. In a global economy where much of what we buy is manufactured or grown on the other side of the world, shopping does not build wealth in our communities. What shopping builds is debt, and black people already carry twice the rate of credit card debt of whites.
“Poverty is a well-structured, planned outcome of an economic system which demands that it exist.”
What is there to say when gaps between demonstrable reality and people’s perceptions are as wide as the ever-widening gaps in wealth? 2010 begins with another promotional round of the popular mythology of Black “buying power.” But this economic Easter Bunny comes at great material consequence. The “great disconnect between our people’s wishful mis-perceptions and the objective reality that actually shapes our lives,” as Glen Ford has said recently, is in part due to misinformation and the conclusions reached by so many prominent thinkers in our world. For precisely at a time when Black unemployment is worsening and predicted to reach even further epidemic levels we also hear of research which suggests that Black Americans think their lot is actually improving. This is precisely the kind of “necessary illusion” required for those targeted for massive exploitation and, in this case, is the result of the false and empty claims of economic strength which are attendant to the lies inherent to phrases like “Black buying power.”
In other words, while official unemployment numbers have Black unemployment at 16.2% and predicted to soon be well over 17%, the Pew Research Center shows that 39% of Black America, compared to 20% in 2007, now say that the situation in this country is better than 5 years ago. 53%, versus 44% in 2007, now say that the future will be brighter. This delusion, no fault of Black people, is the result of Goebbels-quality propaganda which is routinely imposed on the nation.
“Precisely at a time when Black unemployment is worsening and predicted to reach even further epidemic levels we also hear of research which suggests that Black Americans think their lot is actually improving.”
This time the shibboleth – the popularly-held belief which at least some of us know to has no real meaning – comes from the laudable, but what should be laughable, BET. Their “study,” which is based on a “comprehensive” survey of “80,000 African American consumers,” concludes that because of an increased Black population, one which spends more on technology and is predicted to have a “buying power that will reach $1.2 trillion by 2013,” that there is an economic strength among Black people that simply does not exist. We must do our best to clarify, repeatedly, that “buying power” is a marketing phrase meant to define the ability of a demographic to spend its money with this or that corporation. It is not an indicator of income, wealth or access to assets (such as land, stock, rental property, etc.) all of which are real indicators of economic power and all of which point to an absolute lack of power in Black America. From these misleading numbers and conclusions we get equally misleading analysis that suggests – and by design reaffirms the lie – that, as the esteemed Black spokesperson Dr. Boyce Watkins said in response to this latest “study,” “Unfortunately, when African-Americans make money, we spend it. We don’t use it to invest or produce… When we get our tax refund, we go straight to the store.” This is an absurd explanation of poverty.
“’Buying power’ is a marketing phrase meant to define the ability of a demographic to spend its money with this or that corporation.”
First of all, it must be understood that there is no collective $1.2 trillion that wealthy investors choose to spend frivolously on clothing or hair-care products. These numbers are aggregates of money spent by millions of hard working, mostly poor people spending in relatively small amounts on items which are available to them. There are no offers of stock, nor is there land and property all awaiting sale but being ignorantly passed up by foolish savages who are incapable (apparently) of making intelligent use of their billions. Poverty is not the result of spending habits. Poverty is a well-structured, planned outcome of an economic system which demands that it exist.
Phrases like “buying power” are used to convey what is actually anti-reality or a disuniting myth. It is a psychic assault, a violent act of aggression meant to stunt people’s appropriate responses to worsening conditions. A phrase like “Black buying power” intentionally conjures a sense of economic strength and by design simultaneously convinces the world of a potential meritorious Black uplift and forces a class divisive implosion within Black America where a potentially threatening segment of society can further be bought off to testify against its own. Where else would the well-paid Black minions find such an abundant source of fuel for their invectives against the Black poor. And so it goes, “Come on People” says Bill Cosby. Stop ascribing to “victimology” says John McWhorter.
“Poverty is not the result of spending habits.”
Black people have no money. Black median net worth is less than $6,000 compared to $90,000 for whites. An already wealth-deprived Black community has 90% of that little bit held by a smaller 25 % Black upper class. Black people still only earn $.62 for every dollar of white income and must withstand what will be a wage and salary loss of $142 billion by 2012. And, in fact, corporations have their fooled and hired guns to promote this myth of “buying power” while not fully explaining how this is impacting the increasing debt incurred when exercising this “power” with credit cards. Here too Black Americans have twice the credit card debt as whites, which “strangles wealth” potential. But of course it is true that those targeted for “permanent” poverty and inequality only be given access to debt increases as opposed to wealth-building assets which, it is most important to note, would require a transfer of wealth from those who currently have it to those who do not. And it is precisely this reality which the wealthy have been looking to prevent since there has been wealth to protect.
So it is true. Black people do have tremendous “buying power,” but it is a power to enrich corporations by assuming further debt to those most dominant institutions. This is not the fault or the result of Black behavior unless we read the issue of behavior in terms of continuing freedom movements. To overcome the lie in the phrase “Black buying power” we need to remove the word “buying” from the phrase and reignite the struggle called for in the two words which remain.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. For more join us online at BlackAgendaReport.com.
Jared Ball can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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