Using Our Pocketbooks to Persuade

There is a debate among economists regarding the centrality of consumer spending to the U.S. economy. Some say that consumer spending is an enormous driver of GDP.  Others posit that consumer spending is an effect vs. a cause of investment and growth. Regardless, it’s safe to say that the U.S. economy is steeped in spending and has experienced significant shock when dollars stop.  In addition, I think most economists would agree that what consumers do and don’t buy has an even greater impact on local and regional economies.

By 2021, Black women’s spending power will total about $1.5 trillion. That’s right. According to Nielsen, “now more than ever, African-American women’s consumer preferences and brand affinities are resonating across the U.S. mainstream, driving total Black spending power toward a record $1.5 trillion by 2021.”

You get where we’re going…

If consumer spending is critical to making our economy go and if Black women have access to a lot of cash, we must ask ourselves a critical question. How can we advance our own agenda by determining how, where, and when we spend?Click To Tweet

The Montgomery Bus Boycott is a seminal reminder of what happens when Black women and men use our social and ECONOMIC power to advance structural change.

We all know the story of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat and the fight against segregation and white supremacy that ensued.  It’s easier to forget about the thousands of Black folks who participated in this civil rights battle by keeping their bus fare in their pockets and carpooling to work and school.

According to, for over a year, 40,000 thousand Black women, men, and children refused to ride city buses until a federal ruling, referencing an earlier case of discrimination against Claudette Colvin, who had also refused to give up her seat, took effect.  Colvin (shown above) was one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court case which declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.

It is unclear exactly how much money the city and proprietors of Montgomery, Alabama lost due to the boycott.  But, since 75% of Montgomery bus riders were Black, we can assume a lot! 

Economic boycotts are powerful. Backlash via cash can bring a city to its knees.Click To Tweet

More recently, organizations like Color of Change have put economics at the center of our civil rights solutions by urging their nearly one million members to use our buying power to affect change. For example, according to their site, the organization significantly weakened the American Legislative Exchange Council also known as ALEC, a right-wing policy group sponsored by some of the nation’s largest corporations, including Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson.

“More than 100,000 Color Of Change members signed a petition to send a powerful message to these companies: you can’t take Black people’s money by day and try to take away our votes—or fund policies that take away our lives—by night. At the same time, we talked directly with companies funding ALEC to make sure they heard our members’ voices and knew we were prepared to forge a powerful association between their brand and ALEC’s most harmful policies.

When corporations refused to pull their funding, thousands of Color Of Change members flooded their phone lines with calls. We also supported rallies at shareholder meetings and in front of the corporate headquarters of some of the most prominent companies funding ALEC.

In the end, we won, and successfully defined core ALEC policies as being outside the political mainstream. More than 100 corporations and nearly 400 state legislators left ALEC, and the group suffered a $1.2 million budget shortfall by the end of 2013. To control the damage, ALEC disbanded its public safety and elections task force, which was responsible for both the voter ID and “stand your ground” laws. Our campaign dramatically reduced the power of an organization hostile to Black America, and strengthened the power of Black consumers and communities to demand accountability from corporate America.”

[Clapping sound!]

In addition to boycotting bad enterprises and behavior, #BlackHer encourages Black women by “buy Black” at work and home.

Whether you are in the market for clothing or legal counsel, it’s getting easier to find and buy from black proprietors.  For example, check out SpendefyWe Buy Black and Black Freelance and please send us your list of great #BlackHer owned businesses.

It’s clear that we have an opportunity to advance our rights and dignity through many means, including telling our own stories and changing public policy. Let us also remember to use the power of our pocketbooks to persuade.


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