By James Clingman
The protest slogans addressing our latest struggle for justice and equity compel me to come up with a new phrase. The signs and T-Shirts emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe!” “No Justice, No Peace!” and the latest, “Black Lives Matter,” carry connotations related to action. I often wonder what the folks who wear the T-shirts and hold the signs are doing to back up the slogans they spout. More importantly, I wonder who makes the shirts and who sells them. With that in mind, my slogan for action – economic action is, “Black Dollars Matter!”
The “I Can’t Breathe” shirts worn by the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance, were sold by NYC Customs, a shop in Long Island, owned by Helen Mihalatos, a friend of Rameen Aminzadeh, member of Justice League of NYC. The initial gesture and resulting “hook-up” came from Nets team member, Jarrett Jack, followed by help from LeBron James and Russell Simmons’ political director, Michael Skolnick. The shirts were ordered by Jay-Z, who bought 1,000 more shirts after the basketball game.
I truly hope those “Big Ballers” and “Shot Callers” had enough consciousness to give the profits to Eric Garner’s family. The Washington Post reported that “Skolnick obtained shirts from a store in Long Island City, whose owner confirmed in an interview that the shirts were manufactured by Gildan, a large Canada-based apparel company…According to pro-labor activists, Gildan has a poor record when it comes to respecting workers in its manufacturing plants in Haiti.” The story discloses that Gildan’s workers are paid $6 per day for their work. Skolnick’s response was, “I think we want to assume sometimes when we’re ordering shirts that they’re not being made in a sweatshop; we’ve got to do better.” You think?
Now you would think that someone in this chain of events involving T-shirts that carry the last words of a Black man killed on the streets of New York City by police officers would be conscious enough to say, “Hold up! Let’s not just go for the symbolism of wearing shirts on the basketball court; let’s make a substantive statement as well, via a Black business transaction and a financial benefit for the Garner family.” Sound reasonable?
Instead we now have “I Can’t Breathe” shirts sold on Amazon and elsewhere as if they are some kind of novelty rather than a sincere, compassionate, and meaningful response to the homicidal death of Eric Garner, the originator of the “I can’t breathe” phrase. We saw him take his last breath; he was the one who couldn’t breathe for real. The above travesty reminds me of an article I wrote after Trayvon Martin was killed , titled, “The Profit of Protest.”
In light of the hype of “I Can’t Breathe” and now the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” the slogan we should emblazon on shirts, and instill in our brains, the one by which we should live and the one that, if inculcated into our daily lives, will move us from the rhetoric of freedom to the action of freedom is, “Black Dollars Matter!”
Despite the wasteful and nonsensical spending by Black folks, from the poorest to the super-rich flamboyant celebrities, we must all realize that “Black Dollars Matter” and they should matter to us first. Right now, they matter most to everyone else; and other folks are doing everything they can to get more of our dollars with no reciprocity other than symbolic gestures that make us feel good.
It’s great for athletes to wear shirts with slogans, but they should move to the next step of starting initiatives that not only sustain their gestures but build economic empowerment for Black people. Our athletes and celebrities, as they protest inequities and injustice, should keep in mind that “Black Dollars Matter,” and they should consider that as they come up with their solutions to effect real change within the systems against which they protest – and so should we.
After the chanting, the marching, the protests and demonstrations, the outrage, the threats, and the unjustified killings of our people with impunity, if all we do is sit back and wait on the next crisis, why should we even bother with the above actions in the first place? We must be smarter and we must be conscious. We must always be aware that money runs this country and it has its place in everything, yes, even in the deaths of our people.
Indeed, Black lives matter above all; but to those who kill us, those who economically exploit us, and those who are indifferent toward us, Black lives don’t matter as much as Black dollars do. Start a “Black Dollars Matter” campaign. Make some shirts displaying that attention-grabbing slogan, and act upon it. “Black Dollars Matter,” but only if they start making more sense.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, Blackonomics.com.