Why city boycotts are a bad idea

For Quartz, I wrote about calls to boycott Cleveland to protest their stance on the death of Tamir Rice:

To boycott an entire city—particularly a rust belt city like St. Louis or Cleveland with a majority black population—is to strike against an uncertain target. How do you punish those responsible for abuse without making their victims collateral damage?

Cities like Cleveland and St. Louis are often objects of national derision. This is “flyover country,” “the Mistake on the Lake”—places elites would never consider boycotting because they would never considering visiting in the first place. It is easy to call for a boycott of rust belt cities when you do not see their shuttered stores and abandoned malls and long-forgotten factories. It is easy to assume that boycotts carry weight, when the reality is that life here is tenuous, opportunities fleeting and stability low. A boycott means lost wages on your service job, the fastest growing sector in regions still hard-hit by the recession. A boycott means losing the tourism dollars from the few not driven away by your terrible reputation. A boycott means business will go on for local white elites as usual, because racial and class segregation is so deep that residents essentially function in two separate economies—a state of affairs quite different from that of the Montgomery bus system.

Some have suggested that a targeted boycott aimed at a powerful city industry—sports, for example—could sway the powers that be. But this assumes a scale of solidarity that does not exist. If it did, there would be no need for a boycott. The day white St. Louis decides to forgo the Cardinals to show their commitment to black rights is a day black rights have already been won.

Read the full article, How boycotts hurt the cities they are supposed to help, at Quartz

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