The stuff hit the fan last week when South Carolina National Action Network Director Elder James Johnson responded to the video recorded assault of an accused shoplifter by two store operators of Middle Eastern descent. Johnson said in a press conference “Arabs” should go back to their country. Rev. Nelson Rivers, NAN’s national vice president of Religious Affairs and External Relations called a subsequent press conference to clarify Johnson’s comments. While Johnson’s comments may have been inflammatory, his challenge to the economic exploitation and disrespect some merchants perpetrate upon black communities has merit, Rivers said.
Immigrant merchants make millions of dollars in Black communities and put nothing back, Johnson said last weekend in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “We’ve got to stop supporting merchants who don’t support us,” he said.
Rivers said it is the responsibility of civil rights organizations – National Action Network, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and others – in addition to churches, fraternal groups, sisterhoods and Black owned business entities to develop the strategies that insure Black communities do not continue to be victims of economic exploitation.
Beyond the discriminatory rhetoric of emotion, Rivers said it has become acceptable to allow others who are not members of predominantly Black neighborhoods to set up businesses within them while those businesses totally avoid hiring the residents they draw wealth from or reinvesting in their communities. “Should our concern be who’s doing it, or what’s being done?” he challenged.
Much of the exploitation exists because residents have no choice. Absent an organized strategy of mutual support initiated by leaders in their neighborhoods, disadvantaged communities are at the mercy of unscrupulous merchants be they convenience store owners or the hospitality industry, Rivers said. And without an organized strategy initiated by leaders in those neighborhoods, any protests won’t last longer than the emotions, he added.
Making demands without the ability to impose consequences is just making noise, he said. Various entities in the Black community must come together in a show of strength because the proliferation of immigrant merchants serving predominantly Black consumers is not limited to any specific geographic area, Rivers said. He proposes a structure that exchanges patronage for respect, employment and reinvestment.
“We can’t just wake up one morning and say we’re going to boycott. So we’re hoping to organize a cooperative. Agitation without organization is just noise. To be effective, we must organize,” Rivers said.