The Myth of Black Business

An Essay by Sola Olosunde

(written in Nov. 2016 as a draft, uploaded just to upload)

At this point, it’s no question that money rules the world. Money can influence people to do things they may never bring themselves to do. It can spark change almost immediately, whether it be in absence or surplus. Blacks have often used this ideal to develop their proposals for racial uplift, with phrases like “circulating the black dollar” and “keeping our money in our communities” being prevalent in pro-black spaces. The argument that black consumers should push themselves to support black businesses is nothing new. This rhetoric is usually idealistic and vague, and too much emphasis is placed on the support of these businesses. While supporting black businesses may be extremely important for the good of our people, the conversation must become more nuanced and the emphasis must change from the business to the consumer.

Please don’t be misguided, black business support is needed. We must learn to center ourselves when making decisions as to where to put our money. For centuries, our race has been shut out of economic opportunities throughout this country’s timeline, from our ancestors being commodities to the grandparents that were shooed away when applying to that factory job, to the college graduate unable to live in their own neighborhood because white skin has deemed the area that was once neglected a “discovery”. It’s only right we buy from the people who would obviously have our best interests at heart, which would be black people, as best as we can. Unfortunately, the plan can’t be that simple. Supporting these business owners in hopes that they’ll help their consumers is a promise we’ve made up in our heads. Those entrepreneurs who happen to be black may be indifferent to the issues concerning their people and may only seek to gain profit. Capitalists are capitalists, regardless of skin color, and blacks with successful business ventures, such as record companies and entertainment businesses in general, who have done nothing with their money or clout to aid in the betterment of black people are some examples. The mentality of the owner is what counts. Consumers must hold these business owners accountable for what they think. They must also hold them accountable for where their money goes. If a business is self-proclaiming to be “for the people”, they should put their money where their mouth is and show proof. It’d be nice to how their revenue — I mean,our money — is managed maybe online through consistent reports concerning charity.

Along with the generalization of black business owners, the overemphasis of black businesses being the best leader toward uplift is another issue that should be fixed. There will always be less business owners than workers in the world and less sellers than consumers. The latter of each should not be forgotten. Some may contend this argument by saying that in time, these businesses will be able to hire large amounts of people and donate large amounts of money to worthy causes. The problem is, niggas need money now. It’s somewhat of a smack in the face to tell someone keep spending when they can’t even find a way to sufficiently provide for themselves, only to say that they’re some sort of “race traitor” because they have to buy food from the Wal-Mart since the small black business owner can’t compete with such low prices. It’s inevitable for black people to support white businesses, whether it be directly or inadvertently. We do not own most of the means of production, such as factories and natural resources, nor have we had the head start whites have had to make their companies what they are today so at the end of the day, either a white person will somehow benefit from the black dollar or can easily compete with other black businesses for their consumers. To simply put it, a separate economy is not going to happen and the notion that we can keep the black dollar circulating in our community for ages is too idealistic. This does not mean we shouldn’t try our best to buy black, it just means that our consumers have lives too, and their individual issues must be considered as well when thinking about why they’d buy from an apathetic white corporation. Therefore, the emphasis on black businesses for our aid must soften and include black workers as well.

For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in June 2016, unemployment amongst black teens was about 31%, six times the national unemployment rate. This is a demographic who is both easily influenced and has a good amount of disposable income due to still living at home. This group would be of tremendous benefit to black businesses if they were employed in large numbers. Not only would it help black businesses such as barbershops and salons, restaurants, and clothing stores, but high teen employment would help keep children off the streets and crime would be lowered considering most people who commit crimes are young. In the long run, teenagers can learn to manage money and a job would both fuel their ambition and move their minds away from craving instant gratification. Telling young folks to spend their money on black businesses without helping them get the means to be able to spend is essentially hustling backwards. Job readiness and vocational training would be ideal for them to gain employment, especially for a people with lots of energy and not much education.

The dialogue on our businesses has to include the ones supporting them as well. If we must learn to maneuver within a capitalist system, consumer consciousness is necessary for progress. One must ask themselves if this black business they’re supporting is really for the cause. Why support someone who isn’t on the same page as you are? Supporting black businesses isn’t just about keeping our money in our communities, it’s also about denying financial support to people who don’t have our interests at hand. We should start thinking about the bigger picture when it comes to these businesses: How will they be supported? Isn’t it through our people? Well, how will we be able to support these businesses if our income can’t even adequately support ourselves? Businesses matter, but employment does too and one of them is actually what keeps food on the table for the vast majority of black people.

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