By Rev. Al Sharpton
Last time I checked, we aren’t forced to sit in the back of the bus, and we aren’t drinking from separate water fountains. So why in the world would we, the Black community and other minorities, tolerate such blatant disrespect as what corporate America has shown us? As the recently reported incidents of profiling, interrogation and detainment of customers at Barneys and Macy’s have showcased, large entities from the private sector not only blatantly discriminate against us, they also establish a practice of criminalizing entire groups of people. But it even goes a step further: they insult us over and over again by systematically failing to do business with us. Companies are quick to take our dollars, but slow or non-existent to invest in our business ventures, in our ideas and in our communities. It’s time for a drastic change, and as the old adage goes, money talks.
Two years ago, Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association released a report on the state of the African American consumer. Among the findings, that study indicated that by 2015, the Black buying power is projected to reach $1.1 trillion. That’s a lot of dollars. Where and how we spend those dollars will depend on who learns to recognize and value that power. From this day forth, we can no longer continue to fund companies that dehumanize us and refuse to alter their practices all around. From the lawyers to the sub-contractors, corporations must diversify who they hire and who they include in their business dealings. From the shopping floor to the boardroom, racial profiling and racial exclusion must end. And we will hold all those accountable that fail to rectify their ways.
In the late 1990s, my organization, National Action Network (NAN) and I worked with the late Johnnie Cochran to bring attention to the troubling case of four young Black and Latino men who were pulled over by the NJ State Police and subsequently found themselves in a hail of bullets. Three of the four were wounded, and in the process of securing justice for the individuals, we engaged in an overall battle to reform the practices of the NJ State Police. Because of our efforts, the term racial profiling gained national attention as many departments began looking into their own methods of policing and patrolling. Back then, and in the years that followed, I have continuously fought against strategic methods of racial profiling. But what we must now deal with in 2013 is corporate profiling. The biased practices of businesses must be called out and we must transform the way they treat, hire and interact with us.
Whether it’s Wilshire Blvd. in LA, the malls of Atlanta, Macy’s and Barneys flagship stores in NY, or the executive suites of Madison Ave., the private sector cannot continue to view our buying power as an insignificant factor. There must be mutual respect. Not only are people of color dealing with ‘stop-and-frisk’ or driving-while-Black, but we are also dealing with ‘shop-and-frisk’ and corporate exclusion. It’s outrageous enough when we must fear walking down the street in our own neighborhoods, but now we must also look over our shoulders when buying those Christmas presents. I don’t think so.
Unless places like Macy’s and Barneys learn to treat us with the dignity we deserve, we should not blindly support them. And until corporate America does business with us, how can we continue to do business with them?
Change doesn’t happen overnight; it never has and it never will. But it only starts to take place when people identify the obstacles and organize methods of finding solutions. No one should ever experience the humiliation of being interrogated, berated, thrown in a cell for hours and treated like a criminal for simply making a legitimate purchase as 19-year-old Trayon Christian says he was at Barneys NY. And no one should ever be placed in handcuffs, paraded around Macy’s Herald Square and placed in a holding cell as actor Rob Brown states he was. It’s inexcusable. There’s no place for such blatant bias in society. And there’s no reason why so many corporations fail to award contracts to minorities.
We need mutual appreciation. And until we find some, you can bet that we will be speaking through the power of our voices, our actions — and our dollars.