koch brothers

Affecting change with your change

One Family’s Effort to Buy Black for a Year

Paul Solman had a fascinating piece on the PBS Newshour on John and Maggie Anderson, two upper middle class black professionals who live in Chicago and their attempts to support local businesses owned and run by blacks. The short of it is, it was a lot tougher than they expected for a number of fascinating (and depressing) demographic reasons. Watch the piece, it’s well produced and the Anderson’s are articulate and frank in their discussion: they were willing to share the unspoken assumptions of the black middle and upper middle class. Bravo to Paul and his producer/editor to putting that in.

Maggie has written a book about it: Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy.

It’s quite like attempting to make a dent in Koch Industries profits by boycotting Brawny paper towels and Vanity Faire napkins (made by Georgia Pacific which is owned by Koch Industries) and other retail products they make. We particularly like Vanity Faire napkins, they’re excellent products and its been difficult to find a suitable replacement. That sounds rather trivial but it’s not, we’re making a micro attempt to affect change by channelling our dollars away from Koch Industries. The Jane Mayer piece in the New Yorker stuck with me; the Koch brothers are attempting to affect change with their (considerable) money and while I don’t have their money, I can at least choose to channel my retail buying away from them.

My folks would never buy a Ford car because Henry Ford was openly anti-semitic, thought Hitler had a great idea, and attempted to prevent FDR from entering WW II. Even though I’ve never owned any American made car for other reasons, that Ford meme is in the mix to this day when considering a Ford. And while I’m Jewish and that meme would have special meaning for me I know non-Jews who also don’t buy Ford cars because of this. Of course, Henry Ford (the first) is long gone and its not fair to accuse his sons and their public company of being anti-semitic. Keeping the meme alive now is not unlike a cat who jumps on a hot stove once and never jumps on a (cold or otherwise) stove again.

Many in comment streams are calling the Andersons “racists” but that’s an over-simplification of a complex issue. They’re doing a micro experiment to see if they can affect change in their community over time. I don’t think they see “blacks buying only from blacks” as an endgame, they see it as a means to a more integrated end. I applaud them for their efforts.