Apparently, Wal-Mart's defenders are still shamelessly willing to play the racism card in order to slander the company's critics. For years, as I've written before, the company has cast itself as the savior of the downtrodden black residents of inner cities, portraying labor and community opponents as racist white people -- never mind that so much of the opposition to big box development in inner cities comes from people of color who feel that their communities deserve better than Wal-Mart, real economic development that includes decently-paying jobs. Wal-Mart's line of argument -- which was always sleazy and mendacious -- recently reached a new level of ugliness. Andrew Young -- civil rights activist turned corporate tool -- then-spokesperson for the laughably-named Working Families for Wal-Mart (this, of course, is a "grass roots" organization, borne out of the organic love that the American people have for their favorite discount store, not a creation of Bentonville or a high-priced PR firm), waxed a bit racist last month when asked about Wal-Mart's tendency to shutter a community's small businesses:
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.
Oops! Foot in mouth, Too-Candid-Andy had to resign, and Wal-Mart hastened to distance itself from the very attitudes it usually tries so hard to exploit.You'd think these creeps would want to avoid this racism topic for a while. But race-baiting is almost compulsive among Wal-Mart's defenders, so eager are they to use the issue to divide the progressive opposition. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who this week, as my colleague Sam Graham-Felsen has written, vetoed an ordinance which would require big-box stores in Chicago to pay a living wage, joined this unfortunate chorus yesterday by absurdly implying that advocates of the ordinance were motivated by a desire to deprive black communities of jobs. He said:"Only in the West Side. Only in the South Side. ... At the same time it was all right for the North and Southwest Side to get the big boxes before this. It was all right. No one said anything. But all of a sudden we talk about economic development in the black community--there's something wrong there."In fact, Chicago's living wage ordinance has been pushed by a diverse coalition of groups, many of them black people who feel that, actually, it is racist and insulting to imply that their communities should be forced to settle -- and be grateful -- for dead-end jobs. But everyone agrees that because of the historic discrimination by some unions in the city -- particularly in the building trades -- such coalitions can be vulnerable to race-baiting. In a way, it was clever of Wal-Mart to figure this out.Still, playing the race card can backfire, as Too-Candid-Andy and his Bentonville bosses found out. Daley deserves to be publicly pilloried as Young was, for exploiting racial tensions in his city, dishonestly framing the debate (oh, and and for being a grovelling towel-boy to one of America's worst corporations). Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. rightly suggested that if Daley is so opposed to this ordinance, he should put his money where his mouth is: give up his own fat salary and live on a sub-living wage. I'd like it if all Wal-Mart's defenders would do the same: before hurling charges of racism at the company's critics, just try getting by on the wages that you think Chicago's South Siders should receive so gratefully.