The Tender Activist: Your gay dollars

By : Scottie Campbell
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I’m a fan of Killer Mike.

I can neither confirm nor deny if I have ever heard Run The Jewels, the Grammy-nominated hip hop duo of which he is one half, though considering the number of things I’ve watched by and about him, I probably have. Perhaps one day they’ll team up with Elton or record a reimagining of something off “Tapestry” and I’ll be able to confidently answer in the affirmative. Considering the force of nature Killer Mike is, I’m sure their music is solid stuff. It’s just not necessarily the sound my limited palette gravitates toward.

I first became acquainted with Michael “Killer Mike” Render during Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run. Much about Sanders’ campaign appealed to me, some which has been documented in past issues, and Killer Mike was no exception. He was open about politics not being his thing and if he didn’t think the O.G. was worth his time, he’d spend his valuable time elsewhere. They even respectfully disagreed on the issue of gun control: Mike thinks you should be as fully armed as a police offer, while Sanders’ gun policies fall in the space between conservatives and liberals where the diametrically-opposed-for-the-sake-of-being-diametrically-opposed Republican and Democratic parties fear to tread.

On a recent weekend, I got my first tattoo and I was feeling like a badass, so I celebrated by binge watching Killer Mike’s Netflix series, “Trigger Warning.” The six-episode series was not quite the same commitment as binging “Grace & Frankie” or “House of Cards,” so I went through considerably less beer in the effort.

In episode one, “Living Black,” Killer Mike attempts to spend three days only patronizing African-American businesses. According to his research, the African-American community keeps a dollar in its ecosystem for six hours, as opposed to the Asian community’s 28 days, Jewish community’s 21 and white community’s 23 days. Prior to desegregation, African-Americans had no choice but to use the services provided by other African-Americans.

“From top to bottom the ecosystem, from a dollar perspective, stayed black,” states Killer Mike. “Hence we had a true black working class, a true black middle class, we could send kids off to college.”

Witnessing Killer Mike’s experience as he spends three days traveling from his home in Atlanta to a gig in Athens, Ga. is at times comical—Killer Mike sits down to barbecue only to realize he can’t eat it because the farm providing the meat was not African-American— and at times surprising—he learns there is an African-American smartphone option. It left me wondering if it’s possible for any race in the U.S. to live within their race. And I wondered if that was a bad thing. I certainly would get a kick out of watching a white supremacist spend three days trying to live all Caucasian, all day. Good luck, punk. I would see his dawning realization and failure as a positive journey.

In my days as a fledgling young gay there was emphasis on buying from gay- and lesbian-owned businesses, or businesses owned by allies. The thought was spending with these businesses gave them more leverage in the community and that leverage would be used to create real change. I happily supported “family- (that’s how we coded it back then) owned” businesses, until it bit me in the ass.

I was managing a rock band—yes, I dabbled in badassery even before my ink —and I had to get some fliers printed for a show. I decided to use an LGBTQ-owned business both for the above reasons, but also because the band was composed of sexy straight boys who enjoyed blurring gender and sexuality lines. When I picked up the order, I was a little taken aback by the hefty price but assumed I was in good hands.

Later, I needed to place a similar order and, for reasons I can’t now recall, I had to use a different printer. Same order, but the order cost a quarter of the money.

It seemed “family” was not synonymous with good service or quality work. From then on I researched more prior to patronizing LGBTQ businesses, as I would any other business. Killer Mike doesn’t touch on this factor during his experiment, but I wonder if it crossed his mind. It’s great to find a phone that fits the requirement, but what if it costs four times as much as regular service?

We have often seen the power of our dollar. Harvey Milk successfully leading a boycott against Coors in 1977 comes to mind. That boycott wasn’t because the beer tastes like slightly flavored water, it’s because the company was making anti-union moves in order to be able to fire LGBTQ people without cause. The grassroots origins of Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom showed a big company the power of our buck and I’ve no doubt that first Saturday in June was a factor in the company becoming one of the first to offer same-sex partner benefits.

Did we ever have the opportunity to keep our dollars completely within the LGBTQ community? I don’t think so and I think there is a bit mythologizing in Killer Mike’s view of the African-American community in the pre-desegregated U.S. There will always be another community in the mix somewhere. Your can of beans might come from an African-American farm, but where did the can opener come from? Heck, poor Mike had to spend three days without one of his favorite things: weed.

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