The power and irony of Wal-mart’s relationship with Black folk

For better or for worse, Wal-Mart is making big moves in the Black community. For starters, “Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group of community leaders from across the country, was set to announce Monday that Andrew Young will be the chairman of its 16 member steering committee formed in December to counter charges from two union-backed groups that are pressuring Wal-Mart to improve wages and benefits.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized how noticeably absent Black folk have been with respect to debating Wal-Mart’s corporate policies.

We may have been silent because we are all clamoring over the Covenant with Black America that was announced at the State of the Black Union hosted by Tavis Smiley. And I love Tavis Smiley and whenever I turn on the Tom Joyner show, I look forward to hearing his commentary. And when Tavis finishes, Tom Joyner informs us that Tavis’ commentary was sponsored by Wal-Mart. Now if the allegations against Wal-Mart are true that they drive out local businesses, are hostile to their employees in terms of not providing adequate living wages or healthcare, then what does that imply about the potency of Tavis Smiley’s commentaries, given the fact they focus on Black empowerment? And does this say anything about the Covenant with Black America?

And As I stated in the introduction, Andrew Young is spearheading a pro-Wal-Mart group that is at odds with two union-backed groups. I readily admit that sometimes unions can cause more harm than good but that is beside the point for now. The article pointed out that “Young, himself a former union organizer, said he decided to get involved because he believed much of the criticism levied at Wal-Mart by unions was one-sided and wrong.” In Young’s own words he said “The union position is talking about the redistribution of wealth, but they’re not talking about generating new wealth. Wal-Mart is generating new wealth when it comes in.”

For the purposes of this post, I am less concerned with the logic of Andrew Young’s defense of Wal-Mart, but what are the implications of Young being a “public face for the group, giving interviews and publishing opinion articles defending the company.” Now don’t get me wrong, Andrew Young is a bad boy. He is an ordained minister, former US congressman, ambassador to the UN, former mayor of Atlanta, and even helped draft the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1970. And his work as a Civil Rights Activist is fierce. Young was a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, and was with him the day he was assassinated. In 1964, Young was named executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And I could go on and on, but where are we as a people when a civil rights leader with that much clout puts his reputation on the line for Wal-Mart? Is this just a case where businesses need civil rights protection too, or is it a case of selling the richness of our legacy to the highest bidder?

And what do you think Young’s activities will have on Black people’s perception of Wal-Mart? Because not only are Old School Civil Rights leaders (Young) sticking up for Wal-Mart, but New School Civil Rights leaders (Smiley) are as well.

Somebody talk to me,

Stay up fam,



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2 responses to “The power and irony of Wal-mart’s relationship with Black folk”

  1. D. Betts says :

    Now, I’m not really a fan of Wal Mart in general–I happen to be one of the people who believes that Wal Mart destroys local enconomies and stuff like that. That being said I do feel like this is selling the richess of our legacy to the highest bidder. It just makes sense that Tom Joyner’s nationally syndicated radio show would have a large sponsor with a national presence. Why Wal Mart instead of Coke or Pepsi? Probably because Wal Mart is giving the best deal.

    I feel like this will be great P.R. for Wal Mart, which is exactly what they are hoping to get. People who always shop at Wal Mart will continue to go there. Cynical people like me will continue to not shop there regardless of diversity issues because we are under the impression that Wal Mart has the ability to destroy the vitality of a town. And a few people on the fence will probably have a better opinion of the place just because of this support. And Wal Mart can only hope to gain a few people on the fence, so this is good for them.

  2. Brandon Q. says :

    Thanks for the post Dave. But why don’t you think more Black folk don’t debate the merits of Wal-Mart’s presence in the Black Community, in particular as it relates to Wal-Mart’s close ties to our “Black” leaders?

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