As Beyoncé says, “Best revenge is yo’ paper.” And Black girls like you have the power to spur change by kicking businesses that support racism and bigotry where it hurts most — in their wallets.
We’ve all seen the hashtags — #GrabYourWallet, #BoycottDelta, #DeleteUber, #BlackoutFriday, and more recently, #BoycottCovergirl. But launching an actual movement takes more than just pressing send on that tweet. “These hashtags are good for getting media attention … but it’s just one small step. We should understand the limitations of them.” says Banke Awopetu-McCullough, educational activist, author, and professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. “Yet when you boycott — when something is or is not getting money because of a perceived perception in the community that the business is not in the community’s best interests — that’s something that actually gets attention.” Real talk, boycotts only work when people actually participate, and making them successful requires sacrifice. Nothing gets done if you say, “Oh, yeah, I love that store too much to give it up.” Nothing gets done if you throw deuces the minute you feel tired or bored or face your first setback.
For 381 consecutive days, beginning in December of 1955, the Black community of Montgomery, Alabama — around 40,000 strong! — straight up refused to ride the city buses in protest of segregation and white supremacy. Young and old alike, regardless of social standing, traded bus travel for carpooling and miles of walking, no matter how tired they may have been. No matter how much longer their trips became. No matter how many times they were threatened, intimidated, bombed.
Then came a shift. In November, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the federal district court’s ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional. “The only reason why that happened is because of the economic impact of that boycott,” says Awopetu-McCullough. “It wasn’t because people suddenly recognized our humanity. At the end of the day, America is a capitalist society … but there’s power in understanding how America’s actually built. So, we really have a blueprint in knowing what it actually takes to enact change.”
The fight for civil rights is still going on today, and boycotting is just as important now as it was more than half a century ago, especially when we have corporations that support the man in the White House who preaches hate and bigotry and perpetuates lies. Boycotts are one way of showing our disapproval and letting companies know, “Do. Not. Come. For. Us.”
It’s not just the stoppage of spending, though. This type of resistance can also take the form of dropping that coin strategically. As reported by Nielsen in the 2016 study, Young, Connected, and Black, African Americans reached $1.2 trillion in buying power the year before, and will reach $1.4 trillion by 2020 — making us the largest POC consumer group in the nation. Thing is, only a small portion of those coins go back into Black-owned businesses — as little as three percent, according to Maggie Anderson, author of Our Black Year and founder of The Empowerment Experiment. Pouring your fetty back into Black-owned brands not only helps keep your paper in the community, but also helps create jobs and economic growth. Start off with trying one or two new Black-owned businesses every month, and when you cop things you really like, tell your friends and family, and then, spread the love on social media. After-school job on deck? Deposit those funds into an account where you can #BankBlack, such as Liberty Bank & Trust or OneUnited Bank.
“[It can be difficult to] buy Black [all the time], but … we do have the ability to decide where we are not going to spend our money, and that is still very effective when you look at the last two years with the Black Friday boycott,” Awopetu-McCullough says. “We’re talking about millions of dollars that didn’t go into corporate industries.”
Another example of a 21st-century, boycott that went viral is the #GrabYourWallet campaign. Launched last October by Shannon Coulter after Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, #GrabYourWallet calls for people to stop shopping at retailers that carry Trump merch. Less than one year in, and we’re already starting to see some changes. In February, Nordstrom announced it will no longer sell Ivanka Trump’s line, and soon after, Neiman Marcus, Zulily, Sears, Kmart, and a few others dropped Trump stuff, too. “Deciding to spend our money on folks who value our humanity is a great act,” says Awopetu-McCullough. “We have to try our hardest to not give our money to corporations who support policies of candidates that are morally reprehensible.”
Wondering how you can get involved with purposeful boycotting? Choose one issue you’re most passionate about and stick with it. “Join efforts that are well-researched,” Awopetu-McCullough advises. “A lot of [our] efforts are kind of drained because of what’s going on. You want to fight for immigration reform, environmental issues, [and against] the Muslim ban, and so you find yourself doing a thousand things, and you may no longer be as effective as if you were to focus on one.”
To keep things all the way 100, it can take months, even years, before you start seeing real change. What’s important to remember, though, is that you must stay the course, even when it seems like change isn’t happening as quickly as it should. “I think we have to stay connected to each other, so when these small gains come, the momentum is there, and that’s something that will continue to rejuvenate you,” Awopetu-McCullough says. “Keep recycling that energy.”
Boycotts are only as effective as the people behind them — and you hold the power to enforce the change you want to see. So, let’s grab those wallets and get to work.
This article originally appeared in Sesi’s Spring 2017 issue. Subscribe here to get the current issue, on sale now.