I came across a brilliant post on the Electronic Village blog last week about black spending power. Although written from an American perspective, many of the points made on that post apply also to Black people living in the UK. We have increased spending power, yet our spending is not benefitting or flowing into our own community.
So, although we are seen as more economically ‘powerful’ by brands and those who profit from our spending, in truth that kind of spending (i.e. consumerism) makes us weaker because it diverts essential funds from our collective wealth and is not invested in areas which need it. Black people don’t need more mobile phones, clothes or designer goods. We do need more businesses, more educational funds and more initiatives to build up and support our own.
I looked for some stats on this, and found a paper written by a marketing agency on ‘tapping into the multi-cultural market’. Although it didn’t specifically talk about the spending power of the African-Caribbean community in the UK, it did say: “The need for brands to understand and communicate with ethnic groups in the UK has never been greater, as they represent a growing audience of around five million and it is expected that by 2010, ethnic minority spending power will reach £300bn by 2010“.
That paragraph is important to me because, apart from reinforcing the fact that ethnic minority groups in the UK (which I believe in this paper refer to African Caribbeans, Indian and Chinese groups) have more money to spend, it also clearly shows that the brands are watching us carefully to see just how much of our money they are able to get their grubby little hands on.
I can’t blaim advertising and marketing for people’s spending habits, but I will not be naive enough to deny that there is serious power in their messages. Brands spend a lot of money on understanding people’s psychology and manipulating it through their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately much of this is reinforced by Western society’s deeply ingrained consumerist/materialistic attitudes which both subtly and overtly tells us that we are what we buy.
I believe (maybe controversially) that many black people consume to compensate for an internal feeling of lack. Why would we spend more money on disposable, meaningless yet prestigious (i.e. ones that look good to the outside world) items when our own community, and often even we as individuals, are suffering? If I’m correct and that is our mindset, then we are even more susceptible to those marketing messages.
So whilst I agree with Electronic Village that we need to divert our disposable income to where it is most needed, I also think that we have to tackle our own mindset about spending and consumerism. We need to teach, know and understand what true wealth and prosperity really is. We have to teach, know and understand that consuming is not how we prove our worth or value but that true worth and value comes from investing in ourselves. We must know that for as long as our millions or billions of pounds and dollars are ending up in the hands of big brands who see us only as cash cows, we will continue to be weak. Only when we really get that will we see money flowing back into our own communities, where it really belongs.