A Direct Response to Critics, by John Hope Bryant
It always amuses me to see and hear people criticize other leaders. Particularly when they are not doing much to solve the problem themselves. Well, “I like what Andrew Young is doing much better than what other people are not doing.”
Furthermore, Andrew Young is saying something else even more powerful to 21st Century black and brown America, “that we must start figuring out what we are for, and not just what we are against.” Figuring out what we are for and then doing something about is a much tougher thing to do, and accomplish, than simply complaining.
Dr. King wasn’t just marching and complaining, he had figured out what he was for, and was using this as a tool to get folks of power to the table of negotiation, because he knew that there has been more progress in the world through evolution than revolution. After a great deal of dialogue and discussion and mutual understanding, Nelson Mandela ultimately partnered with his oppressor in South Africa, literally, empowering them even to “co-manage” the affairs of State together. By offering his oppressor dignity, he gained dignity for himself and oppressed black South Africans themselves. The same people that oppressed him, he let impress him.
Most recently a range of leaders have come out strongly critical of my hero and living legend Ambassador Andrew Young in a joint letter. Fine, criticism comes with the territory of leadership. But don’t the critics of Andrew Young actually have the wrong target in their sights here? I mean, let’s look at the facts:
* There are more than 1.3 million employees of Wal-Mart in America alone, and more than 250,000 of them are black folks (making Wal-Mart the largest employer of Black folk in the country), and every time they open a store and advertise 800 jobs 4,000 applicants show up. Hello. This is not China or North Korea, this is America. You have the absolute right to not apply for that job if you feel it oppressive. I suggest the authors of this letter go and criticize these workers' decision to work at Wal-Mart as “unwise and untimely,” and see how far that gets them.
* Or better yet, there are more than 130 million poor and working class Americans (equivalent to the entire population of Japan), many of them union workers I might add, who effectively “vote with their feet” every week shopping at their local Wal-Mart. This is more folks than voted in our last Presidential election, from both parties, and these folks only show up once every four years. Wal-Mart customers show up weekly! Once again, I suggest that the authors of this letter go and publicly criticize – no picket – the decisions of more than 130 million customers of Wal-Mart as “unwise and untimely,” and see how far that gets them. My guess is they will very quickly find themselves picketing the very members of their own respective church congregation. That would go over well.
* And higher wages, which by the way I am all for, are not the only way to help poor people. You make more money one of two ways, “making more, or spending less.” Wal-Mart may not be willing in the short term to pay their workers more, but there sure can be a case made that they have succeeded in making poor people pay or spend less! The trade off here between wages and lower prices mean that poor and working class people actually get to live like they are middle class, at a working class cost. That’s nothing to brush off. Fair exchange is no robbery.
* And many of the so-called neighborhood small businesses that Wal-Mart is supposedly “putting out of business” in low-wealth neighborhoods are precisely the folks who have been overcharging my family and others for decades. So I say no, don’t give me a smile while you have your hand in my pocket, give me good service and lower prices, thank you very much. Given an informed choice, watch how folks vote with their feet. 130 million of them do it every week at Wal-Mart already.
* Or let’s look at the McDonald’s model. While many intelligent young men and women find a promising management career in the McDonald’s franchise, for the majority of its workers it is a job at a certain period and time in their lives, period. For most it is not designed to be a career choice, and the pay and benefits reflect this fact. In fact, wages on average at McDonald's are significantly lower than Wal-Mart’s, and Wal-Mart wages on average beat out wages paid by their peer group; Target Stores and Kroegers Grocery Stores amongst them. Shouldn’t these critics go picket them instead?
* As we say at Operation HOPE in our work teaching more than 175,000 low-wealth youth nationwide financial literacy through our Banking on Our Future program, “it’s not about making more money, but making better decisions with the money you make.” Part of the problem with poor people, are the decisions of and by poor people, not the decisions of Wal-Mart or any other corporation.
* Is Wal-Mart a greedy American corporation? Respectfully stated, of course they are. And I want to own some shares, by the way. That is what capitalism is all about. We just need to find a way to tame it, not kill it. What nutcase believes there will be any good done by driving Wal-Mart out of business? Try that as a strategy.
And given that most of the critics are in fact backed by anti-Wal-Mart, union funded groups, one has to also ask if there is another agenda here. Or is this whole thing actually about the poor, after all? Or does this come down to labor unions last stand to unionize Wal-Mart or else? Does the interest of moving 250,000 black folk, working at Wal-Mart, from the working class to solid middle-class, somehow trump the interest of 130 million poor and hard working folk who benefit from lower-prices, in part because those 250,000 workers currently earn a respectable but lower than solid middle class wage?
Well, I know what Andrew Young would say, and I am with him: God is my boss, and poor people are my clients. And so, if you don’t have a message from God, or a program to help poor people, please go talk to someone else. I am not the one.
I am with Andrew Young. You should be too.
Onward, with HOPE
John Hope Bryant
P.S. For those interested in reading The Debate About Andrew Young, Part I, click here.