As many commentators have pointed out, in refusing to stand for the American national anthem and “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” NLF back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick has joined a tradition of black athletes who have used their fame to promote civil rights. But his actions have also provided his fans and supporters with an opportunity to engage in another storied American political tradition—consumer activism.
Consumer activism has deep roots in American history, stretching back to the boycotts of “baubles from Britain” in the lead-up to the American Revolution. Black civil rights activists have long spent (or refused to spend) their dollars in the service of their cause. Consumer activism was central, for example, to many of the key battles of the Civil Rights Era, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the lunch-counter sit-ins. More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted shopping on Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year in the US—to draw attention to police killings of African Americans.
The news that Kaepernick’s jersey is now the top seller in the NFL suggests a spontaneous, grassroots move by consumers to use their “purchasing power for justice” (to paraphrase the slogan of the League of Women’s Shoppers, an influential consumer organization of the 1930s and 1940s). The “buycott” of Kaepernick’s jersey has the support of some celebrities like Susan Sarandon (who recently tweeted that she was waiting for hers to arrive) but the spontaneous nature of the protest is striking. Continue reading