The Black Boycott Of Black Friday

Activists fed up with police violence against black citizens are urging a Black Friday boycott to flex their economic power.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

As evidenced by the atrocious footage of Laquan McDonald’s execution, black lives in the United States are devalued, regarded as subordinate and, in this case, the black body is used for target practice.

On the cusp of the holiday season activists are demanding justice for Laquan McDonald and the many, many unarmed blacks who have been unjustly murdered. Protest is deeply steeped in the tradition of black Americans. And in the United States, a capitalistic society where consumerism supersedes consideration for black existence, an economic boycott is choice.

#BoycottBlackFriday, #BlackFridayBlackout, and #NotOneDime are all campaigns that, through social media and existent protest, seek to cause a decline in Black Friday sales and to “redistribute the pain” (also a hashtag of dissent). The goal: to attain retribution for the unjust killing of blacks through a mighty economic blow.

“We are being shot down innocently, killed innocently and we receive no justice,” says Minister Abdul-Hafeez Muhammad, who is the co-chair of the New York local organizing committee for Justice Or Else. He adds, “This has been the most wicked time of injustice.”

On the heels of the 20-year anniversary of the Million Man March, the Justice Or Else campaign, under the auspices of Minister Louis Farrakhan, plans to launch an economic boycott this holiday season. The Black Friday boycott is set to last until Nov. 30, which will conjoin a boycott Christmas campaign lasting until Jan. 2. The organization uses #BoycottBlackFriday and #RedistributeThePain to galvanize activists via social media.

Muhammad attributes the proliferation of murders to black men, women, and children as the impetus for the economic boycotts. Though, this isn’t the group’s sole mission. Justice Or Else is fighting a war on two fronts—the organization seeks to achieve peace in black communities, and to combat rampant police brutality.

“If we will be in pain, then you need to feel it where the dollar is,” says Muhammad, who is also a representative for Farrakhan. He explains why the group chooses to protest: “So that you begin to have a different attitude towards the presence of black people in your country.”

Here, unity has supreme power within the movement. As Muhammad speaks with conviction, his energy is palpable. “We look to make our influence on the movement and to show ourselves the power of unity,” says Muhammad. “Justice or else is not a moment, it’s a movement, its long-lasting. It’s here to stay until we get fair dealings.”

Blackout for Human Rights (Blackout) is another campaign intends to have staying power.

“We knew it [Blackout Black Friday] wasn’t going to be a one-year campaign because these issues are so engrained in our country and society, so it’s going to happen year after year until we start seeing the change that we are looking for,” says Michael Latt, the marketing director for Blackout for Human Rights (Blackout)—a network of artists and activists founded by Fruitvale Station and Creed director Ryan Coogler. This is the second year that the organization has staged a Black Friday boycott, with its hashtag #BlackFridayBlackout that has a 3.2 million-user reach.

As one of the few white people working within the organization, Latt is a staunch advocate of Blackout’s efforts. Working on Fruitvale Station with Coogler was sobering, and Latt says he realized the pervasive nature of white supremacy and white privilege in the United States.

“It is really about protecting our fellow citizens from state-sanctioned violence,” says Latt. “This really is a human issue.” Blackout also believes the representation of people of color in the media is paramount.

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Beyond the organization’s call for protest, which will only be on Friday, Nov. 27, Blackout for Human Rights will offer free-to-low-cost screenings and panels in New York, Los Angeles, and Oakland—a city that was once the home of protest vis-à-vis the Black Panther movement.

“Traditionally, boycott is one of the ways that you let people know that you are not happy with what they are doing. If they will not listen to your voice, they will listen to your dollars,” says Tara Thompson, a director of Hands Up United (HUU), a collective of activists that fight against racial bias and injustice directed toward black and brown people. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the group was established after the death of Michael Brown. Today, it is also a part of the #NotOneDime coalition that urges its followers to disengage from nonessential purchases from Nov. 26-30.

Thompson feels that voices often go unheard—because of capitalism—and that the judicious use of money is a powerful way to demand justice. “You can talk with your money without ever opening your mouth,” says Thompson. Last year’s 11 percent drop in sales during Black Friday weekend, indeed, made a statement, Thompson says. This weekend, the group hopes to create and more sizable dent—meeting or exceeding the previous percentage point.

There are direct and indirect effects of economic boycott.

Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy and director of the Milano doctoral program at The New School says, that in order to effectively stage an economic boycott, one needs discipline, the power of widespread appeal, and economic might, and a large enough consumption base where the actual loss can be significant. But the true effectiveness of an economic boycott breaks down to direct effects and indirect effects.

“The direct effects are basically through discipline, and having a large enough base by which the assets of your commerce can affect the company’s bottom line of sales. But, indirectly, you can be effective by affecting their reputation of a company, which will ultimately lead to a loss of sales, so companies will react to both,” Hamilton says.

So, even if the boycott campaigns cumulatively don’t hit the desired decrease mark, the indirect impact on reputation may indeed be stifling. Hamilton adds that it is significant for people to start to reject the system. “It is fighting against a neo-liberal paradigm where it becomes normalcy for people to engage in activities that are consistent with oppressive continuities.”

Still, with a spending power that is projected to reach 1.3 trillion by 2017, along with protest, Tara Thompson suggests that blacks should build wealth within the community similar to thriving black communities of the early 20th century. She specifically noted, Black Wall Street and Rosewood. “We need to start reimaging what things can and should look like.”

The “Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work” campaign of 1930 was a prototypical black economic protest, and one of the most famous efforts of the nature. Davarian L. Baldwin, history professor at Trinity College, says that the protest’s objective was “to counteract the overwhelming absence of black workers in retail stores, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.” And through campaigning and protest, it ultimately won about 2,000 jobs.

Baldwin also cites the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1960s and the “Black Dollars” initiative of the 1980s as protests that wielded black economic power, amongst others. “I think that in all of these campaigns, what’s most effective is that they were rooted in a very particular community, they had a clear point of attack, they understood the power and the leverage that they held through the boycott, and it was tied to a particular ends.”

Although the impending Black Friday boycotts are national, Baldwin says they face a particular set of challenges. To overcome potential hurdles to achieve the desired outcome, Baldwin says, “they have to be, number one, selective, but also focused with a clear point of leverage.”

Still, Baldwin believes that today’s campaigns of protest are extremely vital.

“These campaigns have left our sense of the ‘everyday’ to say that, literally, another world is possible. And that we don’t have to live under these conditions.” Baldwin says.

He adds: “These campaigns are making linkages that are showing that there is a historical, and social relationship between certain institutions of oppression, and the conditions of our oppression, and so therefore, by boycotting, by targeting these institutions, we can show that these relations can be severed, they can be transformed, they can be changed for the better.”