The Myth of Black Buying Power

March 1, 2008 Jared Ball 1 Comments

Written and compiled by Jared Ball for
a widely held but false belief or idea


Below are compiled attempts to disrupt the wide-spread mythology of Black (and by extension all others) “buying power” which began with my initial attempt here.  From there (working upwards or in reverse from the top and most recent down to that older original), and over time, i’ve looked to track some of the relevant information as it comes out and to at times intervene in some of the national dialogue on the subject.  Media coverage of this issue, as is often the case, does little to improve our general understanding of capitalism, wealth accumulation and disparity or the ongoing forms of poverty faced by so many – who often themselves become the target of blame associated with that poverty.  i welcome others’ input and encourage much more discussion of this myth especially when so many left-leaning spokespeople routinely incorporate this very conservative (reactionary) myth into their own analyses and too end up chastising the poor for being so.

Presentation given to the CBBN Communiversity Lecture Series

Myth Basics:

  1. The claim that African America has roughly $1 trillion in “buying power” is popularly repeated mythology with no basis in sound economic logic or data.  While the myth has a longer history it is today largely propelled by misreadings and poor (false) interpretations of Nielsen surveys and marketing reports produced by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business housed in the Bank of America Financial Center in Athens, GA.  and where, as their website explains, their bias and purpose is in their founding mission.  The center was “Created to convey economic expertise to Georgia businesses and entrepreneurs, the Simon S. Selig, Jr. Center for Economic Growth is primarily responsible for conducting research on economic, demographic, and social issues related to Georgia’s current and future growth” (emphasis added).
  2. “Buying Power” is a marketing phrase that refers only to the “power” of consumers to purchase what are strictly available goods and is used as a measurement for corporations to better market their products.  “Power” here has nothing to do with actual economic strength and there is no collective $1+ trillion that Black people have and just foolishly spend ignorantly to their economic detriment.
  3. The myth of “buying power” functions as propaganda working to deny the reality of structural, intentional and necessary economic inequality required to maintain society as it is, one that benefits an increasingly decreasing number of people.  To do this the myth functions to falsely blame the poor for being poor.  Poverty, the myth encourages, is the result of the poor having little to no “financial literacy,” or as resulting from their bad spending habits, when in reality poverty is an intended result of an economic and social system.

One Final Update! – April 2018 – What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

After 10 years the case will rest here with this latest report.  The next update will be a full-length book which will coalesce, update and add more depth and historical background to the work compiled here over the last decade.

It is deeply appreciated that the Myth of Black Buying Power has been included within the appropriate context of this new and broader study by a collective of economists and researchers into the abundance of confusion imposed regarding the realities of inequality in the United States. As the authors say in summarizing the importance of their work:

In this report, we address ten commonly held myths about the racial wealth gap in the United States. We contend that a number of ideas frequently touted as “solutions” will not make headway in reducing black-white wealth disparities. These conventional ideas include greater educational attainment, harder work, better financial decisions, and other changes in habits and practices on the part of blacks. While these steps are not necessarily undesirable, they are wholly inadequate to bridge the racial chasm in wealth (emphasis added).


Update: February 4, 2018 – Our 10th Anniversary Begins! The Exposure of Boyce Watkins, Myth and Propaganda

It is fitting that we begin #BlackHistoryMonth, and an ironic celebration of this being the 10th anniversary of an inability to overcome the power of well-organized myth and propaganda, with this epic takedown of Boyce Watkins by Yvette Carnell.  Not long after i began my investigation into the #MythOfBlackBuyingPower (see below, March, 2008) it was Watkins’ own promotion of the myth that i would critique (see below, February 5, 2010) making even more fitting now to see Carnell fully expose not only his terribly flawed or absent methodology but the fact that he is, as i have argued about the myth itself, a marketing product meant to sell available goods while masking the colonial relations, structural poverty and impossibility of individual or self-help approaches to solve collective problems that are institutional – not behavioral – and that require collective movements and politics to overturn.  Carnell also importantly demonstrates sound scholarship, and what that scholarship says about Watkins specifically, all the while also showing the process by which propaganda and myth become so wide-spread and popularly consumed as real.  This is an essential feature to not only understanding the individual fraudulence of Watkins’ argument but also the preponderance of belief in the myth of buying power and, most importantly, as DuBois once said, “the propaganda of [Black] history.” (This is not an uncritical or full endorsement of Carnell.  In fact, agreement with Carnell largely ends here as i cannot agree with her views on immigration, reparations (tactics not concept) or perhaps concept of citizenship).

Update: January 23, 2018 – Black Woman Proves the Myth of Buying Power in Self-Imposed Case Study

“There were so many articles and outlets reporting that skipping your little daily expenses was the path to overcoming decades of familial economic insecurity,” said Tyra Manning. “So I tried it.”  Though this piece is satire, it does humorously speak to what has been the crux of much of my argument here; misreporting and poor interpretation of methodologically unsound ‘data’ lead to (among so much else) beliefs that poverty actually results from behavior or poor spending habits.  It is usually here where the myth of buying power is evoked as the solution but as Ms. Manning has “shown,” saving money doesn’t make you rich.  In fact, if the illogic is followed and everyone attempted what Manning did not only would they also find themselves where they began but those who depend on those purchases for their own incomes would suffer as well.  But we appreciate the self-imposed “case study” and the results they (unfortunately) led to.  As the article title suggests, “Woman Who Stopped Buying Coffee Still Suffering From Intergenerational Poverty,” (emphasis added) if we just think a bit about it, the idea that intergenerational poverty can be overcome by spending choices is absurd on its face.

Update: January 23, 2018 – Global Inequality Further Exposes Myths of Economic ‘Power’

It may be a new year but the inequality is old and worsening.  According to the latest report from Oxfam, “Eighty two percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth” (emphases added).  Notions of ‘buying power’ and economic strength are meaningless in the face of this kind of disparity.

Update: December 12, 2017 – Kwanzaa and Buying Power

Kwanzaa is another good time to revisit myths and the state of the collective and it was with great pleasure that i joined the Richmond Kwanzaa Kollective for this discussion of Ujamaa and Ujima collective work and economics.

Update: November 29, 2017 – Apps and Apocalypses!

Of course, its the “holiday season” where mythology abounds! Among those abundantly abounding myths is a big one; that our world is as it has to be or is as it can only be.  As Sut Jhally reminds in his important new film,  Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypsemuch of what we think of our world has been a construct of an advertising industry that fully evolved in the middle of last century and was itself created specifically to mass produce desire for things we don’t naturally want or need.  This relates to our focus here on the myth of buying power primarily because it too is a product of an advertising industry and one designed to further the previous function of making us buy what we don’t want or need by making us think we can afford to.  In to this mix comes The American Genius (clearly titled ironically) to tell us once more of the $1 trillion buying power of Black America and to tout a new Black Wall Street app which will help direct all this power to the increasing number of Black businesses that, “stabilize communities by providing jobs, paying taxes and keeping money in the community where they live.”

First, we have to note that this time the article does not even bother to offer a citation for the claim of $1 trillion is buying power primarily because it is taken for granted to be true.  As we continue to point out this is precisely how propaganda works and as we have also shown incessantly that figure is attributable to a single source whose methodology is wildly flawed and/or misinterpreted.  Secondly, it must also be noted that, “[m]ore than 95% of these [Black-owned] businesses are mostly sole proprietorship or partnerships which have no paid employees.”  This means, at minimum, that on top of the fact that Black people do not have this much money and cannot spend it any way they want to or on any thing they want to and that the Black businesses they would support are not large enough to hire and circulate jobs and wealth back to the community.  And finally, as we discussed below and recently with Mehrsa Baradaran, wealth and financial equality cannot come from poor Black people pooling their meager incomes and practically zero wealth.  Change (revolution) will occur when there is a redistribution of political power which can determine and create the genuine redistribution of wealth required to end vicious cycles of inequality.

Update: November 4, 2017 – The Pitfalls (Myths) of Black Capitalism and Banking

Enjoy these recent discussions of myths and political pitfalls associated with concepts of “buying power,” banking, capitalism and more are:

Mehrsa Baradaran is a member of the University of Georgia School of Law faculty and currently serves as a J. Alton Hosch Associate Professor teaching Contracts and Banking Law. She has previously published, How the Other Half Banks and is here with us now to discuss her new book, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap and Nathan D. B. Connolly, Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins and is author of the forthcoming, Black Capitalism: The “Negro Problem” and the American Economy and A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida.

Update: October 15, 2017 – A History of “Purchasing Power” and Selling the Negro

As we continue to chart the origins and rise of the myth of Black “buying power” we start this update with the 1991/2006 100 Years of Consumer Spending report which charts the history of U.S. Department of Labor statistics on consumption and offers this truly delicious summary of the importance of consumption to the U.S. economy:

One significant effect of this upsurge was the change to a consumer goods-oriented U.S. economy. Mass consumption, spurred by advertising and consumer credit, has become a distinguishing characteristic of modern society. Today, consumer spending has become the largest component of U.S. gross domestic product (emphasis added).

The importance of the above quote is not only in its overall summation of value of consumption but also that it, and the broader report, speaks to the real meaning of “power” in this context: the power to buy, purchase, spend one’s income on goods and services owned by others.  “Power” here, once again, is not an indicator of strength or political power.  Finally, we conclude this update with a video submitted to us that speaks, again, to how “power” is defined in this context as the ability of Black or “Negro” consumers to purchase goods and services owned by others and made available not as a method of redistributing wealth or actual economic/political power but only as a means to support the country’s economy, i.e. make its owners wealthy and secure their social place.  “Power,” here, is only a measurement of a community’s ability to enrich or empower another.

Update: October 9, 2017 – “Black Twitter” Understands the Myth!

Update: October 6, 2017 – A New Book On Black Banks Further Exposes Why Buying Power is a Myth

The new book, The Color of Money, Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gaphelps to further several understandings relevant to the myth of buying power and beyond.  Included in her revelatory breakdown of the history of banking, and Black banks in particular, author Mehrsa Baradaran, Law Professor specializing in Banking Law at the University of Georgia Law School, exposes that a) banking is a highly regulated government operation, b) racial distinctions in banking are misleading because all banks serve the same function and money, as she says, is not just “green” but “White,” meaning that it is all held by mostly a handful of White people, and c) Black people don’t have any money, not because they are ignorant or financially illiterate, but because Black poverty is structured and the result of intentional public policy.  To our point here, there can be no genuine “buying power” when Black people have no money, no wealth, and no power over the political apparatus that drives the public policy which itself determines societal outcomes and opportunities.  And we remind again what the late, great Derrick Bell said of public policy,

If the nation’s policies towards blacks were revised to require weekly, random round-ups of several hundred blacks who were then taken to a secluded place and shot, that policy would be more dramatic, but hardly different in result, than the policies now in effect, which most of us feel powerless to change.

Hear our recent discussion with Baradaran:

Update: September 23 2017 – George Jackson Is Still Handing Out Late Passes!

George Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) continues to hand out late passes! He told us in 1970 that Bill Cosby was a problem (for offering positive portrayals of the FBI as COINTELPRO was ravaging a variety of freedom movements), he told us in 1971 that “fascists already have power,” and he also told us long ago that buying power is a myth.  In Blood In My Eye (1972), during his discussion of political struggle and the ways in which a ruling elite will manipulate their subjects into accepting reforms rather than revolution, Jackson exposed the myth of buying power for what it really is; a myth designed to obfuscate horrific inequality, the true (violent) nature of the state and its colonial relationship to Black people and the world.  Jackson wrote:

So what is to be done after a revolution has failed? After our enemies have created a conservative mass society based on meaningless electoral politics, spectator sports, and a 3 percent annual rise in purchasing power strictly regulated to negate itself with a corresponding rise in the cost of living.  What is to be done about an expertly, scientifically calculated contra-postive mobilization of the entire society?  What can we do with a people who have gone through the authoritarian process and come out sick to the core!!! There will be a fight. (p. 174, emphasis added)

Update: September 21, 2017 – The #BLACKGIRLMAGIC Buying Power Hustle

Unfortunately TheGrio is holding journalistic form by not checking the claims or the data or the numbers allowing the propaganda of “buying power” to go again unchecked.  The press outlet once again headlined the myth that Black “buying power” will reach more than $1 trillion, but this time the false claim is attached to equally false praise of Black women, “Black buying power to hit $1.5 trillion, thanks to Black women,” their title reads.  Once again, Nielsen is credited with providing the “research” but if anyone bothers to check said report they will see a) the report is put together by consumer marketers and public relations folks because b) “buying power” is not about actual economic strength, it is about commercial advertising to attract consumption.  Thats it. So here Black women are “praised” for their interest in buying cars and “personalizing” them and for their appreciation for jewelry and use of social media.  These are not individual or collective wealth building activities, nor is that the point, considering that – again – these reports are about helping advertisers market products not about helping people build wealth or to understand how divorced from wealth they really are.  And when the Nielsen report claims falsely that Black women are economically powerful because they “are the majority owners in over 1.5 million businesses with more than $42 billion in sales” they fraudulently leave out what Antonio Moore reminded in his post to about this report, that “The growth in black female business is because of black unemployment. People are starting single employee sole proprietorships because they can’t find jobs… More than 95% of these businesses are mostly sole proprietorship or partnerships which have no paid employees.  In 2012, 2.5 million black-owned businesses had no paid employees, an increase of 38.9 percent from 2007.

Update: September 4, 2017 – Labor Day – Defending Capitalism By Helping Workers (Shop)

Perfect for Labor Day is this amazing conversation from last week between NPR’s Josh Johnson and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer where the latter artfully defended his arguments for a progressive wealthy elite to save the world and (for?) capitalism.  For some of us, however, Hanauer exposed,  quite beautifully if inadvertently, how genuine redistributive economic policies – socialism – are indeed what is necessary to create the potential for an improved humanity.  And for my own narrow focus on the myth of buying power i would only encourage folks to catch how one of Hanauer’s primary arguments for saving his beloved capitalism is to force his fellow elite to pay working people enough to continue shopping.  Anyway, below i’ve provided the entire interview and also a playlist of clips from the interview which i’ve then subsequently annotated to highlight important admissions in this  exchange between Johnson and Hanauer.

  1. By all means enjoy the full interview and/or the following annotated clips
  2. “The Pitchforks Are Coming…” Note how Hanauer recognizes that: a) any country that ends up “radically and unjustifiably unequal” breeds either “revolution” or a “police state” and that b) “our country most certainly is on that path” and most importantly, c) that a “secure middle class and a stable democracy” society is most beneficial to those who have “wealth and power,” d) how people must be convinced of their “material” inclusion in society to prevent revolution and to protect the position of those currently in power and e) that violence is coming, will get worse and is produced by an anger at worsening material conditions that is “valid.”
  3. Here Hanauer explains the basis of anger on the Left and Right as all emanating from worsening inequality and the share of the country’s wealth going increasingly to a decreasing number of people and describes accurately the process by which there is a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and working classes to the top 1%.  Of course, as a proud venture capitalist worth hundreds of millions of dollars Hanauer’s solutions are deeply self-interested and his solutions are, music please… redistribution! Now, remember, he wants a “secure middle class and a stable democracy” not a revolutionary society (though that would be one relative to where things are now and where things are headed).   The solution of this venture capitalist is not an end to classes or even necessarily poverty, just a greater degree of redistribution, primarily through an increase in wages and a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour (while honestly recognizing that given production rates that minimum should be well over $21 an hour) so as to make it possible for working people to buy the products they help create and sell while – most importantly – reducing the risk of those “pitchforks” or revolutionary hordes overthrowing Hanaeur’s class.  Though it is always funny to hear an honest answer like the one he gives to the question of whether “raising wages kills jobs” that, of course, there is no evidence at all that shows this and that the claim is a “trope” to protect the greed of employers.  He goes on to say that at the current rate of wealth transfer to the rich the country in 30 years will see that the top 1% will have roughly 35-40% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 50% will have to share a remaining 6%.  Hanauer says this is not “market capitalism” but a “feudal” and “unsustainable” system the promotes/propagandizes a “trickle-down” economic growth which he goes on to accurately label a “lie.”
  4. “… either capitalism is a good system or its not.” Exactly.  Here is where myth, perception and analysis come crashing down upon Hanauer, the self-proclaimed ardent defender of capitalism.  If, as he asks, capitalism is a good system then it should be capable of meeting a “standard” where companies can, despite the perception of most of his business elite colleagues, survive paying their workers enough for those workers to shop where they work or to at least “lead stable and dignified, secure lives.”  Otherwise, says Hanauer, we need to “chuck” capitalism aside in favor of socialism – which of course is dreaded.  But, says, Hanauer, “the good news” is that there is only a 1% who truly benefits from this system so it should not be impossible for there to be developed a large enough “political coalition” that can impose a political power upon those who will never accept any form of redistribution so as to create a system that “works for everyone.”  Among the many problems with this analysis is the absence, for instance, of any discussion (on NPR!) of the stranglehold held over the country’s media and communication systems by that same 1% who of course assure their ownership and control to first discourage any consideration of these issues at all and then by coercing belief in core national myths such as democracy, equality of opportunity and “buying power” aka the consumption method of attaining freedom.  Mostly, however, Hanauer accepts and further distributes one of his class’ greatest propaganda gems, the redefinition of what it means when society is properly functioning.  In his view the capitalist socio-economic model Hanauer is so desperate to save “works for everyone” when the most wealthy have slightly less simply so the rest of us will remain in place only with less anger or hostility directed at those – he has already acknowledged – are living off their “theft” of our labor.  As Fanon warned, the attempt here is to reduce even our ability to dream of liberation, where the idea of our freedom is wedded to having just a bit more than we do, having what all know we should already have and then some.

Update: July 14, 2017 – El Mito del Poder del Dinero de Latino America (The Myth of Latin American Buying Power)

The myth of buying power has a particular function as propaganda waged against African America as we’ve argued and demonstrated below.  However,  the myth of buying power certainly carries a broader explanatory function protecting an existing economic and social order (capitalism) and to that end encompasses everyone.  As we have again shown below, the myth is often applied to a variety of consumer groups (Indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, etc.) and here, once again, it is applied to “Latin America.” First, notice once more how the propaganda flows: A) the story of Latin American buying power is carried HERE with references to grandiose Latin American buying power that at “1.4 trillion dollars” and soon to be up another “50% in the next 5 years” is larger than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Mexico, but makes absolutely, B) no references to wealth – the measurement of actual economic strength – and only suggests said strength due to an average Latin American family income of “$42,400” and an 11% increase since 2005 in Latin American credit/debit card ownership (more shopping!) and, of course, C) attributes its evidence to a study from the “University of Georgia” which, as we continue to show, means the very same Selig Center housed in that university’s Terry College of Business in its Bank of America building.

We have also already shown below how GDP is a terribly flawed comparison to make but note again how this article also re-presents the methods by which these numbers are generated.  These numbers are not calculations of money communities have and choose to spend however they like.  These numbers are generated based on how much marketers can speculate various communities will spend on products owned by corporations and sold/distributed to these communities via other corporations.  And note, again, how “power” here is measured in the ability to consume what someone else owns and from which (ONLY!) they derive wealth.  A household income of $40k is not wealth and not comfort and the ability to consume “groceries, cell phone service, clothes” and “car insurance” from companies owned by others is not “power” as anyone needs it:

Update: July 6, 2017 – Jay-Z Gets In On the Myth of Buying Power

I can’t speak on the new album itself but we all know Jay-Z has long been in on the myth of capitalism (Black or otherwise).  And we should by now know that he knows better than to promulgate the associated mythologies which suggest we can all do what he has done.  But apparently on this latest release he sure gets in on the particular myth of “buying power.”  As reported here:

He summons black people in general to stop thinking as mere consumers and capitalize on the staggering buying power by supporting our own.  ‘What’s better than one millionaire? Two,’ JAY-Z said on ‘Family Feud.’ ‘Especially when they from the same hue as you,” he continues as he tells them to buy black and build black (emphasis added).

But yes, “two” is about right.  What is “staggering” is the way in which the propaganda is carried through sheer repetition with no investigation of the claim.  This is one way that it becomes even more difficult for people to accept critique even when based on data and research and, again, why propaganda is so effective.

And for more on Jay-Z and his promotion of other myths related to Blackness and capitalism see this video from Antonio Moore.

Update: July 4, 2017 – Myths and Inequality Are American as Apple Pie

Happy 4th! #ClayDavis

Here once again, and unfortunately again in the Black Press, “buying power” is misunderstood and mis-reported.  While it is quite understandable that there would be a desire among any group to praise nominal “success” stories it does harm to the whole when individual escalation is confused or promoted as being beneficial to the group.  Praising – as being good for the collective – one person’s promotion into a process which is aiding the devolving economic conditions of the whole is where myth turns pernicious and dangerous. Yet this is what we see in this latest report about and commentary from Lisa Brown, the diversity and inclusion consultant for Volkswagen Group of America.  As the story concludes:

“I’ve been with Volkswagen for 18 years and worked in after sales as an operation manager,” said Brown. “I was the first female of color and only the second woman who held that position.” Brown continued: “Now there are a lot more women in the region teams. When I started there were one or two and now there are three or four women per region and five women in our leadership executive position.”  Along with increasing the amount of women in leadership and the workforce at Volkswagen, the company has also partnered with organizations and universities to ensure that the company has access to a highly qualified and diverse talent pool.  Brown stated, “We have partnered with the School of Business at Howard University, the National Black MBA, both the D.C. and Detroit chapters, and Inroads Inc. We also have an executive mentoring program for women.”  Brown said that because of the strong buying and consumer power in the African American community, African-Americans must be conscious of how inclusive these companies are.  Due to the fact that the Black community has such strong buying power, the automotive industry must cater to the Black demographic, Brown added.  Companies need to market to the African-American community and have African American leadership, said Brown.  Brown continued: “There’s a value and appreciation for understanding the partnerships we can create and we have to make sure we have a direct link to the African American community” (emphasis added).

Lisa Brown serves as Volkswagen’s Diversity and Inclusion Consultant. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

Once more, “buying power” is referenced with no detail, discussion or substantive meaning.  There is just the routine suggestion of “power” in the ability to buy one car or another – none of which are manufactured, distributed, fueled, repaired, sold by any entity owned by Black people and designed to redistribute wealth to Black people.  This is a hostile misrepresentation of reality.  How in the world does buying a Volkswagen instead of a Toyota, instead of a Honda, instead of a BMW help anyone but those working for (and specifically owning) those companies?

There is no Black community economic “power” in creating wealth for her employers and likely a nice salary for Ms. Brown herself.  As a “diversity consultant” Ms. Brown is the business world’s equivalent to music industry A&R reps where both function as front persons, trap-setters, what Bernie Sanders is to the Democratic Party – “sheepdogs” who reduce the potentially threatening – if organized, unionized, radicalized – collective activity of fully oppressed communities to blind consumption with the aid of powerfully imposed mythologies which work to manage or mitigate any hope of danger by bringing it to heel before genuinely organized capital, political and social power – that of the manufacturers of “consent,” “ideas… consciousness” and “production.”

Kwame True’s birthday just passed, so, once more, “Black visibility is not Black Power,” and neither is “buying power.”

Update July 1, 2017 – #BlackLivesMatter Chicago Invites a Discussion of Buying Power Mythology

Thanks to #BLM-Chicago for inviting this conversation, a closer look into the politics and propaganda of Black “buying power.”

During the talk reference was made to the concentration of stock ownership.  The following is from professor G. William Domhoff:

In terms of types of financial wealth, in 2013 the top one percent of households had 49.8% of all privately held stock, 54.7% of financial securities, and 62.8% of business equity. The top ten percent had 84% to 94% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and almost 80% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America; see Table 3 and Figure 2 for the details. The only category which is not skewed severely toward the upper class is debt (emphasis added).

Update June 29, 2017 – Kwame Ture, Colonialism and Why Comparing Black Peoples’ “Buying Power” to National GDP Is Dead Wrong

Pictured above (Kwame Ture, Kwame Nkrumah, Shirley Graham DuBois)

In honor of June 29 being the birthday of Kwame Ture, who correctly reminded us of at least a few important realities, lets look at how the myth of Black “buying power” is propelled by false comparisons to GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and how Ture’s analysis would be far more helpful.  The myth encourages that we see Black people in the U.S. as a “nation” whose $1+ trillion “buying power” makes that nation “the 15th wealthiest nation in the world.”  But, as Ture put it, “capitalism makes us think we are thinking when we are merely reacting to stimuli.” One of his teachers, Kwame Nkrumah, once described capitalism as “domestic colonialism,” so it fits that Ture, writing at the time with professor Charles Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America said:

… there is no “American dilemma” because black people in this country form a colony, and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them. Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens (original emphasis). Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to the white society. Thus institutional racism has another name: colonialism (emphasis added).

Colonialism, though an imperfect frame, is far better than conventional notions of citizenship, democracy, linear “progress” from enslavement and so on, and makes far more sense as an analytical tool when considering even such minutiae as “buying power.” For instance, rather than the simple and unchecked regurgitation of the claim that Black America’s “buying power” ranks them as having among the world’s largest and wealthiest economies as compared to GDP or Gross Domestic Product we would be better to analogize African America as an internally held colony, one whose primary “export” is “human labor” (Ture, Hamilton, p.6). This would actually provide a better understanding where, as we will see shortly, the GDP of the of country requires Black labor in exchange for an income that is given specifically for the social control benefit of having to earn it simply to hand it right back over for basic survival.

Now, see once more, how this myth is produced and works intensely as propaganda, and effectively, precisely because it does encourage people to feel as though they are thinking when in fact they are only reacting to the stimulation of the apparent (but false) numbers and the excitement that, again counter to what we learn from Ture, that persistent inequality is not born of anything systemic and can be corrected without a fight, by simply spending differently.

The Atlantic reports in February of 2015 (Black History and pride!) that once again Black consumers are strong and will see a “projected buying power” hit $1.4 trillion by 2020. But, as we continue to cover here, all the quoted numbers go back to Nielsen surveys and then ultimately to the Selig Center. Should anyone follow up and click the provided link in the Atlantic story they will end up at this original report from the Selig Center which once again repeats the claim:

For example, the U.S. Hispanic market in 2015 will be $1.3 trillion, which is larger than the GDP of Mexico. In 2020, that amount will reach $1.7 trillion. The Asian market, comprised of 18.3 million Americans, will be $825 billion in 2015 and grow to $1.1 trillion in 2020… The report predicts that African-American buying power will be $1.2 trillion in 2015 and reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, up from $320 billion in 1990 (emphasis added).

Yet again, the Selig Center, the little shop of horrors in the basement of a Bank of America building, has its reports quoted directly/indirectly in every manner of popular publication without anyone checking them or seeing – as we show below – how those numbers are simply fraudulent and misleading. Who cares?!? Look at how well everyone must be doing! And how impressive it must be that these “formerly” oppressed communities have greater GDP than entire countries! And we hear it all the time, something like, “if Black people are compared globally to other countries’ GDP they would be in the top 20!” Spoken or not, this also means, “if they weren’t so dumb, lazy or financially irresponsible they would be rich! God bless America, God bless capitalism!” No one checks the numbers and no one questions what it must mean, this GDP comparison. It sounds good, it gets applause and crowd response.

However, one enormous problem is that GDP speaks only to the value of goods and services purchased or income spent during a given time period meaning that it measures the wealth created for those who own those goods and services and says nothing of the actual condition of those doing the spending. GDP measures what people are able to do with their income, which is pay for their class position, pay for their life-style by purchasing that life from its owners. GDP says nothing about how people acquired that income (through selling their labor or via credit or more debt) and says nothing about where or to whom those payments go. But more than that, as Demos points out:

Despite being a broad measure, there are several things that GDP does not measure that are essential for both the economy and society. Most glaringly, GDP does not capture the distribution of growth and, as a result, cannot reflect inequality. Since 1979, the bottom 20 percent of earners saw their income increase by 18 percent.5 Over the same time period, the top twenty percent of earners saw their incomes increase by 65 percent and the top one percent saw their incomes increase by an astonishing 277 percent. The U.S. GDP, meanwhile, more than doubled over the last 30 years with no ability to reflect the growing income inequality. As the graph below shows, as GDP has increased, so has the level of inequality (emphasis added).


In other words, GDP, developed post-WWII as a measurement of post-war national economic recovery, is like most other big numbers that are thrown around – totally irrelevant to or ignorant of the realities faced by Black, colonized communities whose poverty and social place is a requirement, not an accidental byproduct. A strong economy means that those who own it are doing well and those who are owned are producing well while staying in their place.

Happy birthday Kwame Ture and thanks for still helping us destroy dangerous mythologies. We are still trying as he was to be “Ready for the Revolution.”

Update June 27, 2017: Cannes and the Commercial LGBTQ Brand Hustle

The Cannes Film Festival was once again a site for the ceaseless struggle over recognition and representation and the predictable and requisite response of representation absent substance. Only this time, in a kind of contradiction-twist, we get an honest description of “buying power” as a byproduct of just another routine and corruptive, corporate co-optation. Rather than the usual messaging equivalent to force-feeding in Guantanamo we often suffer which insistently and falsely says Black people waste their worth and, therefore, themselves into poverty here the argument was far clearer: the LGBTQ community and millennials broadly speaking want a greater film and media presence and major corporations are happy to provide them an acceptable version of themselves in exchange for brand recognition – including that of brand U.S.A., the one about freedom, democracy and inclusion.

Like Napoleon invading Egypt with more than just a military, but with scholars and scientists (social and hard) to study every aspect of the people he intended to co-opt and rule, corporations, today’s anonymous Napoleons, study their targets as an essential part of imperial conquest:

According to Google, 47% of consumers under the age of 24 are more likely to support a brand if they have seen an LGBTQ themed ad.  And don’t overlook the buying power of the LGBTQ community as a whole–Bloomberg reports a steady increase in the economic contribution of LGBTQ shoppers since 2012, spending $917 billion in 2015 and on track to hit 1 trillion per year by 2020 (emphasis added).

Are they suggesting that the LGBTQ community is a wealthy nation who would be far more powerful if they just didn’t spend so much time and money on frivolity? Of course not. That particular mythology is just reserved for for the truly colonized. No, for the LGBTQ folks, especially those who would be at this film festival, “buying power” is what it really means, the “power” to make tons of money for the anonymous Napoleons who rule us largely by crafting an environmental mirror for us to gaze into while behind it they rob us blind (and worse). That is what is meant by “economic contribution,” the “power” to have your income become their wealth:

Brands and agencies understand this, as they have carried the torch for LGBT content over the past two years in both video and print.  Big brands like Target, Nike, Clairol, Tiffany, Campbell’s, Lexus, Macy’s Dorito, Wells Fargo, Nordstrom, Apple, Honey Maid, Starbucks, Tylenol, Ikea, Google, Microsoft, DirecTV, Bud Light, Guinness, Google have all contributed to the diversity canon in some form.

“Buying power” is the “power” to have your consumer demands met. If your media consumption requires a little more LGBTQ in it then the largest banks and corporations will provide that for you because, again, “buying power” is about consumption, not politics, not public policy and damn sure not about redistribution (unless by that you mean bottom-up).

Update: June 16, 2017 – 5 (Mostly White, North American Men) Own More Wealth than Half the World Combined

Yep, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Amancio Ortega and Mark Zuckerberg (with two Koch brothers also in the Forbes top 10 wealthiest individuals) own more of the world’s wealth than half of the rest of us combined.  There is simply no economic “power” in any meaningful sense of the term to be had by Black people or any other with this kind of inequality.  As the article says:

While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people…

…[And] it’s not a meritocracy. Children are no longer living better than their parents did. In the eight years since the recession the Wilshire Total Market valuation has more than TRIPLED, rising from a little over $8 trillion to nearly $25 trillion. The great majority of it has gone to the very richest Americans. In 2016 alone, the richest 1 percent effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves, with nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) coming from the nation’s poorest 90 percent — the middle and lower classes. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the super-rich (emphasis added).

Update: June 14, 2017 – Economic State Of The Black World, Did Urban League Get It Wrong?

In this episode of Atlanta Black Star’s Power Talk podcast the panel takes on some of the fundamental flaws in how mainstream conversations of economics and politics are framed which inhibit analyses and, therefore, the conclusions reached about or responses to our economic and social conditions.  Important questions raised here are further explored below and include the standard by which we judge economic strength and the role played by Barack Obama in addressing economic inequality.

Update: June 14, 2017 – Black v White Wealth Explained in 2 Minutes

The following video from Antonio Moore goes a long way to summarizing how this concept of “buying power” is propagandized mythology.

Update: June 4, 2017 – Google Alert Examples of “Buying Power”

Having a Google alert set for “buying power” is a great way of being exposed, on a daily basis, to what the phrase actually does and does not mean.  Again, “buying power” is for marketing, it does not assess the actual economic strength of anyone or any group.  Two recent examples might help clarify this: In the first, the good folks of Dalton, Georgia are being encouraged to their local farmer’s market because:

This year, the Downtown Dalton Farmers Market is one of 60 producer-only farmers markets and direct marketing farms throughout Georgia that sells produce to federal nutrition assistance beneficiaries who will receive twice the value for their benefits through Georgia Fresh for Less. That means the farmers market matches SNAP and EBT dollar for dollar, allowing people to double their buying power.

Obviously, this isn’t suggesting that people on assistance are actually rich but wasting their resources.  It is telling readers only of their ability to buy what are accessible goods sold to them by others who actually own those products and the means of producing and bringing them to market.  And in our second example of the day, residents of Kingman county in Arizona are being encouraged to do more to lure Millennials and their “$200 billion” in annual “buying power” to their community by having capital infused to create jobs that will pay these young people enough to make it worth that move.  They ask:

So how should Kingman capitalize on this younger generation? How can a historic town market itself to younger people?

Again, it is marketing and not about economic strength of a generation group.  The article is asking how can their county market to young people in a way to get young people to purchase available goods owned and produced and brought to market by someone else and by doing so to enrich the county and its investors.  There is no opportunity here for Millennials to spend collectively and more wisely to create wealth for themselves.  That is not the point of any discussion of “buying power.”

Update: May 17, 2017 – Cracked on Credit Cards: Spending “Power” Explained/Debunked

The following satirical look at credit cards tells many truths.  For our purposes here the spoof actually helps clarify the phony notion behind the propagandized mythology that somehow better spending can improve the economic strength of Black people – or anyone for that matter.  Here shopping is encouraged by credit card companies looking to spread debt and collect on big interest rates but this also demonstrates well just how the marketing –  public relations – psychological warfare – or – propaganda of “buying power” benefits those who own, not those who consume.  People are encouraged to spend and encouraged to take on debt in the pursuit of happiness through conspicuous consumption.  Were they to all actually save money, refuse debt and do what those who are “financially literate” always tell us the entire economy would collapse, the wealthy would lose money (due to less shopping, less debt, etc.), workers would be paid less and laid off more and there would be less then to purchase at prices anyone could afford and so on and so forth.  By encouraging people to shop more, take on debt, etc. wealth is generated for those who own that debt and the goods and services being purchased by people who are in fact doing as the video says – digging their own graves.

Update: May 15, 2017 – A BreakingBrown Discussion of The Myth of Black Buying Power as Propaganda

In this edition of BreakingBrown, “Spending Power is an Illusion but the Racial Wealth Gap is Real,” ( with Yvette Carnell we discussed the myth of origin associated with “buying power” and its propagandistic qualities, function and impact.

Update: May 4, 2017 – The Political Economy of Education, Financial Literacy, and the Racial Wealth Gap

Suggested accurately by Antonio Moore as a “must read,” this latest article by Darrick Hamilton and William A. Darity, Jr. (title above) addresses so many of the concerns raised here.  In fact, their opening sentence reads, “Much of the framing around wealth disparity, including the use of alternative financial service products, focuses on the poor financial choices and decisionmaking on the part of largely Black, Latino, and poor borrowers, which is often tied to a culture of poverty thesis regarding an undervaluing and low acquisition of education.”  Instead, as they detail, economic power is a function primarily of wealth – not income or spending – and importantly that, “…race is a stronger predictor of wealth than class itself.  For instance, Blacks and Latinos collectively make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, but collectively they own about 7 percent of the nation’s private wealth.” (emphasis added).  The authors go on to detail far more accurately the horrid economic state most suffer and precisely how this inequality is absolutely not a function of poor saving (quite the opposite) or spending habits.  Poor people are not poor because they don’t understand what to do economically.  Poor people are poor precisely because they are made to be and are required to be.  There can be no 1% if there is no 99.

Update: May 1, 2017 – Fallacies of Privilege

This far more honest and robust discussion of race, wealth and inequality between Antonio Moore and Thomas Shapiro helps greatly in clarifying the economic realities facing various communities, particularly African America. There is also important discussion of the role of celebrity and branding inequality as a “gap” that i think is relevant to how “buying power” has been branded to mislead audiences regarding the actual basis of inequality and mythologies of potential equality coming under capitalism.  The video ends with Moore’s 60 second breakdown of these gaps in which he shows that White households own 90% of the nation’s wealth whereas Black households own only 2.6%. Of the many cascading effects resulting from this discrepancy there would, of course, be a discrepancy in legitimate economic power none of which comes from consumption.

Update: April 25, 2017 – Media Suppress the Realities of Economic Inequality


From this most recent edition of CounterSpin from the media watch group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) there are two important interviews regarding the worsening racial divides in income and wealth – particularly how banks like Wells Fargo target Black and LatinX populations, as well as, the ways in which the U.S. tax code works against the poor.  Again, our point here would be that no community that suffers the inequality reported below or whose actual income and wealth remains woefully unequal to that of whites can be said to be economically “powerful” or poor as a result of its own economic mismanagement.  As FAIR summarizes:

This week on CounterSpin: Sen. Elizabeth Warren put it pretty clearly to the now-former CEO of Wells Fargo when she said, “You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket.” But what that powerful statement still omits is that Wells Fargo didn’t cheat any and all customers: Its fraud—opening some 2 million accounts for people without their knowledge—was targeted specifically at black and brown communities. These same communities are at the sharp end of Wells Fargo practices in other arenas—like pipelines and private prisons. Activists are using this scandal to call attention to a range of other problems at the bank—problems not addressed by a couple of top executives giving back some of their golden parachutes.  Saqib Bhatti  is director of the ReFund America Project and co-executive director of the Action Center on Race & The Economy (ACRE). We’ll talk with him about the Forgo Wells campaign (emphasis added).

Update: April 22, 2017 – The Nielsen “Quickie”

I am simply, crassly, calling this update the “Nielsen Quickie” to make a point (expanded upon below) about the methodology used and misinterpretations caused in the creation of what this year’s Nielsen report calls “purchasing power.”   Nielsen’s numbers regarding “multicultural millennials” and the more than $1 trillion in “entertainment spending” is more honestly described as “influence” but is, like all other claims about “buying power,” based upon survey data about what people buy and how much they spend on various products but is never a discussion of (even a reference to) wealth or income – real indicators of actual economic strength (or lack thereof).  So, for example, saying young people spend X on Y says nothing of how they got that money (earned income, parents, inheritance, gifts, or most likely credit) and it says nothing about the fact that these are measurements of purchases that are available to consumers.  Buying or purchasing power is just that and is not an indication of an ability to own the “means of production” (land, factories, companies, capital,  – the regulatory political power or the ability to push legislation to subsidize one’s industry… sugar anyone? … and so on and so forth…).  But, finally, and in their own words, all of these “reports” and “studies” from which too many get a confused notion of “power” are about helping those owners and producers target the consuming and power-LESS.  They are perfectly clear about what they mean by “power” or here, “dominance” and “influence” none of which has anything to do with an overthrow of current and worsening inequality:

“Many have written and spoken of a distant future, decades down the road, when African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics will hold a position of dominance in the U.S. In our marketplace, and in terms of overall influence, that reality exists today. The multiplier effect updates information, trends and strategies for connecting with multicultural Millennials and, by association, other targeted demographic groups, allowing marketers and advertisers to maximize their investments” (emphasis added).

  • and by the way, as of April 22, 2017 attempts at buying the detailed and full Nielsen “study” to further clarify their methodology were met with: “We’re Sorry! This Nielsen Store Has Closed.”

Update: April 12, 2017 – #BlackLivesMatter, Visa and Black Banking

Thanks to Bruce A. Dixon for catching me up and i am amazed (embarrassed) i missed this, but this #BlackLivesMatter Visa Card collaboration is incredibly troubling. Here is the late update i added to our coverage of the Myth of Black Buying Power  and i really hope there is principled but vigorous debate of this among those more active or hoping to be.

Once more the myth of “Black Buying Power” is confusing efforts to address economic inequality.  The Black-owned OneUnited Bank and Visa have come together to say that this new debit card venture will help “to organize the $1.2 trillion in spending power of Black America” and further claim that this “… partnership is an important step towards building #BlackFutures and harnessing our collective economic power…” Never mind the blatantly obvious attempts at co-opting a movement – that this wasn’t met with as much hostility as the more recent (and silly) Pepsi ad only demonstrates further the power of this myth – but to, again, argue that somehow going into debt via Visa and a Black bank will “harness” or increase “power” is simply a gross distortion of reality.  Below, in the previous update, we show why the #BankBlack effort can only fall short due largely to the fact that Black people do not actually have much money and certainly not enough to somehow invest it (even if working at magical levels of racial unity) to overcome current levels of inequality.  We have also shown previously how credit card debt is a crisis for African America and, while this is a debit card rather than a credit card, there remains the branding boost for Visa which will indeed help its credit wing and the illusion of an advance by moving money to Black-owned banks, an issue we have previously debated with the head of DC’s Industrial Bank showing that even he could not demonstrate an adequate understanding of “buying power.”

While it is not clear what #BlackLivesMatter will get from this it is clear what banks, credit cards and Black people will.  Visa will, of course, further cover or clean its image (literally) with an apparent support for Black people.  OneUnited Bank which has, since 2016, been looking “for reinvention with falling profits and deposits” is expecting to get an influx of money to save itself but Black people collectively will get nothing other than more debt and perhaps a darker complexioned creditor.  But, as Earl Ofari Hutchinson described decades ago, the fantasy of Black business and banking as a solution to capitalism and White supremacy is, as he said too, “myth.”  Banks do not function to upend inequality but to prey upon it.  Black-owned or not.  And it certainly does not help that Kevin Cohee, OneUnited’s owner, had previously been caught using the bank’s money to “expense[sic] quite a lifestyle” where “[a]ccording to the Boston Herald, Cohee’s car collection (a Porsche, a Jaguar, and more) and his $6.4 million beachfront house had all been paid for by the bank.” The sodomy charge (dropped) and cocaine charge (drug counseling) are actually of less concern.

Finally, once more, the claim of there being “$1.2 trillion” in “spending power” that somehow equates to actual economic strength is a myth we have exposed as originating (in its most modern iteration) with spurious “reports” from a Bank of America think tank which seeks only to measure the ability of corporations to compete better for what relatively little money Black people have to spend (a good deal of which is done sadly with credit cards). And as we have argued and unfortunately predicted accurately again is that the perniciousness of the myth is precisely its ability to infect well-meaning people with the idea that economic inequality or powerlessness originates with poor people’s behavior or lack of “financial literacy” (i.e. bad spending habits or refusal to invest in Black-owned banks or buy Black-owned products).

Update: April 5, 2017 – Black and Hispanic Communities Are Spending Almost Half Their Incomes on Rent

One cannot argue that a community is economically “powerful” when as this latest report shows, “In 2016, it took about 44% of income to make rent in predominantly black communities, up from 40% five years earlier, according to a report by Zillow released Thursday. In Hispanic communities, about 48% of income goes to the monthly rent check, up from 41% in 2011.”  This is 11-14% higher than what is said to be the the “30% rule of thumb” and says little of the conditions faced in that housing by those living in what is costing them so much of their income.

Update: February 10, 2017  – Another Black-owned Bank is Gone


Offshoots of the pernicious myth of “buying power” often include equally limited, even if well-meaning, efforts akin to those like “#BankBlack” and “#ShopBlack”.  It isn’t so much that the desire of real change which drives these attempts is flawed as it is the idea that these are methods of overturning economic inequality or systemic and intentional abuses of capitalism.  If the (false) assumption is that Black people are poor because they don’t pool or use or invest or save their money properly then it follows that shopping or banking campaigns will be an advance.  But as was reported today  Seaway bank of Chicago closed/was purchased due to “operations of an unsafe and unsound nature that resulted in inadequate capital to protect its depositors…” In other words, as we continue to demonstrate here, Black people simply do not have the kinds of money required to drive the kind of independence assumed accompanies Black ownership of banks, businesses, etc.  Poverty is not the result of poor saving or investing.  Poverty results from not having or having access to money and/or capital which, by definition, only a few do.  The 1% exist because there is a 99%.

As the story continues, “Prior to its acquisition by the State Bank of Texas, Seaway Bank had approximately $361.2 million in total assets and $307.1 million in total deposits, the FDIC’s press release stated. But the institution’s heavy involvement in the #BankBlack movement last year still wasn’t enough to secure much-needed depositors from the African-American community“(emphasis added).   Prior to this bank closure it was reported last year during the #BankBlack effort that “The U.S. had 23 black-owned banks, credit unions or savings and loan associations as of March 31, according to the Federal Reserve. The nation’s 156 minority-owned banks collectively hold $131 billion in assets.” That number is now down to 22 banks with now roughly $360 million fewer total “minority-owned” banking assets.

Were we to follow the (ill)logic often associated with the myth of “buying power” which is used to suggest that Black America would, as its own nation, rank among the top 20-30 wealthiest in the world, and we took all those “minority-owned” banks and similarly created a mythological single bank, under the control of those communities, with an actual desire to improve those communities (as opposed to a more “colorful” exploiting set of bankers and executives) we still find a stark reality that at a collective $131 billion it would still only rank 15th among U.S. banks alone and would be considerably behind the leaders JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America each of which are in the trillions.

Now, consider what it would mean then for 156 separate banking entities to first combine their wealth and then actively work to redistribute it to truly benefit the roughly 100 million people or so comprising its constituent communities.  Were even this amazing feat to occur it would still demonstrate the initial and permanent rigging of an economic system which depends upon inequality to produce the desired result of a 1%.  But this is more or less what purveyors of the myth of “buying power” argue, that the solution to economic woes facing Black people can be solved somehow by 40 million of them magically working in unison to pool money they use to consume products, goods and services they do not own or control.  And even then, that non-existent and fully fraudulent number (see below) of $1 trillion in Black “buying power”– a “power” based in the ability to consume what others produce and own – which is used to suggest there is an actual power, can actually be seen for the power it genuinely produces for others.  For, that mythological $1 trillion in “buying power” would not even itself match the actual, in-hand, usable assets of any one of those top 3 U.S. banks.

We are given the illusion of power so as to be kept from realizing the motivation of those creating it which is to have us believe that our ability to consume their products and ideas gives us power when our only real power is the potential to unify, work collectively, organize and struggle.  It is indeed as Bruce Lee said, “The enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.”

Update: January 2017 – “Mourning In America” – State of the Dream 2017


The latest State of the Dream report from United for a Fair Economy continues to dispel myths of “buying power” and economic strength in the U.S.  First, note as they say that, “80% of private wealth was inherited” (emphasis added – and as opposed to earned on some equally mythical level playing field filled with opportunity) and further that:

The overall wealth gap in the United States has widened significantly in the past 30 years, with the richest 1% now owning 41.8% of the wealth while the poorest hold only 22.8%. There is even further division when race is taken into account. For every dollar owned by the average White family in the US, the average family of color has less than a dime. In 2013, White households had $141,900 median wealth, while Black families had just $11,000 median wealth and Latino households had $13,700 median wealth.

Update: November 27, 2016 – Black-White Earnings Gap Returns to 1950 Levels


Art: Dan Wasserman / Boston Globe

It, once again, remains absurd to speak of a mythological economic “power” and to further confuse wealth with income and with consumption when even income – never a sign of wealth or power – has gaps with white workers returning to 1950s levels.  Yet another new report on persistent economic inequality does note at least two other relevant points: 1) White working men have seen their own unemployment rates double since 1960 (almost the same for Black men):

“In fact, more and more working-age men in the United States aren’t working at all. The number of nonworking white men grew from about 8 percent in 1960 to 17 percent in 2014. The numbers look still worse among black men: In 1960, 19 percent of black men were not working; in 2014, that number had grown to 35 percent of black men. That includes men who are incarcerated as well those who can’t find jobs.”

And: 2) there is a class element even within Black suffering:

“The earnings gap between black men with a college education and those with less education is at an all-time high, the authors say.”

Update: November 2, 2016 – Net worth of white households in D.C. region is 81 times that of black households

It feels almost as if this is a perfect metaphor for the soon-over Obama presidency.  What was thought by many in 2008 to be “change we can believe in” has been anything but and this story feels as if the effect of the centrifugal force of a Black man in the White House where nationally (it may appear to work in reverse viewed from outside the country in) the financial impact on Black people extends from the nation’s capital, where there was the “initial impact” or “ground zero.”

Update: September 5, 2016 – Labor Day Special and the Decline in Overall “Consumption Buying Power”

In this very important Labor Day special from CounterSpin and one can hear Holly Sklar of the national network called Business for a Fair Minimum Wage discuss an overall problem facing corporate America; that of declining real wages and/or the ability of working people to afford the products they produce.  Described a bit more accurately as “consumption buying power” the reality is that even the ability of working people to buy goods is decreasing due to their being paid record low wages for their labor and, of course, meaning they have less to turn around and spend on goods sold and owned by those corporations working their hardest to keep wages low.  If there is any benefit to this madness it could only be its value in further crippling myths of capitalism and the American economy and, particular to our concern here, the myth that somehow Black working people have some tremendous economic strength.  No.  The “power” to consume is not economic or political power in any real or meaningful sense.  But even that powerlessness, the “power” of consumption, is dwindling.  The segment mentioned here with Sklar starts at about the 16th minute, but the entire segment is essential listening.

Update: August 10, 2016 –  The Average Black Family Would Need 228 Years to Build the Wealth of a White Family Today

As another new study puts it, between 1983 and 2013, “the wealthiest Americans—members of the Forbes 400 list—saw their net worths increase by 736 percent during that period, on average.  If those trends persist for another 30 years, the average white family’s net worth will grow by $18,000 per year, but black and Hispanic households would only see theirs grow by $750 and $2,250 per year, respectively…  ‘[Economist] Thomas Picketty said that, left uninterrupted, we would move toward a hereditary aristocracy of wealth,’ says Chuck Collins, one of the study’s authors. ‘What he didn’t say is that in the United States, that would be almost entirely a white aristocracy of wealth.'”

Update: August 7, 2016 – Black August, The Elections and What HAS to be a Myth of Buying Power

It’s Black August and the presidential election season!  And right on time to remind us of the incredible inequality that exists and its impact on what is only nominally a “democracy.” Or, better put in question form by George Jackson, “what good is the vote after the fact of monopoly capital?”  In just this brief clip from a recent article on the wealthiest U.S. citizens and how the ridiculous $2 billion projected to be spent on the presidential election would be nothing to the richest 100, we see once again how absurd it is to compare the “power” to consume trinkets with the power to own, rule and both decide who runs for office and actually benefit from one or another election victory:

In the 2012 election cycle, the top 100 Super PAC donors accounted for 3.7 percent of the donor population but gave 80 percent percent of the money, a structure that roughly mirrors the makeup of U.S. society as a whole, where one percent of the population holds half of the total wealth. The ratio will likely tilt even further toward the Club of 106 during the 2016 cycle, thanks to two recent court decisions — McCutcheon and Citizens United — that loosened limits on individual donors and opened the door for Super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money (emphasis added).

Update: August 4, 2016 – Struggling a bit to Make the Case on Seattle Radio w Frank Barrow

Media spots are not always easy for me and this issue.  This one was not so bad other than the attachment to the myth creates some cognitive dissonance.  Barrow works hard against the tendency to come back to the refrain of how consumers choose to spend and then in the outro uses the example of a “need” to buy $600 iPhones, etc.  But this is precisely my point; A) an iPhone is an available, marketed product and; B) many do not need to have the $600-800 up front.  It is not money in-hand or account, it is paid in installments over the duration of the contract, like a loan or financing.

Update: July 21, 2016 – Debunking the Myths About Black Buying Power Statistics

There remain some who are at least trying to make room for this discussion.  In this piece published today i am referenced in an attempt to challenge yet another “study” who reference point is again the same Selig Center i challenge below as producing unsupportable numbers that are often misinterpreted.

Update: July 20, 2016 – Discussing the Myth of Black Buying Power

With increased protests in the streets and exploration of solutions for continuing police violence and persistent inequality has come renewed calls for the deployment of collective economic strength, particularly in the form of boycotts and reinvestment in Black banks.  This has also brought about some renewed focus on the notion of “Black buying power.”  In this edition of imixwhatilike! we spend a day in the life of explaining, discussing and debating what i call The Myth of Black Buying Power.  The myth claims Black America has more than $1 trillion in annual spending power which confuses many about the nature of capitalism, economic inequality or the meaning of “power” itself.  With the help of radio hosts Jennifer Bryant, Netfa Freeman, Garrett Harris (WPFW 89.3 FM) and Eugene Puryear (Sputnik Radio) – and even an on-air debate with B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., president and CEO, Industrial Bank – i attempted to explain my conclusion.

Update: July 12, 2016 – CEO Pay Increases Compared to Workers’ Is 940 to 10

From 1978-2015 the disparity in pay and transfer of income/wealth from the bottom up could not be seen more clearly than in this recent report from the Economic Policy Institute.  Black people, who are overwhelmingly represented among those living below the already fraudulently set “poverty line,” cannot be said to have economic “power” when nearly all working people have been weakened to this extent.  As this report summarizes the question of “why this matters… Exorbitant CEO pay means that the fruits of economic growth are not going to ordinary workers since the higher pay does not reflect correspondingly higher output. From 1978 to 2015, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation increased 940.9 percent, 73 percent faster than stock market growth and substantially greater than the painfully slow 10.3 percent growth in a typical worker’s annual compensation over the same period.”

Update: May 17, 2016 – Urban League Says We Are “Locked Out”

While I cannot agree with their conclusions as to why this is the case or what to do about our current lot it is important to point out these realities in the face of the persistent myth that these conditions result from financial illiteracy.  They write in this latest report, “Compared to 40 years ago, the income gap has remained basically unchanged (now at 60%), and the homeownership rate gap has actually grown six percentage points (now at 59%).”

Update: January 18, 2016 – State of the Dream: #BlackLivesMatter and the Economy

I’ve made referencing these reports routine since they began in 2004. I don’t always agree with their interpretation of facts but definitely appreciate their research into continuing/worsening inequalities.  And as always this year’s research/infographic demonstrates the empty claims behind “buying power” (and much more).


Update: January 8, 2016 – 19 Black Owned Banks in the United States | What If We Kept 10% of Our Annual Spending Power in Those Banks?

We are a little late getting to this year’s annual resuscitation of this “trillion dollar” wealth and buying “power” mythology, this time with a nod to a narrow nationalism.  Aside from political questions around Black capitalism or what precise evidence there is to support the idea that Black banks with more money is better for Black people (as opposed to just a few bankers) are at least the questions: what is the value of 10% of nothing or what is 10% of a myth? It certainly is not wealth, nor is it power.

Update: December 2, 2015 -North America’s 100 Richest People Control More Wealth Than the Entire Black Population

Yet another report demonstrates the fallacy of “Black Buying Power.”  How can “power” be used in relation to Black economic standing when as this latest study says, “100 richest US citizens control about as much wealth as all of the nation’s 42 million African Americans.”? Further the study reads, “African Americans’ net worth relative to whites has fallen by more than half since 2000: The average white family today has net assets of $141,900, compared with just $11,000 for black families—about the same paltry sum as back in 1985. Latinos have seen similar declines in net worth relative to whites.” There is simply nothing “powerful” in this relationship.

Update: November 5, 2015 – 5 White People Own More Land Than All of Black America Combined

Again, buying land (or stock) as a method of redressing increasing – and required – inequality is unfortunately also mythological when 98% is owned, of necessity, by those intending to maintain an inequality from which they continue to benefit.

Update: August 24, 2015 – Black Car Sales and an Absence of “Fair Value”

According to a release today from Hazel Trice Edney, “This year alone, African-Americans are projected to spend as much as $24 billion on new cars and other vehicles from America’s auto industry. Yet, research shows that, commensurate with their spending, Black consumers have little to show for their support of car dealerships, except the shiny new purchases in their driveways.”  Again, as stated below, these “shiny new purchases” are precisely the colonial trinkets available to colonized populations – not an expression of any genuine power.   The idea that Black people collectively used $24 billion on cars rather than other more sustaining or empowering enterprises extends the myth of “power,” when in reality these are acceptable purchases made – most often – with bank loans that would not otherwise be granted.  In other words, there is no $24 billion kitty into which African America could go to buy say stock or land or to pay down existing debt, etc.  Similarly, the fact that Edney cites an effort here to make deals to increase Black ownership of car dealerships as a way of capitalizing on this supposed “power” demonstrates the mythology involved.

Update: June 22, 2015 – The Blackness Card: The Cost of Being Black with Algernon Austin

In this interview Austin satirically breaks down the actual costs of being Black further challenging notions of economic parity, never mind actual “power.”

You Sure You Want to Be Black?

Update: February 11, 2015 – Nielsen Ratings Continue to Distort Meaning of “Buying Power”

Black History Month is the perfect time for more anti-history and “analysis.”  HERE is the latest contribution to the myth of “buying power” from none other than the Nielsen ratings company in which Black “millennials” can be seen discussing their spending habits.  Again, this suggests that persistent reports of Black economic instability are the result of poor “financial literacy” among Black people.  If not that it suggests there is genuine “power” among Black consumers.  But as we continue to note here (and below) “power” is not derived from consumption.  Instead, “power” as was once famously said, is derived from controlling the “means of production.”  Videos like these pervert economic reality and the very structural, predetermined nature of poverty.  Besides, remember how Nielsen has long be caught up in fictions about ratings (or the lack thereof) in Black communities which are connected – not to genuine power – but to advertising dollars being spent on Black commercial media outlets.

Update: February 1, 2015 – New State of the Dream Report shows a decrease in Black wealth/worth

This year’s State of the Dream Report 2015 from the UFE (United for a Fair Economy) shows that since its initial report in 2004 there appears to have been a decrease in Black-to-White relative family median wealth/worth.  Currently they write that, “In 2013, White households had $141,900 median wealth, while African-American families had just $11,000 median wealth and Latino households had $13,700 median wealth. (p. 6).”  This equates to Black America having roughly 7% or less than half the median wealth relative to Whites held in the initial UFE report from 2004.  In that report they wrote, “In 2001, the typical Black household had a net worth of just $19,000 (including home equity), compared with $121,000 for whites. Blacks had 16% of the median wealth of whites, up from 5% in 1989. At this rate it will take until 2099 to reach parity in median wealth.”  This, and their further coverage in this report of African America being “Underbanked and Overcharged,” further exposes the mythology of “buying power” and it being a marker of actual economic strength.

Update: January 19, 2015 – Oxfam explodes notion of economic strength

Remember, going back several years (see below), the argument has been that Black “buying power” will reach $1.1 trillion by this year (2015).  Never mind the many flaws in this claim (again, see below), what could this possible mean when as, Oxfam’s latest argues, that by 2016 1% of the world will own more than the rest of the 99% of the planet? We don’t need their analysis of this reality, their facts will suffice, they do after all still need to include comments from the “chairman of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism” who suggests it is big business that must somehow do more to stem the tide of worsening global inequality.  However, the fact of this kind of inequality speaks also in the microcosm to all misleading press reports that promote Black (or anyone else’s) “buying power” as compared with other countries.  It is only a “power”to buy what this 1%  determine is for sale.

Update: September 19, 2014 – Africans Arise internationalize the myth(s) of “buying power”

I am honored to have been referenced by these brothers from Africans Arise who do an excellent job of critiquing this notion of “Black buying power.”  Their approach is far more comprehensive and global and is very well explained.

Update: September 12, 2014 – Our conversation with Economists Jeanette Huezo and Dean Baker

We dealt with this issue a bit in our conversation with economists Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and Jeanette Huezo of United for a Fair Economy, “what does this mean for Black people, Brown people and working people?”

Update: September 2, 2014 – More press missteps

Yet another journalist asked for my input on this issue, this time to respond to another popular media reference to this myth of “buying power.”  But again the story falls short.  HERE is the piece and this is what i sent to its author:


Too bad none of my comments made it into your piece on Elder and buying power. Clementi makes good points but still misses the key point that “buying power” is a marketing phrase meant to drive corporate advertising investments and not at all about the economic strength of a community. the median household wealth of a Black family is still below $6,000. That means even your GDP math concluding in “a per capita buying power of around $23,000” also grossly re-affirms the myth of what “buying power” as a phrase does and doesn’t mean. All you end up doing is moving Black America down this already false scale of economic strength from 16 to 44. That doesn’t help address the fact that poverty and income/wealth inequality are real and worsening problems that have nothing to do with how people spend money. Finally, you list me as a source but include none of my thoughts, statements, research or general argument. It almost reads as if i co-sign your work when i absolutely do not. The falseness in the claim of Black buying power is not in the overall ranking, it is in the terribly flawed approach, totally false claim and distortion of how economics work or the means by which people are held in poverty.


Update: May 2, 2014 – PEW Research Center shows us more about myths of spending as = power

The following chart from the PEW Research Center supports my argument (below) about poor people buying what is available and are not, as the myth argues, foolishly choosing to waste money while missing out on opportunities to improve themselves.  This PEW chart shows how colonial “trinkets” (as Fanon described them) are far more affordable than what is needed for the material improvements.


Update: February 14, 2014 – National press continues to misunderstand/confuse “buying power”

Today’s “What buying power buys African-Americans,” from Marketplace also included me. However, there just is not enough time given here to address the concerns raised or to more appropriately respond to claims/points made.  In this case, i had not heard the particular argument of the other interviewee until the piece aired, but it does speak to existing and severe differences in concepts of “power,” economics and the history of Black political struggle in the U.S. For instance, and as was done in this piece, to refer to a Black presence in commercials as any kind of “power” while then also referring to this and mythological reports of “buying power” as an extension of the civil rights movement’s bus boycotts really does distort that history.  Collective economics and non-violent direct action were, if nothing else, attempts to address community needs and institutional inequality.  To equate those movements with corporate ploys to attract consumers grossly distorts their intent, as well as, diminishes further critiques of those efforts’ ability to truly upset entrenched wealth and power.  Dr. King, for one example among many others, was clear in his own lifetime that these boycotts, efforts at desegregation and the passage of legislation were all insufficient and incapable even of ridding the country of its structural racism and economic (capitalist) violence against working people and Black people in particular. Secondly, though incomplete in its arbitrarily narrow time frame, the Montgomery bus boycotts are often understood to be the beginnings of a movement, not the culminating success story this piece suggests. But, if the frame is to be that Black people today have an economic strength (that again simply does not exist) then it makes sense that to defend that position the earliest stages of the civil rights struggle would be selected as the historic example that proves this myth. This way the succeeding years of increasingly radical, globally focused, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and Black Power elements can all be fast-forwarded to a wonderfully powerful 2014. King’s own critique of the stagnation of a movement he is often the symbolic head of is ignored as is that of lesser known figures whose criticisms are equally omitted and valid today. Perhaps more than anything this piece is a lesson in the limits of mainstream journalism and even the well-intentioned journalists who work in that environment.

Update: February 7, 2014 – More national press coverage and errors of “buying power”

“Black buying power hits $1.1 trillion. What does it mean?” Marketplace included me in this piece on “buying power.”

Update: September 23, 2013 – Our conversation with Ward Churchill about Native American “buying power” and other Indigenous mythologies

Our interview with Ward Churchill about Native American “buying power” and other national myths…

Update: September 20, 2013 – More press abuse of concept of “buying power”

The myth does indeed endure.  A few weeks ago I was contacted about being quoted in a forthcoming article on “Black Buying Power.”  I was initially hopeful but upon reading the piece had to unfortunately send the following to its author:


I’ve just now seen the piece you wrote on Black buying power. I have to say that when you reached out to me I became a bit hopeful that you were going to add some depth to the discussion but it seems that you’ve actually avoided the issue of what “buying power” means (functionally speaking) and how these huge spending numbers are “calculated.” You do reference me but actually horribly misquote me by putting words I quoted from someone else in my mouth and truncating the statement leaving it to be out of context and absent its actual point.

Here is what I wrote, “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/Tooth Fairy comes at great material consequence. This “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. 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.”

Here is how you quote me, ““The objective reality that actually shapes our lives is in part due to misinformation and the conclusions reached by so many prominent thinkers in our world. 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,” he said.”

The first line in yours doesn’t even make sense because you left out the preceding – and really important – sentence and then I am quoted as saying what I quoted Glen Ford as saying.

But really my only issue is that you didnt leave room for any of the studied critique of how they reach these really misleading numbers which makes my quote about a system seem like just talking. You dont link to my piece or reference any of the real research I put in to debunk the numbers these “studies” keep claiming. This leads to more confusion about how poverty works and you end up supporting the myth that we just spend ourselves out of opportunities (even as you quote accurately studies that demonstrate how Black homes are purposely devalued which exposes the lie that poverty is anything but the result of intentional discriminatory practices against Black (and poor) people).

Deadlines, editors, etc. I get it but I do admit to having had higher hopes.

Take care,


This latest “study comes from the same Selig Center mentioned below and also appears as the primary reference for reports like this one which itself becomes the primary reference for articles like the one mentioned above.  Its summary includes the following:

“Minority groups in the U.S. will command unprecedented economic clout this year and well into the future, according to the annual Multicultural Economy report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business.  The 2013 report provides a comprehensive statistical overview of the buying power (or the amount of income left after taxes, not including savings or borrowed money) of African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics from 1990-2018. It includes national statistics as well as breakdowns for each state…  In addition, African American consumers will add $1 trillion to the 2013 market, Native Americans will contribute $96 billion, and Asian consumers will supply $713 billion.  As minority groups’ buying power continues to outpace the growth of the white market, these groups should see more tailored treatment from advertisers, producers and media outlets, said Jeff Humphreys, author of the report and director of the Selig Center” (emphasis added).”

In addition to the points made below I would only want to add here that:

A) The study itself is not easily obtained as it costs $125 which is prohibitive for most of us.  So while I endeavor below to explain how these claims of “buying power” are calculated the precise methods and details are not accessible (to me).

B) The point, as I do say below, is not how to help “minorities” to invest all of this “power” so as to increase their actual wealth – because this is not an option, there are no stocks and properties, etc. available waiting for purchase from otherwise foolish spenders.  The point is to, as the above quote makes clear, help corporations target these communities for worthless spending, to turn “minority buying power” into corporate profit.  It makes no sense to refer to these “studies” in order to demonstrate the poor spending habits of poor people.  This report that refers to the Selig one (as is always the case) is not a guide for increasing Black wealth.  It is a falsely-balanced guide for corporations to know how to target Black people and a guide to Black people on how to be better consumers.  In other words, it is a guide for turning Black income in to White corporate wealth. So, again, it makes no sense at all to reference these studies as part of a critique of Black people’s complicity in their own poverty.  Black people are not poor because they are poor consumers.  Poor people are poor so that there can be rich people.  Poor people, as this report shows, are targeted to spend their income which becomes the unearned income (or wealth) of the rich who own the companies and products being bought.  This is how the wealthy stay wealthy, by assuring that the poor stay poor.

Update: February 5, 2010 – Black television and pundit luminaries continue to misunderstand and report “buying power”

A new BET “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.  Again, “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 (as described below) 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.

This “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.  Precisely at a time when Black unemployment is worsening and predicted to reach even further epidemic levels we also hear of research which suggest that Black Americans think their lot is actually improving.

As we have been arguing here there is no collective $1.2 trillion that wealthy investors choose to spend frivolously.  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.

It remains essential to focus on material reality as opposed to propagated myths packaged in ease-inspiring slogans or phrases.  For instance, a recent statement on “intergenerational poverty” demonstrates the point.  They write that, “The wealth gap is the most acute indicator of racial inequality. Based on data from the 2002 Survey of Income and Program Participation, white median household net worth is about $90,000; in contrast it is only about $8,000 for the median Latino household and a mere $6,000 for the median black household. The median Latino or black household would have to save nearly 100 percent of its income for at least three consecutive years to close the gap. Furthermore, 85 percent of black and Latino households have a net worth below the median white household. Regardless of age, household structure, education, occupation, or income, black households typically have less than a quarter of the wealth of otherwise comparable white households.”  Or in another installment in an annual series on these issues we learn, among many other startling facts, that Black Americans “earn 62 cents for every dollar of white income, and Latinos earn 68 cents for every dollar of white income.”

Update: December 22, 2009 – Addendum to original commentary on the myth of Black “buying power”

I had initially put this together as an email response to some friends but have since found it to be a bit more useful and, therefore, wanted to give it an actual post.  It has drawn some criticism, some of which is valid and deserving of response.  My primary point is to challenge what remains an absolutely false notion that somehow this concept of “buying power” speaks to genuine economic strength among Black Americans (or most others).  “Buying power” is a marketing phrase designed to assist businesses, almost all white and with no concern for the lived experiences of Black people, in targeting populations based on patterns of spending.  “Buying power” should not be confused with wealth nor should it be confused with equally false notions of “progress.”  In this case “power” means an ability to enrich others’ businesses.  “Power” in this case has absolutely nothing to do with traditional struggles over control over one’s (or a community’s) land, labor, politics or culture.  This “power” means only the ability to positively impact the bottom line of a corporation.  The problem, my primary point of concern, is when this point is lost and people tout these numbers as an opportunity for liberation lost on the mindless activity of a free but irresponsible or stupid population.

One possible flaw in my argument below is that I equate credit or loans (in the example of an automobile purchase) with the marketer’s claims of “buying power.”  In fact, as the Selig Center states accurately in their own definitions and reports, “buying power” refers only to “disposable income,” or “the total personal income available for spending on goods and services after taxes.”  Further, “Simply defined, buying power is the total personal income of residents that is available, after taxes, for spending on virtually everything that they buy, but it does not include dollars that are borrowed or that were saved in previous years. It is not a measure of wealth, and it does not include what tourists spend during their visits.”  This, however, remains unclear.  Their definition of “buying power” as not including “dollars borrowed” in “previous years” seems not to discount money borrowed in that same year.  If so, my point below would indeed be sound as credit card debt or car loans from that same year would be counted as “buying power.”

However, again, the intent is to assist businesses not to alleviate planned or necessary poverty.  These arguments of “buying power” are also to assist in myths of poverty being the result of pathological habits among Black and other populations whose innate flaws are beyond even the ability of the most magnanimous of civilizations.  Then the numbers associated with this “buying power” can falsely suggest that were only these savages more responsible with their money poverty and economic inequality would simply disappear.  My own error was in not making more clear that one problem I have with these calculations is their definition or explanation of  “disposable income.”  If, as stated below, the average Black household has a median net worth of less than $6,000 and there has been a 30+ year decline in workers’ real wages overall the response to which was increased credit to maintain absurd spending levels then where is the “power?”  If most income is spent on the basic necessities of survival (food, clothing, shelter) then how is it “disposable?”  How can something be called “disposable” or meant to convey “power” when, as the Selig report says, the top 5 expenditures for Black people include “phone services, utilities and groceries?”  Are these truly to be considered gratuitous purchases along with the other clothing and footwear?  Even if we assume that most of the clothing and shoes purchases are beyond absolute necessity are we still to assume that Black people are poor because they spend too much on phone, electricity and food?  Perhaps more importantly, should buying food and phone use be allowed in any society to result in the kinds of poverty faced in the U.S. by Black people (or anyone else)?

It is for this reason that I attempt below to place Black America within a global context of colonialism.  This is the basis of my argument that Black people (indeed almost everyone) are not capable of purchasing assets (stocks, land, property, etc.) because so much of their “disposable” income is used for basic needs leaving only access to more frivolous items.  Colonized populations have no access to the most wealth-producing elements of a society and are forced/manipulated/relegated to basic necessities or the fruitless results of conspicuous consumption.  This is the point of a capitalist economy.  The goal in such an arrangement is to have that which does increase wealth (and then, of course, societal control, political power, etc.) to be in the hands of a few.  No system or society is designed to allow any and everyone an equal opportunity to rule it.  This was precisely his point when Malcolm X made clear that “It’s impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg… a chicken just doesn’t have within its ystem to produce a duck egg.  It can’t do it.  It can only produce according to what that particular system was constructed to produce.  The system in this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American.  It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, this social system, this system, period…  And if ever a chicken did produce a duck egg, I’m certain you would say it was certainly a revolutionary chicken!”

Original Post: March 12, 2008The Myth of Black “Buying Power”

Myths of Black America’s “buying power” continue to confuse just how bad things really are or how this “permanent recession” is an economic and social necessity.  This myth is meant to shift the blame of poverty onto the poor and suggests that economic inequality is more an issue of pathological behavior than a scientific inevitability.  In a speech delivered on Black Power (see below) Kwame Ture accurately cut through the morass of madness known as “economics.”  He stated simply and clearly, “a man is poor because he does not have money.  Period. If you want to get rid of poverty you give people money.  Period.”


Kwame Ture on Black Power (Berkley 1966)


Achieving economic clarity is a bit more difficult than it would appear.  The myth of Black “buying power” resurfaced yet again in February as more “news” was released from African American/Black Market Profile (AABMP).  The myth, now updated,  projects that this “spending power” will reach $1 trillion by 2011.  This mythology of an African America whose national economic strength rivals that of most countries is consistently misunderstood, improperly quoted and ultimately used to deny the outrageous inequality and exploitation this country still requires to maintain itself as the single superpower/empire.

First and foremost the initial report cited needs to be understood for what it is and its purpose which, as is as they say atop their report, “The Market Profiles gather and synthesize the most recent findings from dozens of sources in order to help marketers communicate more effectively with these important consumer segments” (emphasis added).  So these numbers are floated not for their accuracy regarding Black people’s economic standing but for their ability to tell which corporations should more aggressively target their marketing (psychological warfare) towards African America to get what little money actually is held there.

Part of their projections (as opposed to actual in-hand figures) are based on the percentage (30.2) of African American households whose income is more than $50,000 per year.  Somehow this is meant to convey a sense of economic progress or sustainability.  Not considered in this report is that if the poverty line in the U.S. (a number already itself designed to hide poverty) is set so as to only count those in poverty who live in households of 4 earning less that $20,000 annually then, of course, a $50,000 would appear stronger than it actually is.

The AABMP report, however, references for its numbers a study from the Selig Center for Economic Growth whose numbers also must be held in question.  Their justification for suggesting in 2006 that that year would be one in which African America, as the “nation’s largest minority market,” would use their “economic clout” to “energize the U.S. consumer market as never before.”  They cite as evidence such misleading statistics as:

1.  Black population growth

2.  Increased job opportunities

3.  More education for Black America

4.  Only 8.1% of Black America is over 65 years of age or at “career pinnacles” at which point wage increases “decelerate,” whereas, whites are 13.5% over 65.

5.  Black people spend more than “non-blacks” on natural gas, electricity, telephone services and footwear and a higher proportion of their money on groceries, housing and women’s and girl’s clothing.

6.  And this author’s personal favorite, that despite “a substantial gap in homeownership rates” this “suggests a possible opportunity for market expansion in the years ahead.”

We must be clear.  Income is not wealth.  “Buying power” as a phrase and one measured in these ways offers so many illusions that contradict the previous point.  Population growth and increased jobs (increased from what?) do not, in and of themselves, say anything about economic power.  More education means little as well when advanced degrees are considered an absolute necessity for economic advancement (certainly still no guarantee) and even their own report (p. 9) shows that in 2005 only 19% of African America earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher and the percentage of that population who earned a graduate professional degree was so low as to only warrant an “N/A.”

It is also important to note that “buying power” is a confused phrase in that it, again, says nothing of a wealth Black people have little of but also suggests that this “power” is or can be for community uplift.  The fact, again, that this is target marketing material means that by “power” they mean the ability to generate money for corporations to whom this spending will be geared.  It does not mean that Black America has some un-tapped economic strength that can be marshaled to buy that which increases wealth (land, stocks, etc.) and speaks to the basics of colonial exploitation.  That is, that the colonized are left only to purchase trifling gadgets and trinkets “footwear” and “clothes,” as opposed to land, stock and other capital most of which is sequestered among the tiniest elite minority.

And finally, it is sadly laughable that too many of us are fooled into thinking our power is squandered by poor purchasing habits, again, since this is all to which we have access anyway.  The idea that land and stock is there waiting but we’d rather go to the mall for trinkets results from mass capitalist, white supremacist propaganda which too many of us have imbibed.  So, in fact, the suggestion in 2006 that homeownership represents “a possible opportunity for market expansion” was a precursor to the damage and pain most are seeing only now; predatory lending, sub-prime scandals, mortgage and home foreclosure and what United for a Fair Economy (UFE) recently reported as “the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in U.S. history… {upwards of} $200 billion.”

Black people, like most others, are an exploited, colonized population whose wealth-generating capabilities are, just as these reports really say, for an elite who have nothing to do with Black people.  Black wealth resides in elite white enclaves here and abroad while African America devolves economically, politically and in terms of healthcare, education (quality of and access to), police brutality and mass incarceration.  And even within Black (and Latin) America 25% of the households have 90% of the wealth demonstrating a great divide within communities where Black median net worth is already a pathetic and dangerously low $5,988 and $7,932 for Latin America compared to $88, 651 for whites.  Black people have no money.  We spend on credit and loans (none of which is considered for either of these studies) so as to project a “power” that we in fact are far from having.  Rarely does anyone have in their pocket or account the $20,000 for a car or $30,000 (and way up) for one year of college.  We take loans for these and other purchases which then count towards our “spending power.”  The debt we fall into this way and others (i.e. credit cards) is counted as a “positive” by those to whom our pockets are perpetually emptied.  But this is not and can never be “power.”

Anyone, including Black “leaders,” who parade fanciful numbers before their unsuspecting audiences so as to, again, suggest that irresponsibility is the cause of Black poverty need to be checked, vigorously.  We need to get back to an increased intelligent and honest discussion of economics so we can be where Ture was when he left, as he and his comrades always said when answering a phone and saying goodbye, “ready for the revolution.”




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