Above photo: Detroit. Barry Lewis/ Corbis via Getty Images.
Dr. Jared A. Ball’s new book, “The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power” explains the history of the black “buying power” canard. It is a commercial and political propaganda tool for the black political class, a cudgel to blame people for their own poverty, and a means of disappearing any critique of capitalism.
Black Americans are besieged by many facetious notions which claim to bring them progress. One of the most pervasive and insidious is the myth of “buying power.” We are told that we have $1 trillion that could be harnessed if only we spent money more wisely or saved more or were better educated about our personal finances.
Dr. Ball proves that the often repeated claim that black Americans collectively have the ability to spend $1 trillion has no basis in economic data. The myth is based on bad interpretations of Nielsen consumer surveys and marketing reports produced by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business which is located at the Bank of America Financial Center in Athens, Georgia.
Ball explains that the United States government played a role in establishing this dubious notion with the establishment of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the late 1800s. These cost of living studies indicated what workers’ wages would allow them to buy and were intended to “…gauge how much working people earned, how much that money could pay for, and at what point the gap between the two would lead to further rebellion.” There was never any intention for this information to imply that the ability to purchase was a way out of poverty or a means of overcoming an inherently oppressive and racist system.
In 1954 John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, produced a marketing video called The Secret of Selling the Negro, an effort to attract corporate advertising dollars to his publications. Post-World War II America did offer new opportunities for living wage work for black people, even in the era when discrimination was legal and commonly acted upon. Organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League jumped on the bandwagon and used the Johnson method to advocate for advertising dollars and to encourage hiring of black workers.
But Johnson’s business opportunity was turned into a tool for indoctrinating millions of people to believe in something that didn’t exist. Following in his footsteps were clergy, political leaders and popular culture figures who wove a false narrative which weakened the ability to have useful debate and discussion about the reality of black people’s lives in the United States and what would be needed to bring about meaningful change.
The belief that black people have access to $1 trillion is untrue and extremely dangerous. Ball does a good job of explaining the fallacious reasoning behind the claim and why it is so dangerous.
Instead of thinking that black banks have sufficient capital to undo the lack of wealth in the black community, they don’t, efforts should be focused on determining what we do and do not have and how best to address our situation. At a time when even cursory critiques indict capitalism, too many people who ought to know better believe in this economic fantasy.
The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power does a good job of examining the foundations of a falsehood and in explaining why it is so problematic. The book does not capture the depth of attraction for this scam. Far from being a group who eschew a belief in the value of thrift and hard work, black Americans have been propagandized into believing in their ability to do the impossible. They cannot make capitalism better because that system is inherently exploitative and is the cause of their dire circumstances in a country wedded to exploitation and anti-black racism. Dr. Ball’s book is much needed in an era when the corporate media, politicians and so-called leaders peddle snake oil to a group of people desperate to improve their lot. This scholarly analysis is an example of power that is accessible to anyone willing to question decades of myth making.
Margaret Kimberley is a co-founder and Editor and Senior Columnist at Black Agenda Report. She is the author of “Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents” and a contributor to the anthology “In Defense of Julian Assange.”