By Ryan Velez
Americans and African-Americans, in particular, are involved in an era of activism that hasn’t been seen since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. While this activism is commonly being displayed in protests and social media movements, there is a growing movement for the Black community to leverage the nearly $1 trillion in Black buying power. Black Enterprise founder and publisher Earl G. Graves, Sr. recently penned a message on the past power of what he describes as conscientious consumerism, as well as its potential to enact social change.
Graves starts by mentioning the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which many activists are harkening back to as the call for economic action from the Black community. However, Graves explains that while a boycott is a powerful tool, it must be used a certain way.
“As a person who came of age and lived through the civil rights era, and as a champion of black economic empowerment, my point of view is that leveraging our economic power must focus less on temporary reactions and more on positive, sustainable action. While boycotts have their place and purpose, lasting change can only come through conscientious consumerism,” he explains. Graves added that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was focused on one particular goal—to end segregated seating and the mistreatment of Black people by city bus drivers. Part of the reason this succeeded is that this system was dependent on the fares of Black riders to survive. It’s not entirely comparable to some of the modern boycotts that people are calling for today.
Conscientious consumerism is already being practiced in some areas today to great success. One example that Graves discussed is the recent Smithsonian National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture. “The NMAAHC happened because African American individuals and institutions invested their own money, and then leveraged their relationships with institutions and corporations that rely on black consumer support and spending, to fund the long anticipated public institution devoted to our achievements and contributions,” he explains. Another is the #BankBlack movement, which is spurring thousands to make millions in deposits to Black-owned banks.
On the average person’s economic level, there are still many ways to contribute. Part of what you can do is actively see who does and does not actively choose to advertise with Black-owned media, and making the conscious decision to support those who do. In addition, it’s important to support Black companies and businesses as a philosophy, rather than a reactionary gesture when something happens that angers you. This measured approach versus a reactionary one is at the crux of Graves’s arguments. While the economic power of the Black community is a strong weapon, the best way to wield it is not while withholding it when angry, but choosing wisely who to support with it when you are not.