Heather Polk | @artcuresall
The past few weeks have been draining for Black people. On top of trying to not get coronavirus and dealing with furloughs and layoffs, we’ve had to witness the image of George Floyd taking his last breaths splattered everywhere. Another Black man killed on camera by cops. This comes just weeks after seeing Ahmaud Arbery murdered by white men in cold blood, and hearing about Breonna Taylor being gunned down by police in her own home. The outrage and unrest spawned by these events have gone global in a way that’s making people—white people—take heed.
And part of the response has been directed at lifting up Black-owned businesses—a worthy cause, but something that seems like more of a moment, than a movement. And to some extent, it rubs me the wrong way. Many headlines on publications across the internet (including this outlet right here) have posted round-ups recently. Some of their headlines read “Black Businesses to Support Right Now.”
My response: Right now?? What happens when the tear gas clears?
When the unrest began to unfold a couple weeks ago, I took an early morning hike in an effort to clear my mind. However, it turned out to be a temporary relief. I’m a food writer with a focus on Black-owned businesses, and as the day progressed, I began getting emails, texts, and direct messages from publications and bloggers asking about aiding them in their lists of Black-owned restaurants. Something about the requests didn’t sit well with me. Soon after I got home, I began seeing these lists pop up online and companies shouting out Black-owned businesses. Many even apologized for the lack of the coverage and acknowledgement for however many years—yet now they want to highlight us. We are not a trend. Black people are not oat milk.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m thrilled that Black businesses are being celebrated at this time, but I’m not thrilled about the opportunistic approach. It’s important to first understand why Black businesses should always be put at the forefront. Penetrate the history. Understand the plight in which that entrepreneur had to go through in order to get their business off the ground. Understand that some people created these businesses as a response to the lack of diversity in the workspace of their given field. Understand that access to funding is lopsided, especially when it comes to financial backing, bank loans, and inheritance.
A recent study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research stated that while 7 percent of white business owners receive bank loans in their first year of business, only 1 percent of Black business owners are given that opportunity. According to a study done on Black-owned small businesses by Guidant Financial, 44 percent of respondents use cash—either partially or fully—to finance their business. (Just 9 percent use a line of credit.) That means, rather than having the luxury of a financial safety net to buy in bulk, take calculated risks, or pay for the unforeseen expenses that come along with running a business, these owners are forced to pay out of pocket, which can be quite stressful.
So, yes it’s great that so many outlets are boosting these Black businesses, but they have to realize that when they get back to covering COVID-19, or whatever the news du jour, Black people will still face these problems.
Another odd manifestation of the white impulse to support Black-owned businesses is this: I saw a post on social media from a Black woman, stating her white friend gave her $15 to grab a coffee because she felt bad about what was going on right now. A decent gesture, sure, but reparations can’t be paid in the form of a caramel macchiato! If you want to make a change for now, sign petitions and donate to the many programs that are helping those arrested at peaceful protests. And if you’re wanting to truly support Black-owned businesses, absolutely patronize them today and tomorrow, but keep the same energy three months—and three years—from now.
For Black people, George Floyd’s murder is one clip in a reel of racist incidents—likely accompanied by firsthand accounts—that play over and over in our heads all the time. If racism is something you’re really looking to play a part in rectifying, make sure the conversation continues once the protests end, but please understand it is up to you to make the systemic changes, not us.
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