On a visit to Cincinnati Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson explained why he’s calling for a boycott of Kroger Co. stores.
The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
Dear Rev. Jesse Jackson:
It was good to see you again in Cincinnati, well sort of. Frankly, this visit stung a little. And, no doubt, a whole slew of folks have lined up to rebuke you as I write.
Kroger, you say, is abandoning poor and brown communities. And you are calling for a national boycott.
That’s a mighty big ask. Kroger is homegrown and a supporter of generations of families. Folks around here don’t take too kindly to your intrusion. To some of them, you might as well be punching their dad in the gut. is daddy meant to be capitalized there?
I hear you, though, and others ought to not summarily dismiss you because of the messenger and the message. You always make points that cast an uncomfortable light on our shortcomings, our crippling high poverty rate and the disproportionate number of black men in jail among them. And you rightly brought attention to food deserts here.
You told our editorial board: “Kroger in the heart of the black community pulled out – it created a food desert. It has a negative impact on the community. “
You live in a food desert if you live in an area with a poverty rate above 20 percent without a grocery store within walking distance.
We qualify as a food desert in spades here. So do other areas — like in the Orange Mound community of Memphis — where your latest boycott was birthed. I know Orange Mound from when I worked in the town. It looks and feels like any of our poorest and brownest communities, only its citizens are likely more impoverished. They lost their Kroger, too, along with two others in poor and brown communities in greater Memphis, including one across the state line in Mississippi.
I’m not blind.
My neighborhood may qualify as a food desert, but thankfully I have a working automobile and access to the world’s biggest, most innovative Kroger store just a short drive away. You can taste wine and beer and have olives and cheese there. You can even buy diamonds at Fred Meyer Jewelry inside this particular store.
Increasingly, this is not an option for consumers in high-poverty areas. This is why you are here. I get it.
Let me say this, though. The grocery business, with historically thin margins, is more competitive than ever. Kroger, although a behemoth, is finding its new way as Amazon looms. As consumers, we can demand clean stores with fresh produce — and within walking distance, for heaven’s sake!
But I’ve never seen a shareholder who wants to lose money.
I agree with you when you say Kroger should not tie up the real estate they leave behind so that others may have the opportunity to make a grocery store work. Kroger should listen to you on that.
At the same time, shareholders need Kroger to be successful so the company can support families and provide a pathway to long-term economic prosperity. That is my elementary lesson of microeconomics.
Meanwhile, I understand agitation. I I hear you loudly and clearly when you told us there were “two Cincinnatis” — one in which citizens are heard and another in which citizens are unheard and feel marginalized. Yes, we need to do better. We hear you and feel the urgency, I hope.
As I close, I must again acknowledge the complexity of your chastenings. There are those who detest your unique form of agitation and see it as some sort of corporate shake-down. There are others who see things differently. They remember the young man on the Memphis balcony 50 years ago, pointing to where the shot rang out and killed Martin Luther King Jr., and what he became, sometimes a hero and sometimes a villain.
I got to live with one foot out of the Civil Rights movement as its beneficiary, and one foot into a world where I have gotten to fulfill my hope and dreams in the world without fear or overt restrictions.
I grew up in a food desert.
So, here we are. Kroger (incidentally, through its African-American spokeswoman) said it is willing to listen and have dialogue. You are prepared to expand this boycott.
Here’s hoping that you won’t have to.
Enquirer Columnist Byron McCauley is also a member of the editorial board. Call him at (513) 768-8565. Connect with him on Twitter: @byronmccauley. He writes about people and places behind the news and other things that strike his fancy.
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