Isn’t it time we challenged all the reasons people DON’T support a business just because of the owner’s color of skin?
I jumped into the black business world as a nonprofit. During my teenage years all I heard from older family members and friends about black businesses was how they could not get black people to support them. They said no matter what they tried, they always received more support from other races. When I would ask why they believed that other blacks would not support them, the answer I would get is “jealousy.” I have to admit that answer and their views stayed with me for a long time.
Although some of the dynamics may differ from a for-profit business, I wanted to see if I would experience the same issues I heard about. I founded That Suits You in 2012. We collect new and used professional attire and give it to men entering the workforce and HS seniors for prom.
I always wondered first of all, if it was true, that blacks didn’t support Black Businesses, and if it was true why? Finally, where did that thinking come from and how can we change it?
In 2014 with an estimated 1 trillion dollars’ worth of black buying power, one would think that owning a black business would be a cash cow. You read that right 1 TRILLION dollars. All that buying power it would be assumed, would funnel through different black businesses, thus causing them to prosper and also help their communities to grow and develop.
That would be the ideal situation, however in my preparation for this article I learned that most times the black dollar lasts only 6 hours in the community before leaving. In comparison other races whose dollars last between 7 to 28 days. Just think about that for a minute. When I spoke to black people about this they gave me three reasons they believed this was true.
There aren’t enough Black Businesses.
In black communities you may see churches, barber shops, restaurants, and liquor stores that are black owned. You occasionally will get a beauty salon, repair shop and maybe a dry cleaners. Most all other businesses are all owned by other races in the black community.
This is a major reason why the black dollar doesn’t last long in the community. It leaves just as quickly as it comes in. My generation was constantly taught to get a good job with a good company. That was the main goal. Business ownership was not really stressed because it seemed risky. However with so many people being laid off the last few years more emphasis has been placed on ownership so this issue should change. Not only more businesses, but also a variety –including food markets, and laundry among others.
Black Business prices are too high.
I have been to several black businesses where I felt the price was a little higher than normal. Now we all have the right to spend our money any way we choose, and have no obligation to support any business we do not want to. However they are times when I decided to pay a little extra just to support a black business. Many times (not all), they may have to charge extra because their operating cost may have been extremely high so they had to charge higher prices to compensate. Their rent may have been higher, or they may have negotiated a bad deal on their part. As long as the prices weren’t astronomical I tend to give them an opportunity and see if the service warrants the extra charge.
None of us want to pay extra for anything, but while the business down the block may be less once you give them your money, it leaves the community to never come back, but with the Black Business at least it will stay in the community a little longer.
Black Business service is terrible.
This is a stickler for me. No matter how few businesses there are, or how low or high your prices are, the service has to be excellent. I would say two out of every 10 Black Businesses I have done business with have provided me with bad service. People tend to exaggerate and say every Black Business gives bad service. Which is simply not true. I have also noticed that most people are more forgiving with other races, and will give them a return visit but will turn away completely from the Black Business. I have generally found the service even better at a Black Business because they have to value the customers because they really need them to stay in business.
From my personal perspective, I see three additional challenges Black Business owners face.
People trust black business people less than other races.
This is an issue that goes to the heart. A lot of customers of all races do not trust blacks to run an effective business. There are plenty examples of blacks and whites selling similar products, in similar environments, for the same price but many more people felt more comfortable going with the white business. They saw the white person as more knowledgeable, effective and trustworthy. Some people have issues with black leadership.
The long history of field and house slave.
This goes all the way back to slavery days when blacks were pitted against blacks and the seeds of jealousy and envy were planted. The lighter skinned blacks worked inside, while darker skinned blacks worked the field. This caused resentment and anger amongst each other, even though they all were slaves. Bringing this to today, there still resides seeds of jealousy among some blacks who will not support other blacks simply because they do not want to see them do well. They would rather go out of their way to patronize a nonblack business than to support a
Black Business. And should they mistakenly go to a Black Business if anything at all goes wrong, they will say, “See, this is why I don’t support black businesses.”
The media portrayal of blacks.
The images in the media, TV, videos, and news have greatly impacted people’s perception of blacks. Turn on the TV, or read the newspaper, and 90 percent of the images of black people are not positive.
If you see the same commercial everyday it will affect your belief about that product. Well, if day after day we see crimes by blacks, killings by blacks, domestic abuse by blacks, shootings by blacks, it will affect your belief about black people as a whole. I have never killed, shot, or abused anyone, but because of the images all around when some people see me (even in my suit) they will deal with me based on those images.
They think, “I can’t support his business, he may not use proper products, he may not know what he is doing, and he may be trying to rob me.” This is one reason why I try to go out of my way to support Black Businesses because they are so many reasons, and obstacles that they have to face. Sure, like all businesses there are some that should not be in business but overall there are plenty of solid, professional black business who need our support, so let’s check them out.
Knowing some of the hindrances associated with black businesses I wanted to make sure to cover as many bases as we could when I started by business. We strive to be as professional, timely and organized as possible.
I must say that we have not experienced similar experiences as I heard about. The support we have received from the black community has been outstanding. When they hear about our cause, people seem to jump aboard instantly to either donate clothing, finances or their time. Part of the reason I believe this is true is because of karma. I have the desire to see other Black Businesses succeed, so I look for and make sure to support them as much as possible. You receive what you put out, we have to want to see others succeed and do what we can to make that happen.
Another reason I believe we have been receiving so much support from the black community is the culture of black business in America now. Whether it is Shonda Rhimes casting Kerry Washington and Viola Davis for primetime shows, Oprah Winfrey partnering with Tyler Perry with the OWN network and even the exposure given by Black Enterprise magazine.
We are seeing more blacks being supportive of and even partnering with each other. These efforts are attacking that myth head on. When Black Enterprise mentioned TSY in their April 2014 issue the support from the black community was incredible. When the ABC show, Here and Now, hosted by Sandra Blackman had TSY as a guest on October 5th this year, the outpouring from the black community was outstanding. So if this momentum can be sustained by black business owners we can teach the next generation of owners that support should not only be desired but expected and given.
Photo: Flickr/Elvert Barnes