Excerpted From Chapter One: Introduction
The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power demonstrates:
• 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).
• “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. Most of the contemporary and popular understanding of the myth of buying power is derived from, and maintained by, a commercial Black press whose own commercial interests (attracting advertising dollars from the largest White corporations) supersede any journalistic mission to properly inform. “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.
• 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.
Anyone at all familiar with any part of the Black public sphere will have heard one form or another of the following: “If we just used our money like other communities… If we didn’t spend so much on hair, cars and weed… we could make our dollar circulate like ‘they’ do and be far better off!” More specifically, those familiar with like-spaces would have heard reference to “the numbers,” that “Black America’s economy makes it among the most powerful national economies in the world…” and that “… we have a $1+ trillion that we just misuse…” From the most isolated and forcibly marginalized radical activist spaces to the most commonly populated spheres of Black public discourse the refrain is consistent and always suggests the same; that at least a solid portion of the Black oppressive political pie is comprised of a financially illiterate backwards mass incapable of correcting itself to take proper advantage of a freedom which waits just slightly beyond their feeble grasp. The suggestion that Black people lack “financial literacy” and, therefore, ignorantly refuse existing opportunities to advance economically obliterates the realities of capitalism as an economic and social system or conditions that system creates.
The idea is as simple as it is wrong but is masked by a surrounding powerful and heavily propagated mythology. The “buying power” of Black America, it is often repeated, now said to have crossed $1 trillion annually, is foolishly squandered but with some unity could be harnessed to overturn the centuries-old and eerily consistent economic deprivations suffered still. However, “buying power,” as a concept popularly held, is entirely misunderstood and has been by so many for so long that it continues to confound and inhibit conversations about economics in general, the specifics of the Black economic condition, and what might be done about it. And while all communities, all segments of all communities, businesses, municipalities, etc. have their “buying power” assessed it is only in relation to Black America that the concept becomes truly mythologized. Beyond that, the myth is politically weaponized with a very particular perniciousness and pervasiveness metastasized to the “conceptual original sin” of American racism (Downing and Husband 2005). The misunderstanding and misapplication of the concept of buying power, by those both friendly and hostile to the Black community, is unparalleled anywhere in political, economic, or media analyses.
Black America does not have an annual $1+ trillion that is collectively, by some choice, spent frivolously rather than harnessed to the betterment of the collective. Here we must develop upon the difference between power as economic strength as is conventionally understood and buying power, a concept developed by business, advertising, marketing, and government interests and where power is defined only as a group’s ability to enrich those interests. Genuine economic strength is measured in wealth, assets, land, stock, etc. and with a clarity in the differences between wealth and income, the latter being what one earns in exchange for labor, the former being income earned from the labor of others.
“Power” in the phrase “buying power” does not mean what many assume is a kind of genuine wealth, sovereignty, or autonomy. Once consigned to the phrase “buying power” that latter term loses all popularly (rightly)-held assumptions of its meaning and becomes something very different, almost dangerously different in terms of how that difference is carried to, and with what impact it has on, various audiences, and Black America specifically. In the form of its association with the word “buying” power means only the ability to spend what available money (or credit) is available on only the specific goods similarly made available for purchase. Having access to rims, fronts, hair or weed is one thing, while access to capital, stock, land, expanding business, etc. is quite another. Black people can buy marijuana just not the increasingly legal dispensaries emerging into a multi-billion dollar almost exclusively White industry (Ross 2018).
Buying power, spending power, or purchasing power are all interchangeable and applied to nearly every possibly grouped segment of society and are also applied to corporations and local, state and even national governments. But the concept, or more appropriately said, the marketing formula, is used with a particular pernicious effect, when it comes to Black America and, as such, deserves this special focus and attempt at dispelling. Nowhere else, for no one else, is buying power used as a bludgeon with such regularity and persistence within communities, both in terms of media attention and as a method of “political organization,” as is the case with Black America. For solutions to come it is true that those spaces where Black politics are most often discussed and where the futures of Black people are most seriously considered must rid themselves of this and other mythologies related to the economy of the United States and the role Black people play within. This would include challenging the prevailing wisdom, as it applies to this subject only, of past and present luminaries.
Table of Contents
- Chapter One: Introduction
- Chapter Two: Propaganda v. Economics: Constructing a Myth
- Chapter Three: Buying Power Not Protest: The Myth Prevents Unrest
- Chapter Four: The Myth’s Modern Purveyors: Reviewing Selig and Nielsen
- Chapter Five: The Myth at Play: The Oh So Suitable Environment
- Chapter Six: Freedom Was the Call but ‘Instead, They Got a Bank’
- Chapter Seven: Conclusion: Organization and Policy v. Economics