Racial uplift plans began prior to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Most certainly since the slave era ended in 1865, African-Americans have attempted innumerable plans to improve the community by addressing its financial shortcomings. A diverse group of leaders from Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, T. Thomas Fortune, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King Jr., Madame C.J. Walker, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan, have all advanced slightly different formulas that promised to lift African-Americans out of the economic chains that have held them so firmly.
Generally speaking, the vast majority of these programs are relatively simple in that they call for the rise of a Black entrepreneur class that creates businesses to serve the needs of the African-American community. The rather simple formula calls for the African-American community to support these businesses with an unbreakable loyalty. According to most Black Nationalists, the circulating of the dollar within the African-American community is the only reasonable means of economic improvement. Such thinkers are most certainly motivated by Malcolm X’s famous quote of, “You run down your own community when you give your dollar away.”
Often ignored in such economic formulas is a final step that calls for Black businessmen to honor the African-American community’s unending loyalty by re-investing their monies in new businesses, philanthropic endeavors, depositing their money in Black banks who will then issue loans to aspiring business owners, and the hiring of community members. Failure to do such destroys the entire racial uplift campaign as it is doing little more than enriching individuals whose wealth is not ‘trickling down’ to the masses that it was built upon. One of the greatest examples of such is the basketball icon Michael Jordan.
Although one can have a robust argument regarding who is the greatest basketball player of all-time. Innumerable names appear in that discussion: Oscar “the Big O” Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Julius “Dr. J” Irving, Larry Bird, Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and the list goes on and on. However, there is one arena that is indisputable in regards to the aforementioned basketball legends, that being, who has been the most financially successful player away from the court. Michael Jordan, a six-time NBA Champion, stands without peer in regards to off the court financial success. Jordan’s unprecedented off the court financial success is attributable to the sneaker empire he has built with the aid of Nike.
I am certain that there are many who believe that Ervin “Magic” Johnson rivals Jordan in post-athletic career earnings, those people are wrong. According to Nike Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker, the Jordan “Jumpman” brand “…transcend(s) sport and culture across gender, age and geographies…(opening up a) world of opportunity…”
Jordan has been able to accomplish something that seems impossible by increasing endorsement dollars after retirement. In 2004, the year after Jordan retired from the National Basketball Association, the six-time NBA champion earned $28 million dollars in endorsements. Today, the Jordan brand was raking in more than $100 million in endorsements; more dollars than any active NBA player. In fact, one could combine the endorsement dollars of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and still not equal Michael Jordan’s total.
According to the initial theory of racial uplift, the African-American community has proven their loyalty to the Jordan Brand by spending millions, if not billions, of dollars purchasing everything produced with the infamous “Jumpman” logo on it. Unfortunately for the African-American community, Michael Jordan has proven to be a non-factor in racial matters. I am reminded of Jordan’s stance of neutrality when asked which political party he belonged to; Jordan slyly declined to answer the question before quipping, “Republicans buy shoes to.” There is no doubt that Michael Jordan is neither a Civil Rights activist nor interested in practicing socially responsible individualism. He is quite simply a Capitalist interested in earning as much money as humanly possible.
I think that there is much to be learned from Jordan’s refusal to aid in the uplift of his people despite their loyalty to the Jordan Brand. Quite possibly the largest lesson to be gleaned is the harsh reality that current ‘buy Black’ economic programs are going to be woefully insufficient if Black business owners are absent a commitment to uplift the race that matches those who are religiously supporting them. Unless Black businessmen have a developed sense of loyalty to the race, ‘buy Black’ campaigns will never improve the economic status of the community one iota, it will simply lead to the financial prosperity of a class of Capitalists who have no desire to aid others.
James Thomas Jones III, Ph. D.
©Manhood, Race, and Culture