In the current national push for making black lives matter, economic support for black-owned businesses doesn’t get its fair share of dialogue.
True, social justice and political activism can help solve many of the continuous problems facing our community, but what about economic growth and stability to help heal our struggling neighborhoods? There is only so much we can expect at the federal level before we start doing our own part outside protest.
Yes, boycotting mainstream industry on Black Friday last year was commendable. But that #NotOneDime should have been a dime helping to empower a black-owned business rather than go back into your accounts instead. As an editor-in-chief of a black-owned publication, one pattern that I have noticed working with clients and associates of other sibling organizations is that our community has all the desire to support us but don’t understand how to do so effectively.
After several months of observation and serious thought, I’ve come up with five real ways one can actually support black-owned businesses:
1. Don’t automatically expect or demand a discount. When the latest technological device comes out or the hottest name-brand designer releases a product, many of us save up and don’t question the price. We do this because we believe that the item is valued appropriately. Black products matter and should not be treated as less. If you want to support the economy of your community, you should give it equal fiscal respect and not look for racial familiarity as a default coupon when making the purchase. Black business owners work hard just like anyone else in their field and should be duly respected.
2. Know that having black endorsements isn’t the same as being black-owned. When you see your favorite black celebrity endorsing a product, buying that product doesn’t necessarily mean you’re supporting a black business. While it may be fantastic for their personal careers, many black celebrities are endorsing white-owned businesses that give them a hefty paycheck because they can afford it. Most black businesses don’t get the same level of high-end buzz, and as a result, black consumers continue to flock to European fashion brands and mainstream commercial brands because we see our favorite black musicians or athletes rocking them. If it doesn’t say that it’s black-owned, double-check its source.
3. Recognize the struggle, and don’t knock it. Black business owners and their products are not at every single store around every block. In fact, you might have to make an inconvenient trek in order to support certain culinary or artistic endeavors. But regardless of the extra effort made, know that the work they do to keep their business alive is even harder. From housing discrimination to constant financial hurdles that are tied to a deep history of black disenfranchisement since Reconstruction, black-owned businesses face tough back-end obstacles to simply staying afloat. So don’t give them a hard time when they run out of shipments or have to change location; it’s an indication of a societal disadvantage that many of these businesses face in a time of great gentrification and cultural appropriation.
4. Accept that a product or service being black-owned doesn’t imply that it’s of lower quality. In fact, because it is made by us, it might actually be better for us. When it comes to hair products and cosmetics, this already rings true for many. But other services can also do the same too if you give it a shot. In order to eradicate the stereotypes about us that have been ingrained in everyone by the dominant culture, we must treat and appreciate black products like we do those that have been forced upon us in mainstream media.
5. Recommend or promote a black-owned business when given the opportunity. If your friend is having an event and needs catering, take a chance and reach out to that black-owned business you have been interested in trying. Everyone knows the power of word of mouth, and it’s surprising how much we are promoting so many brands on our social-media pages and through our professional endeavors that are not black-owned. We need to fix that. Let’s stop trying to be the new black face of a predominately white brand and embrace a black one that needs us and would welcome us more readily. Breaking barriers is great, but creating permanent solutions is even better.
In closing, these recommendations are intended to help fill a current void in the national dialogue around making black lives matter. In all aspects — socially, politically, and economically — they matter. Communities facing injustice across the country can only strengthen themselves when their streets off viable opportunities and jobs for the people that live on them. Now more than ever, with black unemployment rates still higher than those of any other group, we should be emphasizing the importance of effectively supporting black-owned businesses.
It is not enough just to practice social resistance to discrimination; we must also practice black empowerment and economic enrichment, because when the news stop airing the demonstrations and move to another headline that is more relevant to their agenda, we have to go back to our communities, and only then will we realize that much work needs to be done.
So let’s get serious about that right now. It doesn’t take much to start implementing positive steps toward helping make black-owned businesses matter, because in essence this is making black lives matter as well.
When it’s all said and done, blacks are still one of the most powerful and influential consumer demographics in America. Let’s take back that influence and reclaim the power of the dollar!