Why Boycotting Is A Failed Strategy – And What The Black Community Should Be Doing Instead

Why Boycotting Is A Failed Strategy - And What The Black Community Should Be Doing Instead
Protesters during an anti police violence march on Saturday Dec 13th in Manhattan, NY.


In most parts of America, racism is a way of life. African-Americans in Louisville, Kentucky – and everywhere else for that matter – have been marginalized, preyed upon politically and economically, and isolated from the rest of the city.

One of the best examples of isolation, marginalization, and disempowerment in the city of Louisville, Kentucky.

During the recent All Black National Convention and the ADOS Conference in 2019, the city hosted Black Americans who witnessed first hand how the Black residents of Louisville lived.

Even before the Great Recession of 2008, the city’s West Louisville community was considered one of the most economically depressed urban neighborhoods in the nation.

Many African-Americans within the city live behind an invisible boundary – nicknamed the 9th Street Wall – that divides the city along racial lines.

On the white side of the wall, there is commerce, new growth and development, and amenities. At the center of Downtown is 4th Street Live, a commercial powerhouse of bars, restaurants, recording and broadcast studios, and a growing number of high-tech companies.

Why Boycotting Is A Failed Strategy - And What The Black Community Should Be Doing Instead

But the Black side of the wall, there is the “West End”. Since the days of the Civil Rights movement, the West End has been predominantly Black. After the Louisville Riots of 1968, most white business owners either left the West End or were forced out by Black residents. That riot would shape the image of the West End in the minds of white Kentuckians as a dangerous place to invest.

The local media began to portray the area as Black, crime ridden, and hopeless.

With no productive businesses of their own, failing schools, and a city that was uninterested and unwilling to aid the West End, the area did indeed become crime ridden. Disease, childhood pregnancy, drug use, and disinvestment skyrocketed followed by a mass exodus to the suburbs of any Black and upwardly mobile talent.

As of today, there are still few viable and respectable businesses in the West End. The area is a food desert, filled with fast food chains and liquor stores. Those residents of the West End who want to dine out or throw events in decent settings must venture to the Eastern, white-owned parts of the city.

That means residents of the West End are forced to do business with white owners who hold prejudice against Black patrons.

What Happened To Andre Mulligan

In 2012, Andre Mulligan – an African American – decided to host an event at a well-known downtown establishment called the Maker’s Mark Lounge. After signing a contract and being given the OK to host the event, the establishment illegally broke Will Green’s contract, and called the police on attendees.

Why Boycotting Is A Failed Strategy - And What The Black Community Should Be Doing Instead
Shown Above: Fourth Street Live Corridor in Louisville Kentucky

Here is how one attendee describes what happened:

“An small situation happens with the staff and guest and I look up and it’s 9 Police Officers at the door After the situation has been resolved. The officer ask people ( Black ) to leave, I see that it seems weird so I start filming. They tell me it’s no pictures on 4th St live. I continue to film, no the situation is forgot about by the Police totally.

Now they wanna know why I’m here. I tell them numerous amounts of times I’m Hosting the Event, the Makers Mark staff says nothing and none of them come to my defense. I am now asked to leave because I am not Trespassing. I continue to film and I say but I am having the party.

The officer says and I quote ” I know but they don’t wan you here “. I am escorted off of 4th Street Live then Asked for my ID for evidence. I give the officer my ID while surrounded by 6 Police. They kept my ID for what seems like and hour, just checking for warrants and what not. After seeing that I have none I was let go.”

Shortly thereafter, many African-Americans in the city began circulating a petition to boycott Makers Mark:

“Since they want to continue their blatant racial discrimination, it’s time hit them where it hurts! No equal treatment of all patrons = no business! This petition was started due to the incident that occurred on August 18, 2012 … as well as a way for those other individuals who have also experienced racial discrimination while patronizing this business to tell their story.”

A lawsuit followed where Andre Mulligan alleges that the Maker’s Mark Lounge “officials” asked him about the “‘ratio’ of ‘black people’ to ‘white people’ at the planned party during a meeting, the lawsuit said.

When Mulligan responded that all of the attendees would be African-American, the lounge’s staff told him the party could not go forward, the lawsuit claims.

Mulligan and others showed up on Aug. 18 — the day of the event — anyway and were denied service, the lawsuit claims. Cordish security staff then allegedly told Mulligan he was trespassing while white patrons were entering the lounge “without incident.” – Source

‘We Have Nowhere Else To Go’

In the case above, the boycott gained some media attention and traction. HOWEVER, after a few weeks, those same boycotters slowly begin to trickle right back into those establishments, only to continue to receive hateful, racist, bigoted, disrespectful treatment.

Rather than doing good for those who were offended against, or doing harm to the offender, nothing was gained over the long term. The behavior of the business owners and establishments dont change. The disrespect is continues. The Black dollar is spent supporting those who don’t want our business to begin with.

Why? Because we have nowhere else to go.

The reason Black patrons are forced to return to places like Fourth Street Live is because there are no alternatives in the West End. There are no classy, comfortable establishments that treat patrons with respect and dignity in the West End.

There are few amenities, uncertainty about ones safety after hours, and little economic investment on the part of residents, aside from the random Barbershop, Arab-owned corner store, and daycare center.

A More Effective Alternative to Boycotting

The tactics that we used in the past will no longer work in the future. If we want serious change, we cant beg for it - we must build for it.

Boycotting gained popularity as a means of social change during the Civil Rights era, and today, we continue to try to use these half-effective tactics. Boycotting is effective in the short term. It raises awareness and damages the business owners that deny African-American patrons decency and respect in the short-term.

You may not live in Louisville, but there is a very important lesson that you should learn from what has happened there: Boycotting is not effective if you have nowhere else to go. 

We can rant, rave, petition, protest, and demand that white establishments treat us with equality until the end of time.

Or, we can come together, pool our money and resources, build our own lounges, manage our own affairs within our neighborhoods, and provide our people with Black-owned alternative economies.

Its easy to sign a petition. Its easy to voice your displeasure. Its easy to complain about problems. Its easy to protest. Its hard to build solutions. Its hard to protect your own. Its hard to actually create solutions.

We dont need more complainers and protesters. We need more builders and protectors. The tactics that we used in the past will no longer work in the future. If we want serious change, we cant beg for it – we must build for it.

Stop boycotting businesses and start building them.

Have you ever been discriminated against by a white business? Have you ever been involved in a protest or boycott? Did it change anything? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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