Black History Month 2006 ended on a jarring note.
Andrew Young, a former member of Dr. King's inner circle at SCLC,
who went on to serve three terms in Congress, a stint as UN ambassador
and two terms as mayor of Atlanta before cashing out his Freedom
Movement chips for a lucrative career as an international "business
consultant," decisively spat upon the movement for human
rights and economic justice that he spent his early career helping
to build. Young announced
on February 27, 2006 that he would chair Working Families for
Wal-Mart, a media sock-puppet for the ruthless multinational firm.
The cynical misuse of his stature as an icon of the Freedom Movement,
preacher, former elected official, and honored elder in black
America to mask and obscure the crimes of his corporate client
marks Mr. Young as nothing more nor less than a corporate whore.
When Atlanta's WAOK-AM
radio gave Young several minutes of live air time the morning
of the 27th to justify himself to an African American hometown
crowd, the response was overwhelmingly negative. How could he
do this, one caller after another wondered incredulously. Wal-Mart
does more to depress the wages of working people on both sides
of the Pacific than any other single player in the game, listeners
called in to say. Other callers reminded each other that Wal-Mart
relentlessly discriminates against women and minorities, ruthlessly
crushes unions, and dumps its health care costs onto the public
sector while receiving millions in local government subsides and
tax abatements for each of its thousands of US stores. Andy Young
used to walk with Dr. King. He used to be on our side, more than
one observed. Why, they asked, is this happening?
To get at the answer we need to understand what
an international "business consultant" is. Andy Young
with Carlton Masters of Good Works International. Stephen Glass's
1997 New Republic article "The Young and
the Feckless" succinctly spells out what Andy Young's
firm did for its first client, Nike. Public outrage in the US
was building over Nike's outrageous business practices including
child labor and forcing employees to work as many as 65 hours
per week for only $10. Incensed citizens disrupted the opening
of a Nike Town superstore in San Francisco standing in front of
the store chanting, "Just don't do it!"
As depictions of the actual conditions faced by
the real working humans in Nike sweatshops, Andy Young's photos
of contented guitar strumming Nike workers on a porch had about
as much integrity as pictures of harmonica-playing happy-go-lucky
darkies in a 1909 Alabama chain gang or cotton patch. But integrity
is not what international "business consultants" do.
Only weeks behind Andy Young's cotton patch tour
auditors from the accounting firm Ernst & Young visited some
of the same locations, and detailed the unsafe, inhuman and abysmal
conditions. This report,
promptly leaked by a gutsy company insider with a human conscience
flatly contradicted Andy Young's lies.
Still, the Nike job put Andy Young's Good Works
International on the map, and over the next few years lucrative
contracts walked in the door. Young cynically rented his "civil
rights hero" and philanthropist image out to oil and mineral
extracting corporations in Africa, to bankers in the Caribbean
and other interests on the Asian continent to paper over their
In Nigeria, where every sensible person expects
the nation's vast treasure of easily extracted oil to be pumped
dry in a few decades with little or no lasting benefit to the
masses of its people, Good Works International is widely credited
the Nigerian president to thievery, American style. Andy Young
and co-founder Carlton Masters helped engineer the creation of
the first Nigerian Presidential Library, and one or both sit on
its board. Fifty million naira in corporate
donations poured in the first day, with Texaco and Chevron thought
to be among the major contributors. By early this year the library
had netted billions of naira from Nigerian and foreign firms that
do business with government, generated a storm
of controversy over the ethics of such legalized bribery, and
sparked an official investigation by Nigeria's Ethics
and Financial Crimes Commission. And along the way, Good
Works landed the lobbying contract to represent Nigeria in the
US. The motto of Good Works International is after all, to do
good by doing well.
While most callers to the Monday morning Atlanta
radio station excoriated Young's willful treachery, the most interesting
response came from one of the show's co-hosts who spoke in Young's
defense. The man was a civil rights leader, he declared, a former
congressman and mayor. Andy is a philanthropist, he went on to
say, whose good works help set up scholarship funds, endow university
schools of public policy, send kids to summer camp and much, much
more. He knows things we don't. He sees things we don't. It's
time to shut up, to wait and see if the benefits outweigh the
prices. Though Young's defender is dead wrong, his stance reveals
the one asset upon which corporate whores like Andy Young can
and will always trade. That asset is our slavish and uncritical
deference to elected officials, to civil rights icons, to the
clergy, to established authorities. This is what Andy Young's
clients count on, and it's what Young himself counts
As the National
Black Peoples Unity Convention in Gary, Indiana, begins this
March, we are well served to bear this lesson in mind. When is
it time to listen to leaders, to icons, to elected officials?
When is it time to ignore or criticize them, or cast them aside
altogether? How many more times will other Andys and Amoses of
our black business-class leadership betray us in the name of what
they say is economic development? Will Gary make a difference
The Gary convention can make a difference, if we
don’t allow the icons to work their show, for their own benefit.
In that sense, every black event can make a difference, if we
do not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked and bamboozled by whores
like Andrew Young, who have sold us out to the corporate world
- but yet expect us to worship at the altar of their own prosperity.
Show up at Gary. Show out at Gary. Get crazy at
Gary. Let the luminaries know what you think, and don’t allow
any of them to get away with the kind of con game that Andrew
Young has run on us. Demand action, and refuse to provide a pleasant
forum for those who betray us, as Andy has done.
We should never give up on our people. Each venue
is another opportunity to correct ourselves. Let us take up the
challenge. Raw and blatant betrayal cannot be tolerated, and it
is up to us to make it extremely uncomfortable for the betrayers.
They cannot sit among us, much less in elevated positions.
Andrew Young voluntarily surrendered that privilege,
years ago. We must now take it from him. Cast him out of our house.
Let him camp out in Bentonville, Arkansas, with his Wal-Mart benefactors.
For information on the National Black Peoples
Unity Convention, call (301) 627-8436 or send email to [email protected].
Bruce Dixon can be contacted at [email protected].