What Are The Next Steps After Economic Withdrawal? A Discussion on Removing Publicly-Funded Racist Art

In Art History, Art Collecting

Martin Luther King Jr. discussed "economic withdrawal" in his last speech before his death in Memphis, Tennessee. King advocated for the collective action of consumers to stop shopping at stores and selecting brands that worked against consumers' own beliefs or community.

Today, we are seeing a new wave of community advocates, business leaders, and consumers who do not ask for change, but who purchase change. More than fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr's death, Americans have finally awoken to King's call to end tacit approval of racism in public art displays.

One such example is Van Turner, an attorney from Memphis, Tennessee. In 2018, Turner worked to form Memphis Greenspace, a non-profit that recently purchased to remove local confederate statues. Turner spoke to me about the importance of Dr. King's call for economic justice through empowering all consumers. He mentioned that our ability as consumers to advocate through our capital is "actualizing Dr. King's dream."

Memphis Greenspace was able to purchase several Confederate Statues for $1000 each. In return, they have been offered several requests from private buyers to purchase the confederate statues for millions of dollars.

The non-profit has already raised a quarter of a million dollars to continue on their pursuit to place confederate statues in the proper context. Turner has said that he'd like to see these statues in museums or to be returned to the families of past confederate leaders. His support, in large part, came from the press and social influencers who dedicated their voices to help Memphis Greenspace.

His project to right, "an affront to me, to my foreparents, and to all black people in this city," has also led to a raised profile for his firm. He took his skills and his private capital to correct a society ailment.

This example of capital working to solve community-based issues is exactly the revolutionary call that Martin Luther King, Jr asked for during his last speech in Memphis. However, they've gone further than the 1960's call to strike or boycott. The time for yelling about change is over, but the time for enacting change by your purchasing power is now in place.

My plea to consumers is to consider how you can personally withdrawal your support from companies that you consider unethical or detrimental to your local community. It's essential that each us question, how you can consider influencing your community with small sums and your expertise. I hope you plan to join a movement of people whose source of revenue is from positive contributions to society rather than through tacit approval of racist ideas.