Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth… Boycotting Essence and supporting Home Fest

24th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

I had not planned to come to New Orleans during the Essence Fest, but I definitely plan to be there now. You could say that Essence “last-strawed” me.

In a nutshell, Essence has evicted, booted, put out the only Black-owned bookstore to make more room for retail giant Wal-Mart and a local white book store. The Black-owned Community Book Center is practicing Self-Deter­mination by hosting its own Home Fest during the same time as Essence, so I’ll be making a special trip; hope you will too.

The Essence Fest is reportedly the largest gathering of its type for Black people…and it’s totally owned by Time, Inc., which means that even when you buy from the over-charged Black vendors, most of that money still goes out of our own community. That should bother you. Your Essence dollars will go to support one of the three wealthiest media conglomerates on earth and their oppressive buddies.

Content-wise the magazine has gone through several editors, the last of which, Constance White said that she was not allowed to put articles about Black art, culture and other themes in the magazine her white boss wanted to limit the scope of the magazine, finally firing her because of their clashes. The magazine has been in decline since the takeover, most believe because it has changed direction and lost its soul.

To be honest, I started my personal boycott not long after Essence stopped being a Black-owned entity. The bleaching began in 2000 when Time, Inc. purchased 49 percent of Essence. This resulted in the firing of Editor Susan Taylor. Then in 2005 Time purchased the remainder of the magazine. The year after Essence became a white-owned magazine and fest we noticed the changes. They had a space for 150 local non-profits to recruit to improve the city. When the whites took over they immediately cut the number of non-profit spaces from 150 to 50. Then they started charging $150 to do the tables. The employees and vendors began to complain about the differences that year. The change in direction from community to corporate had begun.

But after a year or two you could tell that the soul and spirit…the essence of Essence had dramatically changed. Yes, they still have the “empowerment seminars,” which feature many popular, profound and entertaining speakers but, to my knowledge, nothing concrete has ever come of these sessions. No program of action, no policy initiatives, just talk. They seem be little more than a form of “conscious” entertainment, a weak justification for the rest of the party. This year, if the “empowerment seminars” don’t address problems with Essence itself then you know they are bogus.

The added insult of bringing Wal-Mart should not be missed. Wal-Mart is known for several things that run contrary to justice, empowerment and general Black interests. Entire documentaries have been produced regarding its unethical and sometimes deadly practices. First, Wal-Mart has been accused by credible sources of using child and adult slave labor to sell you goods at a cheap price. People work in horrendous, unsafe conditions for little money to make what you wear. Second, Wal-Mart abuses its employees here in the U.S. Most of its workers get paid low enough wages to qualify for food stamps and other public assistance. Not cool for a company that makes about a million per minute. Third Wal-Mart is known for forcing smaller businesses to close with pricing and other schemes designed to make competition impossible. And since they sell everything, every business around them is in jeopardy.

What’s obscene is this multi-national giant, seeing Black folks making a small amount of money and saying “I want that, too.” What Wal-Mart will make in three days at Essence Fest is less than it makes in a couple of hours, world wide. It’s not about money, it’s about dominion. This is what should be exposed and resisted.

I realize that boycotting Es­sence amounts to swimming upstream. First, it’s a party, and most of our people would not care if the party were being thrown by the KKK, as long as the racists provided good tasting food and entertainment. Second, many famous celebrities will be there and will decline to “bite the hand” that is feeding them regardless of how much blood or filth is on that hand. Our people will flock to see those celebrities. However we can’t stop trying to inform and motivate our people. One day we will have the pride and awareness to refuse to participate in anything that does not benefit us.

Community Book Center, owned by a Black woman, had been the sole bookseller for Essence Fest from the beginning. At that time the idea was to do everything possible to strengthen and empower Black owned businesses. Last year Wal-Mart and local white bookstores were allowed in. This year CBC was told that they did not have space for them. When another vendor reportedly dropped out, CBC was still not allowed back in. The local white-owned bookstore had already been approved.

This is the same pattern we have seen with the conquest of our nations, organizations and institutions. We allow others to come in. Then they take over and put us out. It happened with Jazz Fest, which used to be a free gathering of Black artists. At some point we must wise up.

No, I don’t plan to picket the Essence Fest. I try to spend as little of my time and energy as possible telling white businesses and institutions…like Essence and its Fest, what to do with their resources. I do plan to tell everybody I know what is happening and contact all the famous speakers and entertainers that will appear and let them know.

Greedy corporate giants like Es­sence and Wal-Mart get their wealth and power from people like us. It’s our dollars and our support that keep them going. The day we get wise enough to withdraw that support and channel it toward that which we control is the day the world will begin to respect us and treat us differently. But then it won’t really matter, we will have achieved self-respect and self-empowerment…

…And That’s the Hard TRUTH!!!!

This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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