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Black Consumerism: Knowing our Worth

By KIRA NORWOOD

Our eyes move swiftly through the endless selection of material and merchandise; it’s so easy to fall prey to the capitalist system. The African American community, my community, has been used for economic gain in America since its establishment, and it hasn’t stopped since. Fast fashion and fast food have changed the way people spend their money and time. Now more than ever,  the media and merchandising companies have indisputable power on America’s economy. Chin Juo, a lecturer in American history at the University of Sydney, stated that “McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s dedicated one-fifth of their radio and television advertising budget to African-American audiences.” This is not a coincidence.

But why should any of this matter? What do the things you buy say about you, and what does that tell the people in charge of persuading consumers? That you would rather a glass straw than a plastic one? Or perhaps a new pair of kicks instead of fresh produce? They are paying attention to these decisions, and Black Americans are their most prominent targets. It is not a new concept for companies to target Blacks for their money. To avoid their status as a target, many Black Americans mask their trauma and wear it as success.

African Americans have done this for decades through music, fashion, dance, and visual arts. Unless a real and passionate revolution against corporate America takes place, this vicious cycle will continue until they have us exactly where they want us. Low income, low self-esteem, and low life expectancy. People are easily played with when they assume they hold the keys. Black folk in America know very well that the keys are not theirs. The urge to be a part of the narrative is so tempting that people will divide from the ultimate goal to obtain success or something that looks like it.

In 1954 a film titled The Secret to Selling The Negro was released with support from the US Department of Commerce. This film depicts African American professionals and housewives spending their cash. “The new negro market” was a call to commercial manufacturers. Producer John H. Johnson was well aware of the actions to come. Black people blew paychecks on luxury wear and brand name appliances.

Any chance for the Black dollar to remain in the Black community was destroyed following the creation of this film, and films like it. The most confusing aspect of this whole ordeal is the people involved in the creation of this film are Black. So, Black people, along with the US Department of Commerce, created a movie with the goal of persuading not only shop keepers, but also African Americans, to chase material. They provide skits that could easily explain to a white merchant the reasons why they hadn’t had access to this demographic of buyers, all while justifying to Black people the final point: they need Black people to make money. Without the Black dollar and the Black body, America would not be where it is economically, socially, artistically, or politically. Putting the Black dollar in the hands of Black people and keeping it there will aid in the fight for honest equity in this country.

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