March 27, 2019
With the recent headlines exposing the racism that is represented in the high-end fashion industry, more than two companies have been found guilty (at least in the public eye) of producing products that strongly resemble an extremely offensive depiction of the African-American culture dating back to the 1830s, known as ‘blackface’. There has always been a call within the African-American community for people to ‘buy Black’ and yet, the Black dollar always finds its way out of our community more swiftly than within any other community. For example, according to Gary A. Johnson of Black Men in America (2018) a dollar circulates for 30 days in the Asian community, 20 days in the Jewish community, 17 days in the White community, and six hours in the Black community. Not only is money being spent on businesses outside of the Black community, there are other significant barriers that hinder African-American businesses from experiencing success long-term growth after opening day.
Unsurprisingly, stereotypes are often the reason behind the masses not wanting to buy Black. Eric Craig of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. (2017) attributes the struggle experienced by Black businesses to the stigma of being less than organized and less effective than their major counterparts. Of course, these assumptions can be proven wrong, even if you’re not willing to actually spend any money, by conducting a little research or by speaking with a company representative. This is something most people will do anyway, especially when spending large amounts of money on a product or service.
Additionally, shoppers may want to check out the customer reviews for the business prior to patronizing the company. Reviews tend to be unbiased, as they are written by real customers describing their real and personal experiences. Even with something as simple as a grocery store, just like the one owned by, Tyron Leggett of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, customer reviews can let you know what type of produce and meat you can expect to purchase upon visiting the Black-owned supermarket. The Save-A-Lot franchise (https://savealot.com/grocery-stores/baton-rouge-70811-45063/ ) opened in 2016 and boasts a Google review rating of 4.2 out of 5 as of March of 2019.
Some of the reviews tell potential shoppers that “they are never disappointed when shopping at this Save-A-Lot” and “at this store, there is no cost for grocery bags’. This, in contrast to a common big box chain, Walmart, which has ratings of 3.7 and 3.8 out of 5 in the Baton Rouge area. This proves that popularity and comfortability does not always equate to the best shopping experience or the best products. Black-owned does not mean that the service will be sub-par, and the products offered will be inferior to comparable items. There are many farmer markets popping up all over the country owned and operated by Black farmers supplying the freshest items available so don’t be afraid to shop Black for your Sunday dinner.
Contrary to popular, one does not have to be Black to shop Black. Black people provide the same goods and services as other nationalities and even more, depending on what you are shopping for, when you’re, and where you’re located. However, Black entrepreneurs are traditionally faced with more obstacles than our brothers and sisters from other racial groups when starting and sustaining our businesses. The biggest issue reported by Black businesses starters is lack of resources. This lack of resources can be demonstrated clearly through the Small Business Administration (SBA) as they determine who is approved for small business loans. According to VEDC.org (2018), loans to African-American declined nearly 50 percent even as overall SBA loan volume rose nearly 25 percent. And let’s face it, Black people need loans much more often than white people because, as a population, we have less money and wealth to use on investments in our potential business startups.
In fact, the median net worth for African-American households in 2016, according to Alicia H. Munnelli, Peter F. Ducker, and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher (2018) was $18,300 in comparison to Hispanic and white median net worth of $24,400 and $132,100 respectfully. Not only do Black businesses struggle with securing loans from the SBA, they struggle from building a strong customer base to secure generations of a returning customers. If we want Black businesses to grow and succeed, we must consider changing our consumer habits and leaving our brand comfort zones behind as a nation. For example, when a person is searching for a new bank, they may want to consider The Liberty Bank and Trust (https://www.libertybank.net/) headquartered in New Orleans, instead of JP Morgan Chase and Co. Not only is the Liberty Bank Black-owned, the financial institute has never been ordered to pay employees a settlement, current and or former, after being sued for racial discrimination.
Based on reporting by Lucas Laursen (2018), JP Morgan Chase and Co. has agreed to pay six current and former employees $19.5 million in a settlement for racial discrimination. Liberty Bank, on the other hand, reports opening a total of 22 branches since its founding in the early 1970s by Dr. Norman C. Francis. The company’s mission statement says that it aims to:
‘provide cost-effective delivery of high quality, innovative customer driven financial products and services
The most recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) data shows 23 Black-owned and Black-managed institutions, down from 24 at the end of 2016, (Alice Holbrook, 2019). If we, as a country, want to grow the number of Black banking centers and end the control of the old traditional discriminatory banking institutions, we must step out of box and bank Black even if you are not Black.
Moving on to one of the Americans favorite pastimes, shopping, there are several Black fashion designers that offer everything from clothing to lingerie and everything in between. Let’s face it, everyone wants to show up to every event sporting the most original and jaw dropping ensemble and, contrary to popular belief, it does not have to be designed by Guc-never mind, you get the point. There are talented fashion designers producing beautiful and high-end apparel all over the nation and the world. Consider Cushnie or Romeo Hunte when shopping for your next exclusive event.
Cushnie, founded in 2008, is a luxury women’s ready-to-wear and accessory brand designed by Carly Cushnie. https://www.cushnie.com/ This high-end designer offers a wide range of beautiful designs from an amazing asymmetrical sheer mini dress for the reasonable price of $350 to embroidered gowns for approximately $2,500. If men and women fashion is what you are looking for, Romeo Hunte may be the designer for you. Hunte brings a different flair to the term jeans and t-shirts. His signature ponchos are a must have for any outdoors event, they are available in different unique styles for $400. For those that want to spend a little more for the bells and whistles that only fur can bring, visit: https://www.romeohunte.com/shop-men/long-shearling-coat to purchase a long Shearling coat for $4,500. We do not have to shop with companies that do not appreciate our support, and equally as importantly, our money.
Victoria Secret is usually the go-to place for the eyes of the love of your life or for your eyes only. Even though the company has been losing revenue over the past few years, the business is still reported net sales at a remarkable $13,237 billion for the 52-week year that ended on February 2, 2019, (L Brands, Inc., 2019). While the company and investment reports blame the $29 billion loss on branding issues, another possible explanation for the sales decline could be that more people from diverse backgrounds are buying Black. Even when companies have a history of billion-dollar quarterly sales, we as a country can shift the sales numbers to grow smaller businesses owned and operated by minority business owners.
There are several Black-owned lingerie companies to choose from throughout the United States. Suzy Black NYC (http://www.thenewsuzy.com/shop) was founded by designer, Diondra Julian. For all the consumers that take pride in buying items produced in America, you can be at peace in knowing that your undergarments will be domestically shipped to your front door. Alison Connolly (2017), wrote that Suzy Black lingerie is designed manufactured in the USA by women and for women. If you need another reason to step out of your comfort zone, Suzy Black NYC offers sizes from XS to 5X and almost everything designed is handmade.
Finally, for the big and beautiful women, instead of shopping at The Avenue or Lane Bryant, change your usual shopping pattern and give Black-owned, Curvy Gurl Collections (CGC) a try on your next shopping spree. (https://www.curvygurlcollection.com/ ) Owner and operator, Andrionna L. Williams has been designing fashion for all women, but specializes in apparel for women with a few extra curves. CGC, like Suzy Black NYC, is a ‘Made In America Product’ and Williams is making a splash in the business world from her home base to Atlanta, Georgia to many cities across the nation. The beautiful fashions are available for sizes 14 -30. This is yet another example of the plethora of Black-owned fashion designers available to assist with breaking out of the status quo when shopping.
Now that we know of a few Black businesses that we can patronize, it is just as important to recognize why it is so extremely important to buy Black. A strong economy benefits both the government and, more importantly, citizens. By ending our traditional shopping habits and spending our dollar with Black businesses, there is potential improve the economic health of our less fortunate communities. For one, a strong economy, which can and will be obtained by regularly shopping Black can and will be instrumental in lowering unemployment rates in the Black community.
By the end of 2018, there were 2 million Black-owned businesses operating within the US. While there were a little over 153 million people employed according to 2017 statistics, only about 107,000 Black businesses had paid employees by the end of 2018 (The Charleston Chronicle, 2018). With every person, no matter their ethnicity, buying and supporting Black companies, time would only be the proof of how quickly the unemployment rate among the African-American community would drop. The Charleston Chronicle (2018), wrote that if each of the 2 million Black-owned businesses were able to hire, just one or two employees, experts say that would be a huge solution to Black unemployment.
For those that may counter this proposed solution to decreasing the unemployment rate exclusively for the Black community, they may want to consider that the African- American community has always battled higher unemployment rates. Even with the reported rate of 6.6 percent for African-Americans in 2018, Justin Fox of Bloomberg (2018) reported that this the rate in April was 4.8 percent for Hispanics, 3.6 percent for Whites, and 2.7 percent for Asian-Americans. Supporting Black companies helps ensure that Black people are being hired as companies expand to meet the demand of a new and expanded customer base. In turn, the entire economy benefits from the growth.
Just as importantly as decreased unemployment may be to all involved, the possibility of higher incomes that accompanies patronizing Black companies is equally as critical. Increasing higher incomes in the Black communities based on buying Black is something that is long overdue and needed nationwide. Increasing incomes will be imperative to closing the wealth gap experienced by African Americans for decades. One of these wealth gap realities, according to Brian Thompson of Forbes (2018) is that for every $100 in White family wealth, Black families just hold $5.04. Buying Black will not present an overnight solution; however, it will be a step in the right direction that could yield positive results for Black communities for generations.
As business owners start growing their businesses, ideal, their wealth will also grow. With that increased wealth, the business owner will have a better opportunity to invest in their respective communities. Major corporations, such as Kroger, donate hundreds of millions of dollars annually to less-fortunate communities across the nation. In 2018, Kroger’s provided $32.4 million to support schools and education programs, (Kroger.com). If we support smaller, less popular Black-owned businesses, we, as a society, can help many of the charitable acts of philanthropy that are being executed by firms such as Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center located in Charlotte, North Carolina. (https://www.yourwellnesskey.com)
Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center is a Black-owned business independently owned and operated which also founded a non-profit organization to help its community. In 2018, The Premier Foundation, whose purpose is, “to increase wellness and education within the community,” awarded $6,000 in scholarships to local students who were excelling in school. Imagine how stepping outside of a normal routine of having prescriptions filled at big box stores and started new prescription filling habits with smaller Black-owned businesses would increase the number of awards and donations specifically geared towards education. Additionally, Kroger.com states that, throughout the years, the company has contributed more than $200 million annually in funds, food, and products to support local communities.
Kroger is a company that deserves to be commended for its efforts in giving back and helping communities when they need help. But we cannot ignore the fact that smaller, Black-owned businesses give back to their communities, too. The Premier Foundation has contributed over $36,000 in resources to the community since their existence in 2015, (PremierFoundationnc.org). It is a truly wonderful occurrence when any person or organization is willing to help with causes that are, very often, ignored by wealthy business owners. It is extraordinary when a small business, facing the obstacles that accompany Black business ownership, willingly sacrifices to time, energy, and money to help those that cannot help themselves.
Money is a critical resource, but it is certainly not the only resource needed when attempting to rebuild a community. Employment opportunities for newly released prisoners, especially Black people, is much higher priority than for those who have never been incarcerated. This is no surprise, of course, but the actual statistics are not only discouraging, but prove why it is so difficult for newly released prisoners to obtain gainful employment upon release. In a report released by Louis Couloute and Daniel Knopf of The Prison Policy Initiative (2018) showed that,
‘the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the United States population, and substantially higher than even the worst years of the Great Depression’.
Many of the larger corporations refuse to hire people with convictions, although technically, this form of discrimination is prohibited by law. According to HG.org the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not condone having a blanket policy against hiring individuals with a criminal history. Unfortunately, as with any other rule and regulation, businesses find ways to circumvent this law along with many others when it comes to discriminating in the workplace. Companies are able to sidestep this policy by showing that the conviction relates directly to the job and business needs necessitate not hiring the individual, (HG.org).
Besides sidestepping the law, many corporations have stringent requirements that often lead to applicants, especially those with previous convictions, from self-disqualifying during the application process. Failing to hire those formerly incarcerated individuals not only hurts the individuals and their families, it has long-term damaging effects on the community. Couloute and Knopf (2018) wrote that,
‘the perpetual labor market punishment creates a counterproductive system of release and poverty, hurting everyone involved: employers, the taxpayers, and certainly formerly incarcerated people looking to break the cycle. This is yet another reason that it is so very important to support Black businesses across the U.S.’.
Since African American are incarcerated at five times the rate of Whites (https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/) and are, historically, ordered to longer sentences than our counterparts guilty of same crimes, there are several obstacles prohibiting people with criminal backgrounds from obtaining and sustaining successful careers.
However, there is one Chicago, Illinois based company, BeeLove (https://beelovebuzz.com/) that is Black-owned and giving back to the community, one job at a time. Sweet Beginnings, LLC. offers employment opportunities to people returning to society after incarceration. According to Sweet Beginnings (2019), these talented men and women develop a stable work history, learn marketable skills, and gain the confidence they need to re-enter the workforce. Yes, there are companies that hire people with convictions on their records (https://exoffenders.net/employment-jobs-for-felons/), however, by patronizing the smaller Black-owned companies that target formerly incarcerated people for employment opportunities, we as a nation, are helping the business owner help a person get a second chance. He or she may then go out, in turn, and serve the community. It’s a win-win situation.
In conclusion, it is clear that American, based on our buying power, have the ability and the resources to build and to destroy any company. We do not have to shop where we, or our values, are not valued or respected. There are millions of shopping alternatives literally at our fingertips and one does not have to be Black in order to buy Black. By exploring our consumer options, we can support Black-owned small businesses and help them grow while assisting them with a variety of philanthropically based opportunities. Whether through scholarships, feeding the hungry, or supplying much needed jobs, every bit helps to grow the community. When the community prospers, the economy expands. An expansive economy can help ensure lower poverty, decrease unemployment, increase incomes, improve community and nationwide pride. Let’s start buying Black today!
Kenya N. Rahmaan,
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