Consumer Power: The Rich Black Race

by Ololade Siyonbola

Why should a wealthy white woman, who can afford to, take a trip to Africa, take photographs of Africans and sell that book to Africans all over the world?  Making a killing from it.  And why should I, as an African, buy a book by a European author on Africa, whether it demeans or glorifies our people?  Why should I give my hard-earned dollars to someone who has plenty of them, when I could be giving them to an entire nation who is in dire need of half of the price of this book?


But on the other hand, maybe it’s not about race.  Maybe she’s just a very good photographer who loves Africans and everything African.  Maybe she wanted to do her part to improve the worldwide perceptions and misconceptions of the African continent.  What if she truly is passionate about this cause and by refusing to support her with money, we are endangering one of the very means by which we can be improved as a people.  Maybe half of her proceeds go to feed the hungry people she photographed, and to provide running water for them.  Then would it be okay to give her my money?–of which I rarely have any left after I put what I can in a bank owned by her forefathers, pay my rent to her husband’s brother and buy my food from her mother’s huge grocery chain.


So what do I do?  Imagine, me a West-African, wanting to do a book on Rwanda.  Am I overstepping?  Should I leave these projects strictly to Rwandese writers?  But what if I’m a better writer than all of them combined?  Then is it all right?  Or must I give half of my proceeds to those which I write about and suffer making no profit from a project that was intended to be completely philanthropic in the first place?


I don’t have numbers for you on the spending habits of Black people worldwide.  If you are alive and kicking, I humbly assume you either have these numbers in your long term memory, or are seriously aware of the precise grossness of these numbers.  So I won’t tell you that the Black Diaspora would rank seventh in a ranking of most-spending nations.


What if I told you to stop spending at Wal Mart?  K-Mart? Kroger? Ralph’s? Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Prada, Banana Republic, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, AX?  Could you do it? Am I crazy?  Where would you shop?  How would you clothe yourself? Feed yourself?  You would be a laughing stock if your labels were not representative of the highest paid European designers in the world.


“According to Target Market, a company that tracks black consumer spending,

blacks spend a significant amount of their income on depreciable products.

In 2002, the year the economy nose-dived; we spent $22.9 billion

($22,900,000,000.00) on clothes, $3.2 billion ($3,000,000,000.00) on

electronics and $11.6 billion ($11,000,000,000.00) on furniture to put into

homes that, in many cases, were rented”


Yes, we’re all Africans here.  That doesn’t apply to us, right?  We know how to save our money.  The point, I will show you, is not simply how much you spend.  The point, the crux, the most basic and yet crucial of issues is where you spend it.


“If you’re not a part of the solution, you are the problem; if you’re not changing the system, you are the system.”  We discuss the system–I won’t say we complain, because we will then commence complaining about my statement instead of absorbing this desperately crucial enlightenment–and how impossible it is to change it.  All of us have some complaint about the “system”.  Most of us don’t believe it can be changed.  Clearly if this were not the case, the changes would have already begun transforming the system, making our lives easier.  Or have they?  Well this article would not be necessary in that case, so for humor’s sake, we’ll say nothing’s really changed.


The big sigh winding down any discourse on the unfair system with which we live is heavy with the concrete doubt that anything will really change it.  We just find it so impossible to believe? that things can change.  Is this really it?  Are we really that lacking in faith?  Now, I find this hard to believe.  This race I would easily say, likely because I am part of it, is one of the strongest on the planet considering our brutal history and current affairs.  We have been direly suffering for hundreds of years with little hope in sight.  Little hope, I did not say ‘none’.


We are a race whose blood has been shed on every continent on this earth.  We originate civilization.  We know things, we are.   We just are.  How can such a race doubt the possibility of anything?  Which brings me to question whether it is that very thing we hear so much and have still yet to absorb: That we are afraid of the changes we have the power to birth?  That we are afraid of our own power.  Could it be, Brethren, that our greatest fear truly is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure?  We are powerful beyond measure…we are powerful beyond measure.  The mere thought gives me chills, but you’re probably still wondering how I can fill my head with such nonsense dreams as this.


But my chills won’t go away, because this message was given to me and proven fact before my eyes.  It is proven fact every day.  What do you think would happen to General Motors if Black people, just Black people, stopped driving?  What would happen to the value of an automobile if 40 million went up for sale tomorrow?  What would happen to Malls if Black people, just Black people, stopped buying clothes tomorrow?  I really need you to consider whether or not these companies could go on.  Really consider.


Consumer power.  We think that they hold us in the palm of their hands, which of course in so many ways they may.  But did we ever think that we had such a hand in a system of oppression.  Could there be such a thing as self-oppression?  Mental slavery?  Is slavery really over, People?  Are we not still making our oppressor filthy rich and seeing not a dime of it?  Is slavery really over?  Wow.  I hope to my bones, I hope you got that.


So what do I want you to do?  Walk around naked like the world still thinks Africans do?  Not floss any ice?  Wear old shoes?  Not perm your hair?  Look “raggedy so won’t no man want me?  Mm-mmn, I ain’t doing that sh–.  You got me f—ed up.”  No.  What’s got us f—ed up is the system we are supporting by buying McDonald’s instead of Golden Krust, Wal-Mart instead of market goods and West African blood diamond jewelry instead of books.


I’m not condemning everyone who goes shopping, but I’m appealing to you to own your power.  And use it to do what you can to alleviate in the long run, your own “system” problems.  Do what you can.  When you have the choice, choose wisely, choose better, choose powerfully.  As it is now, we are not really choosing but going through the motions that were created and then ingrained in us.  With every form of oppression you feel slapped around by each day, I dare you not to scream about it or to cry about it.  I dare you to question it.  Ask why.  With every answer you give yourself, question that too.  Maybe you’ll find that you really do have all the answers, or at least all the questions…


Good luck finding poor black designers to give your money to.

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Peter Pim January 2, 2009 - 9:09 pm

Ridiculous! Get Africa straight before you start “improving” the world. Oppression starts at home!

allen May 14, 2008 - 5:32 pm

This is stupid i have nothing against the black race at all but when you say the whole writing books on the african race and making money of it and making the black community spend there hard earned cash on the book well first off its your choice to buy the book or not its not like your forced to buy it and second how do you think those writers made there money in the first place i bet they had to spend some of there hard earned cash to get where they are to when will black people ever forget the dam past get over it im not saying white people are great either actually most white people are pretty messed up and straight out rude but cmon people this whole issue should have died about 142 years ago after abe stoped it all!

Anonymous July 17, 2006 - 12:54 pm

good suggestions, use our consumer power to improve our people, no doubt. this would be a "change" in most people's lifestyle and you know change is difficult in any institution, organization, or even family. it would take dedication, perseverence, and hope for the majority of Blacks to "change" and spend wisely. i'm not saying it can't be done, but it would be difficult (but not mission impossible).

Anonymous July 17, 2006 - 12:26 am

It is my money, I spend it the way I see fit.

Anonymous July 16, 2006 - 5:32 pm

GREAT Artticle! Very thought provoking!!! Ms. Aliyu, WONDERFUL!!!


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