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Black dollars matter!

James Clingman | 3/9/2015, 6 a.m.
The protest slogans addressing our latest struggle for justice and equity compel me to come up with a new phrase.

— The protest slogans addressing our latest struggle for justice and equity compel me to come up with a new phrase. The signs and T-Shirts emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe!” “No Justice, No Peace!” and the latest, “Black Lives Matter,” carry connotations related to action. I often wonder what the folks who wear the T-shirts and hold the signs are doing to back up the slogans they spout. More importantly, I wonder who makes the shirts and who sells them. With that in mind, my slogan for action— economic action is, “Black Dollars Matter!”

The “I Can’t Breathe” shirts worn by the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance, were sold by NYC Customs, a shop in Long Island, owned by Helen Mihalatos, a friend of Rameen Aminzadeh, member of Justice League of NYC. The initial gesture and resulting “hook-up” came from Nets team member, Jarrett Jack, followed by help from LeBron James and Russell Simmons’ political director, Michael Skolnick. The shirts were ordered by Jay-Z, who bought 1,000 more shirts after the basketball game.

I truly hope those “Big Ballers” and “Shot Callers” had enough consciousness to give the profits to Eric Garner’s family. The Washington Post reported that, “Skolnick obtained shirts from a store in Long Island City, whose owner confirmed in an interview that the shirts were manufactured by Gildan, a large Canada-based apparel company.

According to pro-labor activists, Gildan has a poor record when it comes to respecting workers in its manufacturing plants in Haiti.” The story discloses that Gildan’s workers are paid $6 per day for their work. Skolnick’s response was, “I think we want to assume sometimes when we’re ordering shirts that they’re not being made in a sweatshop; we’ve got to do better.” You think?

Now you would think that someone in this chain of events involving T-shirts that carry the last words of a black man killed on the streets of New York City by police officers would be conscious enough to say, “Hold up! Let’s not just go for the symbolism of wearing shirts on the basketball court; let’s make a substantive statement as well, via a black business transaction and a financial benefit for the Garner family.” Sound reasonable?

Instead we now have “I Can’t Breathe” shirts sold on Amazon and elsewhere as if they are some kind of novelty rather than a sincere, compassionate, and meaningful response to the homicidal death of Eric Garner, the originator of the “I can’t breathe” phrase. We saw him take his last breath; he was the one who couldn’t breathe for real. The above travesty reminds me of an article I wrote after Trayvon Martin was killed , titled, “The Profit of Protest.”

In light of the hype of “I Can’t Breathe” and now the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” the slogan we should emblazon on shirts, and instill in our brains, the one by which we should live and the one that, if inculcated into our daily lives, will move us from the rhetoric of freedom to the action of freedom is, “Black Dollars Matter!”