There is a growing movement to support Black owned businesses that has inspired many a Black folk to jump on the Black-business-only-bandwagon. From reports that a Black woman sold out of school supplies specifically geared towards black children, to the creation of a Google Chrome app to help Black people find Black-owned business, the movement is pretty hard to miss and it comes at a perfect time.
According to Blackdemographics.com: “Black owned businesses in the United States increased 34.5% between 2007 and 2012 totaling 2.6 million Black firms. More than 95% of these businesses are mostly sole proprietorship or partnerships which have no paid employees.”
I have my anti-bandwagonist inclinations, but this was one trend I was excited to partake in.
As a 26-year-old Black woman concerned with the Black wealth gap and the various forms of economic inequality people of color face, I know and understand there can be no successful Black fight for equality while we are busy pouring our hard-earned dollars into the businesses owned by other ethnicities. Despite what many tried to argue, money doesn’t trickle down from rich to poor and it most certainly does not trickle down from White (or any other ethnicity) to Black. Just ask the ancestors. They know.
So I have made it my duty to support as many Black businesses as possible. The only problem with this? Well, multiple studies have found that Black owned businesses have lower profits and higher closure rates than those owned by whites. For most outcomes, these disparities are large. According to the US Census bureau, for example, “white-owned firms have average annual sales of $439,579, compared with only $74,018 for black-owned firms”.
I have run into this particular conundrum as a Black woman before, and once again quite recently, when trying to support Black businesses with my dollars.
I run a free summer tennis program for Black and Latino kids, typically funded by friends who are gracious enough to throw some coins in my direction in support of my effort. With these coins, I typically purchase equipment (tennis rackets, balls, cones, etc), snacks for the kids and I am able to have a party at the end of the year or take them on a trip. This year, I decided it would be great if the program finally had a logo to put on some t-shirts for the kids for our party or trip.
“What a great opportunity to support a Black artist!” I thought to myself.
Only days prior, a Facebook friend– who happens to be a phenomenal artist whose work reflects Black beauty and empowerment– posted a status on Facebook lamenting the fact that Black people don’t support Black art. I loved his art, so I figured it would be a win-win situation. I throw the artist some of my hard-raised coins and he, in return, would provide me with a logo that reflected the Black kids I worked with. I wanted fros and tennis balls on the same logo. Of course a Black artist would best deliver and that request!
Excitedly, I made the payment and awaited the logo.
“I’ll have it ready for you by the end of the week!” the artist promised upon receipt of the money.
Two weeks passed. Still no logo.
“Oh, hey, I already finished it,” he assured when I gave him a call to check up on the status of the work, “I’ll send it to you at the end of the day.”
Another two weeks passed. And still, no logo.
“Sorry, things have been hectic for me,” he explained when I contacted him once more, “I’ll have it to you by the end of the day.”
Suffice it to say, I never received the logo. Eventually, I just asked for my money back.
“Ok,” he replied and issued me a refund in three parts.
When we finally got the chance to speak at length, he explained to me that he was under financial strain and simply was not able to think straight. He was breaking up with his girlfriend. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He was confused and simply not in the right frame of mind to produce what I paid him for.
I imagine all of these claims to be true, however none of them change the fact that my tennis camp kids will not have shirts this year. Or that he did not deliver the product I paid for.
That was not the first time I was subjected to sub par service or product from a Black business owner and I imagine it would not be the last. As a writer, it was difficult for me to commit to writing for only Black-owned websites, because finances can sometimes be a problem, so getting paid becomes a problem. White websites were also typically better organized, because they were owned by major conglomerates that could afford bigger staffs. I watched a girlfriend struggle to start a jewelry business, which ultimately failed because of money issues, and it took her forever to get her customers refunds.
This, however, is not to paint Black businesses as sub par compared to any other. There are TONS of amazing businesses that provide fantastic products and services and that cannot be discounted. Black people are just as capable as any other demographic of producing phenomenal product. Still, Black people are under unique, strenuous circumstances that can sometimes be an impediment to smoothly running a business. And as a consumer, and even sometimes an employee, that poses a huge problem and risk.
For this reason, the “community” aspect of business needs to thrive if Black businesses are going to. As consumers, we need to view investment in Black business as investment in an extension of ourselves– investment in the advancement of Black people as a whole. Many consumers seeking out Black-owned businesses already do. That is why we go out of our way to offer support with our dollars, even when other options are more easily available. We also should extend more flexibility to Black business owners because it can sometimes be real out there.
That consumer commitment and investment needs to be met with equal wholeheartedness by business owners, even in the event that financial or other difficulties make it hard. In a global economic system, every Black dollar is important. But there is still something more important than the Black dollar: The Black family– which we are all a part of and intricately connected to. If consumers were viewed more as family than as consumers alone, much of the problematic interaction between the two could be curtailed. Like, for example, if the Black artist was upfront about the circumstances making it hard to deliver on the project and not pretended like everything was good until I could no longer even use the product I paid for, I wouldn’t have felt so salty about the entire ordeal. If he viewed me, and the kids I serve with the tennis camp, as an extension of himself and his family, perhaps things would’ve gone down quite differently? I imagine they would have.
All Black businesses cannot be perfect, because Black people are not in perfect circumstances in this country that has made it a duty to oppress us. Nevertheless, we have a duty to support one another with our dollars. But that support must be respected and reciprocated in the form of honesty, integrity and respect.