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celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday,
Wal-Mart saturated black-themed TV shows on cable and network
stations with a torrent of ads. In the ads smiling, cheerful
black shoppers praised Wal-Mart for selling top quality goods
at bargain basement prices, and for being a leader in revitalizing
shamefully underserved, black communities. Wal-Mart also sent
promotional mailers out to thousands of homes touting itself
as a corporate urban savior. It has bankrolled a popular black
TV talk show, and hired a troop of black “community outreach
critics call this a cynical, and transparent effort to paint
itself as a corporate
good guy to blacks in the months before the landmark April 6
special election in Inglewood, California. Though blacks and
Latinos make up the majority of Inglewood residents, blacks make
up the majority of the city’s voters. The ballot initiative would
virtually waive environmental and land use restrictions for Wal-Mart
to enable it to put up its first super-center in a major urban
Wal-Mart’s PR blitz
is not aimed solely at getting local blacks to vote in favor
of the initiative. The PR blitz is part of a well-greased, on-going
national PR and ad campaign by Wal-Mart to make dependable allies
of black consumers and leaders. It needs them now more than ever.
In the past year, Wal-Mart has been relentlessly hammered for
its union busting tactics, and stung by adverse court rulings
for unfair labor practices, and environmental pillaging. Countless
newspaper editorials have accused it of torpedoing local businesses.
Local officials have passed ordinances blocking the construction
of super-center stores, or forcing it to scale back its operations.
the NAACP and black organizations and leaders have maintained
a deafening silence,
or have leapt to Wal-Mart’s defense. They echo the company’s
stock line that it is the corporate white knight for impoverished
black communities. Wal-Mart has spent lavishly to buy their goodwill.
press releases, Wal-Mart boasts that it is not only the biggest
in America; it is also the largest private employer of African-Americans.
It employs nearly 150,000 blacks. Wal-Mart has ladled out millions
for scholarships to teacher groups, the United Negro College
Fund, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, and the 100 Black
Men. A top official at the Fund publicly praised Wal-Mart for
its contribution to black education. In 2002, it received the
Ron Brown Presidential Award, named after President Clinton’s
Secretary of Commerce, for its community corporate leadership.
Wal-Mart boasts that it has raised and contributed $200 million
to local community groups.
2000, Wal-Mart began heavily courting the NAACP. It doled out
$300,000 to the NAACP.
Much of that money went for a youth business-training program,
and thousands of dollars more to local NAACP chapters. The NAACP
rewarded Wal-Mart with its Pacesetter award for its support of
the NAACP’s activities. In 2003, Wal-Mart shelled out $150,000
to the NAACP at its annual conference in Miami Beach. In an unwitting
but revealing glimpse at how Wal-Mart buys goodwill, a corporate
spokesperson noted that the donation was a rare contribution
to a single group from a company that prefers to give money in
the towns and cities where its stores are located. In an equally
revealing statement, an NAACP official called Wal-Mart a friend
and a corporation that shares its vision. The Wal-Mart largesse
paid prompt dividends. In its industry report card on retailers,
the NAACP flunked the top retailers for their lack of minority
hiring and community investment. Wal-Mart didn’t flunk. It got
the NAACP’s top grade.
has also laid claim to Black History Month. In 2002, it pumped
out a splashy
keepsake book that featured a mix of recipes, pictures, and biographies
of top African leaders. The books were handed out as freebies
at Wal-Mart’s 2,700 stores. This year, Wal-Mart distributed a
family tree poster, a make your own history resource guide, and
a collection of inspiring stories from well-known blacks. Wal-Mart
offered links to research and genealogy sites on its official
website to enable blacks to trace and build their family tree.
In its black ad saturation
campaign, Wal-Mart exploited the gaping, and shameful corporate
void in advertising to black consumers. Through racial fears
and minority market ignorance, many corporate advertisers continue
to grossly neglect them. In a survey in September 2003, American
Demographics found that advertisers still spend only a paltry
amount on minority advertising. The minority ad spending blind
spot is especially glaring with black women. Single women who
make the bulk of buying decisions in African-American communities
head nearly half of black households.
ads are designed to appeal to black female buyers.
Wal-Mart wins the April 6 election or not, it has shown that
it will use its
money, ad muscle and PR skill to woo, court, and buy the silence,
or support of black leaders and sell the message that it is the
best corporate friend that blacks have. It’s money well spent.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion
website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He
is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage