When I first heard that Andrew Young had gone to the Dark Side to join Working Families for Wal-Mart back in February, I was dismayed. Bob Dylan had previously become a panty-peddler for Victoria’s Secret looking entirely like a dirty old man in those commercials; I mean, good Lord, isn’t any AARP member immune from selling themselves to a corporate logo? I’m beginning to believe that major retailers have joined forces with Pfizer and are putting something trippy into their geriatric prescriptions to make old folks long for the spotlight one more time, no matter how humiliating. If these guys can’t be satisfied with decades of mere honor and respectability – well, they could really go balls to the wall. Andy and Bobby could star in a pathetic reality show. They could duke it out in a celebrity deathmatch – after all, Bob is Jewish and Andrew Young recently made a dumbass anti-Semitic (and anti-Korean, and anti-Arab) remark which is costing him the gig with Wal-Mart. They could sit around and argue and a gaggle of winged supermodels could dance around them, occasionally thrusting their décolletage toward the pair of Grumpy Old Men.
But selling their images to major retailers? It’s just so… uncool.
In any case, Andrew Young blew the WalMart gig big time. Here’s what The Honorable Mister Young said to a reporter at the Los Angeles Sentinel recently when asked about whether Wal-Mart causes mom-and-pop stores to close:
Well, I think they should; they ran the 'mom and pop' stores out of my neighborhood…but you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores.
Oh dear. Are these words from the civil rights leader who so eloquently addressed my college graduating class back in 1982?
First, the smaller point: how could Andrew Young think that Wal-Mart is a good and wholesome improvement over small mom-and-pop stores? Of course little stores charge more for their goods; they don’t have an army of merchandisers who play let’s make a deal with the Chinese without bothering to pay the workers a living wage. They can’t strong arm suppliers into giving them deep discounts; all a shopowner can do is try to keep things reasonable, and keep things local.
Next, the big issue, of course: the blatant racism in his remarks. Jews! Koreans! Arabs! How dare Andrew Young make a blanket statement about those darned minorities ripping off the black community. Really, Andy, can you state with certainty that ALL mom-and-pops overcharge ghetto youth for their snack food? Do they gleefully force day-old bread and out-of-date bologna on your neighborhood? Are Jewish/Korean/Arabic business owners inherently dishonest? Do WASP shopowners cheat the black man less? For that matter, are black businessmen and women any more honest? Are you, like, maybe, talking out your proverbial a**, Mister Young?
Is Andrew Young suggesting that Wal-Mart is more honest than mom-and-pops? Is Wal-Mart better for black people, or for poor people, or for anyone? Are the long-term effects of the Big Box worth the lower prices – an issue that has been debated in the press for the last couple of years?
Andrew Young has embarrassed himself publicly by revealing the deep seated racism which he should have kept to himself. But, at least he won’t be convincing poor blacks to accept the smiley face of Wal-Mart into their urban neighborhoods anymore. He apologized, but it was too late; soon afterward he abruptly resigned from their organization.
Was MLK thinking about Wal-Mart and its ilk when he dreamed of a better day? When he said:
I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character.
Gosh, I hope that Dr. King had a bigger hope than some corporate retailer version of his dream.
Andrew Young – first black congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction. Former mayor of Atlanta. Civil Rights activist and friend of Martin Luther King. Ambassador to the United Nations. Spokesperson for Corporate Satan Wal-Mart. Publicly admitting his anti-Semitic, anti-Korean, anti-Arab viewpoint.
Is this the legacy that you wish to leave, Mister Young?
Say it ain’t so, Andy.
Debra McCorkle is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared in Alternet, Hip Mama, and the San Francisco Chronicle.