“How are you feeling?” texts keep coming to my phone. I appreciate friends for reaching out, but my reaction is often that I don’t know – and I likely don’t want to unpack it on the spot. Much of what is being highlighted in the media right now hits close to home for me, as a Black woman.
Fifty years ago, in 1970, my dad’s eldest brother, Clarence Debnam, was shot to death inside of a telephone booth in one of Portland, Ore.’s blackest neighborhoods by a white man. A 23-year-old medical student, Clarence had pulled over to call his father because his car had broken down on the way home from school.
He was shot dead by a white man whose only motivation was to kill a Black person. Clarence’s murderer was tried, convicted and spent the rest of his life in prison. In the aftermath of Clarence’s murder, there were protests and fierce advocacy from Portland’s Black Panther Party. In response, the city of Portland initiated a curfew to curb justified rage.
Fifty years later, my family and I have been living through 8 p.m. curfews over the murder of another Black man, George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minn.
The commonality between my uncle’s, and George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, Ahmaud Arbery’s, Tony McDade’s and so many other Black lives lost – is racially motivated violence and hatred that is deeply entrenched in American institutions, policies, practices and life.
Addressing racism is not an ephemeral task. To me, it requires the intentional interior, exterior, individual and community-based work to expand mental models and to rebuild institutions that were never designed to serve communities of color and poor people.
In business, there is an opportunity to confront particularly potent racism that results in economic injustice. The median black family today owns $3,600 — just 2% of the wealth of the median white family, according to a 2019 report by the Institute of Policy Studies.
But Black business owners have a median net worth 12 times higher than a Black person who doesn’t own a business, according to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity.
Efforts to encourage all consumers to buy Black are an attempt to close the wealth gap between black and white Americans. Those efforts build wealth and economic power in the Black community. They also widen business and social networks and connect people across racial lines.
“Folks do not hold Black people and Black communities in high regard, and it’s impacted our ability to get investment, to start businesses, to own a home, to walk safely in the streets. The devaluation is impacting every area of our lives,” said Brookings Institute scholar Andre M. Perry in an interview with Brookings Cafeteria podcast. A 2020 Brookings Institution report also found that businesses in Black neighborhoods are losing between $1 billion and $4 billion because of their location in Black majority neighborhoods.
Black Americans represent approximately 13% of the U.S. population, but only 4% of business owners and entrepreneurs, according to the same study. Black businesses are not being financed, are not receiving loans from banks and credit unions and are not being invested in by venture capitalist and angel investors.
Networks = Business
A less obvious way Black-owned business owners and entrepreneurs are excluded is from the social networks of white people. The vast majority of white people simple don’t talk to black Americans about “important matters” – including race relationships, said author and researcher Robert P. Jones in The Atlantic. Further, white social networks are a remarkable 93% white. On average, a white American’s social network is 1% black, 1% Hispanic, 1% Asian or Pacific Islander, 1% mixed race, and 1% another race. Some 75% of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. Comparatively, this extent of social network homogeneity is significantly higher than among black Americans (65%) or Latinx Americans (46%). People with capital (Asians and white have highest income per capita) are more likely to do business with people in their network and demographic, which is often exceedingly white.
Efforts by Black Americans to establish wealth can be traced back throughout American history after 246 years of chattel slavery. However, these efforts have sometimes failed due to institutional racism.
- Congressional mismanagement of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, which left 61,144 depositors with losses of nearly $3 million in 1874.
- The violent 1921 massacre of Tulsa, OK’s Greenwood District where white rioters killed 300 Black residents at the epicenter of Black Wall Street. The egregious episode of dispossession was tastefully highlighted in HBO’s Watchmen series.
- Discrimination under Jim Crow Era’s Black Codes, which strictly limited opportunity in many southern states.
- Property laws and practices like redlining and gentrification.
Today, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, venture capitalist and Times of Entrepreneurship contributor Seth Levine notes that the Payroll Protection Program funds are not dispersed equally across demographics. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, a large majority of Black, Latino and other minority-owned businesses stand close to no chance of receiving a PPP loan through an SBA-approved bank or credit union. Throughout history, wealth has been stolen or deprived from Black communities before it had the opportunity to multiply.
A 4-6% Increase In GDP
We are all poorer for this racism and exclusion. If nurtured, economic growth in Black communities could increase U.S. GDP 4-6% by 2028, said one 2019 analysis by McKinsey & Company.
We can all contribute to positive change by supporting Black-owned businesses. In 2016 the Association for Enterprise Opportunity reported that there are 2.58 million Black-owned businesses in the United States. To locate and buy from them, you can download Official Black Wall Street app on your phone and visit We Buy Black site.
I am making an effort to buy from Black-owned bookstores instead of Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Here are a couple that I am supporting in my current home of Washington, D.C.
For me, the complex relationship between Black Americans and America is a dark, twisted horror story, at times sprinkled with celebratory achievements, profound social progress and economic development. But the story is still being written.
It gives me hope that, this time, it isn’t only Black Americans shouting Black Lives Matter, like it has been in the past. In the past weeks, non-Black people of color and white people are getting involved too. Protests, social media posts, reading anti-racist literature are not a penicillium. Systems need to be reconstructed. All Americans need to realize that the Black progress is a part of our constitutional duty to build a more perfect union.
“Every time you spend your money, I would argue you’re voting,” said Kristian Henderson, the founder of BLK + GRN, a marketplace in Washington, DC selling all-natural products made by black artisans in a New York Times article. “You’re voting on what companies are successful and what companies aren’t. I think more people are recognizing that their dollars are that powerful.” Now is the time to be more conscious about how we think, how we act, how we do business and who we buy from. Now is the time to buy Black.
The work isn’t easy, but it is necessary.