The most efficient way for black businesses to never succeed …
… is to let self-hate and self-doubt get in our way
Black-owned businesses total $150 billion annually, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. Of that amount, 2.5 million Black-owned businesses have no paid employees (95.8 percent) and only 109,000 have at least one paid employee. Although they’re still a smaller group than other demographics, I do my best to support where I can.
When I bought my condo, I hand-picked a Liberian-born attorney who I knew had already successfully run her own law firm in Chicago and was expanding to Atlanta. (We’d worked together on several projects before.) When I looked for a real estate agent to work with, I decided to hire a Jamaican woman. My mortgage certification trainer was African-American, and he did a phenomenal job of walking me through terminology that I was completely confused by when talking to my mortgage company.
I absolutely loved the visual of three brown girls walking into the closer’s office, taking celebratory photographs after my hand hurt from signing a mountain of paperwork. And I made sure to tell the certification trainer all about my experience so he could share it with new homeowners (largely African-American in my class, unsure of others) in future training sessions.
So when I talk to people — specifically black people — who say that black businesses cannot succeed because “we can’t get along,” it makes my blood boil. Catch me on the wrong day, and it’s almost certain that it’ll result in a shouting match and me shooting off successful black business statistics like a machine gun. One of the absolute easiest ways for African-American businesses to not succeed is to feed into the theory that we can’t and won’t support each other.
I used to be guilty of it. I would have one bad experience at a black-owned restaurant or store and go, “Nope, never going there again.” But interacting with aspiring entrepreneurs in college and seeing them in the flesh by grad school and my Corporate America days made me ponder, “Is it that black businesses cannot succeed? Or, is it that black people lose patience with each other too fast for the same things white people do and we overlook?” This is particularly unfair when my skinfolk will give other small- and large-scale businesses multiple opportunities to disrespect them before they’ll part ways.
I recently talked a family member into watching “Self Made.” My shoulders slumped when I heard the one thing I didn’t want to hear at the end of the film: “Black people just cannot work together. We fight too much.” I didn’t even understand why this was the takeaway from the film. It was an entire movie with two self-made, black, female millionaires working within their own communities to provide beauty and hair care products.
While the two lead characters did not get along with each other (in real life too), there was no way to deny the massive group of black women that Madam C.J. Walker employed anymore than the success that Addie Monroe created within her own professional circle. Yes, they hated each other. And yes, I had mixed opinions on their rivalry. But how could I overlook all of the other women and men that they got along with? The movie was far more than just two black women bickering. I was troubled that not enough attention was being paid to the obstacles they overcame to succeed even when there were doubters in their own communities. For every person who did not support them, there was another one who did.
More importantly, their rivalry was no different than any other entrepreneurs or large-scale companies that are competing in the same market. Professional debates are not race-specific, and I’ve watched business feuds happen with everybody on your Census questionnaire. You name a gender, race, sexual orientation and/or religion, and I can assure you I’ve seen a rivalry between the two in Corporate America (or independently).
And while I was disappointed by the comment made regarding the movie, I do not write this post to pick on the family member — I point it out because I’ve done it, too. One bad customer service experience? “I’ll take my business elsewhere.” One mix-up over an order? “Ugh, next!” Meanwhile I had nonstop issues with one retail store (that was not a black business) and I tolerated that nonsense for years before finally boycotting this location altogether.
Black businesses are often not coming from the same amount of family wealth that other businesses are — Jim Crow Laws weren’t legally ended until 1964, and we all know by now what happened with the slew of self-made elite from Black Wall Street on May 31, 1921. And no, today’s black-owned companies may not have the kind of investors or success that voluntary immigrants have or non-black companies do. There may not always be the same amount of startup capital and passive income.
But the one area where black folks can get on board is this: Stop being harder and quicker to dismiss black entrepreneurs or black-owned companies than we are on non-black ones. Acknowledge black businesses that are succeeding instead of counting off the ones where you had a bad experience; use all that mouth exercise to spread the word about the ones you like. And if you see a business “road bump” along the way, take the time to consider this: If this were a non-black company, would you dismiss them for this same behavior? If you would, by all means, take your business elsewhere. If not, at least attempt to talk to a manager or someone who can improve on the situation before throwing in your consumer towel.
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