Sunday, August 13, 2006

Buying Black: The Problems We Have Building Wealth Within Our Community

After an unannounced week-long hiatus (my bad!), I'm back and I'm wondering, when was the last time you patroned a black-owned business? When was the last time you made it a point to seek out a black person to perform a service that you need (i.e., plumber, painter, doctor, lawyer, etc.)? Chances are that you, like the majority of black folks, do not make it a point to find a black person when you are trying to spend money. This is why black folks, unlike other racial/nationality groups, have been seemingly unable to build wealth within our own community.

Black folks spend over $650 billion in the general marketplace (statistic provided courtesy of The African-American Connection, a website designed to encourage spending within the black community --, but how much of that money do we actually keep in our communities? The answer is very little. We are more likely to give our money to everybody else BUT us. THIS MUST CHANGE!!!! Where possible, I always try to find a black person with whom I can spend my money. For instance, both my daughter and I have black doctors and a black dentist. However, I am only one person, and cannot do it alone. We must ALL do it to really effect change.

Playing devil's advocate, I have heard the complaint (and am guilty of making it also) that black businesses tend to be unprofessional in how they deal with their customers, and our frustration with that deters us from using black businesses in the future. However, I'm sure we've all had bad experiences with non-black businesses also; so its really not fair for us to hold black folks to a higher standard. I can understand if you don't want to use that particular business anymore, but I'm sure you can find another black-owned business that can do a good job.

If you look at other communities, namely Jewish and Asian communities, they do a superb job of keeping wealth "in the family." Many times, they almost exclusively use services or buy goods from their own. They are also quick to seek and offer referrals to each other to maintain the wealth within their communities. I understand that these groups differ from us in that they willingly came to this country to benefit from its opportunities, but at some point we have to stop making excuses and just make it happen.



--Tshombe said...

OMG! I was just listening to an excerpt of a speech by Malcolm X on this very issue. I agree 100% in order to achieve economic growth and power we must spend "black money" in our own communities. I know what you mean, lol!...about the unprofessional customer service in black owned business. However we have to overlook that and hope that it will get better. The lost in customer service out-weigh the cost if we continue this way!

Jazzy said...

I sought out black vendors for my wedding in order to "support the community" and they were unprofessional to the point that I have some negative memories of my wedding. Didn't have any of those problems with the white folks I hired. Sorry, just being honest.

From then on I decided that I was going with whoever gave me the most for my money. I prefer to work with blacks, but not if they don't have their act together.

My obgyn is black and I would fly across the country to see her over anyone else. My insurance agent is black and he is always on top of things. My uncle is a painter and he is never short of business. These people also have white folks knocking down their door for service. Why? Because they are good.

I don't know why we should overlook unprofessional service in black businesses in hopes it will get better. We are just as intelligent and capable as white folks, so why should we hold ourselves to a lower standard?

Maybe if we paid more attention to our work product we wouldn't have to "guilt" the community into supporting us. The community would automatically support us because of the quality of our work.

VRB said...

We also must be willing to pay fair prices for service or product from a black owned business, we shouldn't expect to get a break or try to get over. Its funny that when other ethnic groups own businesses in our neighborhood, we hardly ever question the type of sevice or if we're being taken advantage of.

sweetest1913 said...

I agree vrb...I have often times heard ( and may be guilty of it myself) other blacks say" I can get that for a lower price from this or that place" This or that place being a company that is not black owned. Some places or companies that are black owned are unprofessional and slow and alot of other things...but we cannot let those few deter us from all the others that are struggling to make it and are very good at what their job. We are quick to say to others" Dont let one ignorant black persons' actions speak for all black people" Same should go for our business community. Dont let one bad experience keep you from patroning the others. Unfortunately I live in a city where there aren't many black owned businesses. It is a shame that we cannot keep our money in "our" communities.

Curry said...

My issue with black-owned business is limited strictly to the customer service aspect as it pertains to younger business owners. I get much better service from older black business owners than I do the younger ones. As a matter-o-fact there are places that I will absolutely go out of my way to visit just to have the sense of dealing with family. Our generation of business owners seems to have missed the boat when it comes to the simple principles of how we treat each other. The kats I know are so worried about how their ‘chips’ are ‘stackin’, that they forget that these are black faces behind the dollars that they’re counting.

L.A. is filled with black owned business from barber shops, restaurants, & bars, to insurance agencies, mortgage companies, & car dealerships. It’s so easy to stay “in the family” here, and for the most part I do. I just refuse to do any business with people who appear to be to 'blinged' out to give a damn about the service integrity that they give. Maybe the more seasoned black business owners should do some cross country seminars aimed specifically at teaching the younger owners how to retain “our” customer base in order to stay competitive with our cross-town white counterparts. Hmmmm … Now there’s an idea.

ronnie brown said...

The lack of economic investment with each other is a reflection of the emotional/psychological alienation we carry within our own being as Black people.

Why would a people who struggle with self-hate, self loathing in regard to our general physical features, (ie. skin color, hair texture, etc.) and overall worthiness feel compelled to invest a significant portion of their income with people who look like them?

Notta, When you spoke of Jewish and Asian communities keeping wealth "in the family" you were speaking a profound truth. Intergroup business relationships could probably be best described as extended FAMILY financial interactions; interactions that depend on having CONFIDENCE in the competence of your own.

You best believe that there's a link between our latent self-hate and the lack of professional courtesy expressed by some of our Black businesspeople.

In fact, our lack of spending within our community is the business equivalent to the Black doll/white doll tests done with Black children in the 1960's. The white doll represented "beauty"...the black doll, well, you know the story...

You see, after 300 years of chattle slavery and 100 more of Jim Crow, Black folk have never had a comprehensive de-briefing, in order to heal from generations of exclusion and degregation. We carry much of that unresolved anger and bitterness into every collective interaction we have with each other.

So until we make the connection that our self-hate/lack of self-esteem and lack of economic investment with each other are TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN, we'll continue to only make baby steps toward liberation.

Sean said...

No wonder I have such challenge with my own business. You speaking nothing but the truth. It is a shame that it is that way.

Like me I am doing a home PC repair business and one of the main reasons is because my soon to be competitors charge way too much and leave our people out there.

I have no issues supporting our black businesses but it's not just how they act but their commitment to a successful business that counts.

You know them ones that set a goal to make 1,000,000 and be out of the hood for good? Can't mess with them. I believe blacks are the most resourcefulest people on this earth and our businesses should be reflecting that.

When people...when?

Anonymous said...

What black community are you speaking about? Most of us live in the “burbs” or in very racially mixed neighbors. So you hire a black carpenter that also lives in the “burbs” or you visit a black doctor who is definitely living in a racially diverse neighborhood. Where you do think those black people are going to spend their (your) hard earned money? Do you think they will go into the “hood” to the corner grocery to shop or to the dry cleaner at the corner of MLK and Frederick Douglas Ave. or do their banking in the hood with the brothers? I don’t think so. The myth of doing business with a black to keep money “in the community” is a myth. Correction…it is history. Fifty years ago, before desegregation, there was a “black community” that lived together, worked together and in turn supported businesses of other blacks.
I don’t want to date myself but I remember a time when I would go to the black owned bank with my grandmother so she could deposit money in the Christmas club account. Those times are gone for the black community. Most large metropolitan cities have a Chinatown or Koreatown or some other ethnically inclusive area where money is really kept in the community. The local doctors, teachers and other professionals don’t move far from the area so their money stays in the community. There is a healthy economic class stratum that helps the community remain intact. Those days in the black community, for the most part, don’t exist.
So, the moral of the story is I will do business with blacks when the opportunity presents itself, but the performance bar for them is the same as it is for any other person competing for my hard earned dollars.

ronnie brown said...

Point taken. But the issue is WHY our people migrated to the suburbs in the first place and why we don't have a "healthy, economic class stratum" that would have kept our community intact...

Notta Golddigger said...

In addressing some of the comments made thus far, I'll add the following:

First, I don't subscribe to the belief that we should accept substandard service in the name of "family," but I do think we unfairly apply one bad experience with a black business to all black businesses. When we have bad experiences with white businesses we don't shun them forever, so we shouldn't do it with our own. If you have one bad experience, know that there is another black business out there that can do job right.

Second, to address anonymous' comment -- My first observation when reading your comment is the limited and narrow view you have of "community." "Community" is not strictly defined by geographical boundaries. Black folks are spread out all over different areas of this country, but we are still a "community" -- not because of where we live, but because of who we are. If you live in the suburbs, I'm not suggesting you go out of your way just to get to a black-owned grocery store or cleaners. All I'm saying is that to the extent that you can, you should try to support black-owned businesses.

I totally agree with you that with the end of segregation came the end to the "black community" as we once knew it. Once thriving black neighborhoods are no more. However, we have to evolve with time. Because black folks now have the ability and the means to move to the suburbs (even though I'm not one of them, and I have no desire to live in the suburbs), we have to now adjust the way we view our "community." And if our community is now geographically spread out, we especially need to make it a point to try to put some money back in the pockets our own -- again, to the extent that is possible.


--Tshombe said...

Upon further review of the current topic I came up with another theory as to the cause for the lack of black currency in the community.

Through denigration we have developed self hatred and the loss of respect of one another, which equates to the low tolerance and the mentality of being able to treat each other less than equal. This is a mind-set that had been set in place all the way through the '60. This action is on part of both customer and service providers.

We have to demanding quality service and stop this "quick come up", half ass gimme your cheese and shut the "F" up attitude.

--Tshombe said...

I was just listening (I really payed attention to what was being said, IMO) a song by Kelis and Andre' 3000 titled "Millionare" which is a more than just another song. Listen to falls inline with what we are talking about here.

Palmtree said...


just found your site and ironically, this post. i wrote about this a while back in my own blog and offer another perspective. check it out

Ehav Ever said...

Notta wrote:
>If you look at other communities, >namely Jewish and Asian >communities, they do a superb job >of keeping wealth "in the >family."

Ehav Ever's Response
I think that you have to look at little bit deeper at your point here. For example the only Jews who go to other Jews for services are ones who have a specific need that can only be obtained from a fellow Jew. For example, there are a lot of Jews who don't go to Jews only when it comes to their plumber or their electricion. Anybody is good at the job can get that job. Even when it comes to grocery stores we can shop at non-Jewish owned stores as long as what we are buying is Kosher. (The U with the O around it denotes Kosher, as well as the letter "K" that see on some products.) Because there are stores where EVERYTHING is Kosher it is at times easier to shop at those as compared to a non-Kosher store.

Yet, Jews own Kosher butcher shops or Judica stores (Stores that sell Jewish books, and religious goods). Because a Rabbi has to be present to inspect if food is Kosher or not, there is less of a chance that a non-Jew would open a Jewish butcher shop. (There are stores here in New York that are owned by non-Jews, but because there is a large Jewish population here that is religious, semi-religious, or at least strict on Kosher food they have made themselves available to Jewish requirements.

In terms of Judaica shop, once again this is an industry in itself that requires connections because of elements of Jewish law about who can produce the items. Also, most Judaica comes from Israel, so very few non-Jews have a connection to religious Jewish communities that provide these kind of services. Also, Jewish communities world wide were forced to live in closed off and tight knit communities. These communities whether they were in the Middle East, Africa, Asian, or Europe historicall revolved around the synagogue.

Notta wrote:
>Many times, they almost >exclusively use services or buy >goods from their own. They are >also quick to seek and offer >referrals to each other to >maintain the wealth within their >communities.

Ehav's Reponse
This is idealizing it a bit. For Jews it goes back to products that are not common in the non-Jewish world. For example, when I visit Lexington, KY for work I can never go to a resturant to eat. The reason is because there are NO kosher resturants there. There are three synagogoues in town, but they are all reform. Non of them are open during the week for prayer, Jews pray 3 times a day with at least 10 men present at a synagogue. When a city does not have at least this every day the chances are great that there are no Kosher resturants either since most Reform Jews believed the Bible to be outdated codes of conduct. So when I go to to Lexington I have to go to the grocery store and buy kosher. As long a product is Kosher with correct markings to show it is, and checked by a Rabbi, I can buy it even if a non-Jewish company made it.

Notta wrote:
>I understand that these groups >differ from us in that they >willingly came to this country to >benefit from its opportunities, >but at some point we have to stop >making excuses and just make it >happen.

Ehav's Reponse
Once again I think you are looking at it from the wrong angle. Here's an example. Jews from Iran are a very closed off community, even amongst other Jews. Any Jew can go and pray with Iranian Jews, be a part of their community, but they (Iranian Jews) have less than a 5% intermarriage rate, even amongst other Jews. The reason is that back in Iran during the 1800's for about 200 years the Jews in many parts of Iran were forced to become Muslims. In order for the community to survive they hide their Jewish practices. In the open they practiced Islam. In private they hid the fact they were still practicing Judaism. They even married off children young, and bethrothed them before they were born to prevent Muslims from marrying their children as to preserve the Jewish line secretly. When the rejime changed and Jews could legally practice again, they went back to Judaism.

Why do I mention this? When Iranian Jews began to immigrate to America most of them moved together into a neighborhood in Brooklyn. This was due to their common religious and cultural experience in Iran. When a new immigrant came the previous group helped them by giving them jobs. Then in turn that immigrant was grateful to the Iranian Jews who helped him/her. So when he made it helped other Iranian Jews. This was because a bond going back several thousand years as Iranian Jews was formed. Their religion and culture is the same, and they live in the same neighborhoods, they know the same families, and they marry into the same communities.

The struggles of each Jewish community whether it be in Yemen, Ethiopia, Morocco, Germany, Spain, England, Tunisia, Mali, etc. Jews by faith or by law had to live in the same area and marry only Jews. The Bible dictates that Jew marries either a Jew or a Ger (i.e. a convert). Converts can come from ANY culture and once they convert they can join any Jewish culture or community and are just the same as someone born Jewish.

You also have to remember that Jews and Asians also have languages that make them distinct from people who are not from their cultures. Most Jews who speak Hebrew, or are native Israelis, have a common language. Even further Jews also spoke the venacular from the countries they came from. I can take you to any Passover in any Jewish community and though there are minor differences in some traditions, the basic elements are the SAME world wide. So a Jew in Iran, has the same Passover for the most part to a Jew from Russia.

Asians have a similar situation in that they often unite under national and linqistic ties. There are many Africans and Hatians who do the same for the reason mentioned above.

Also, there have been Jews in America since the 1600's. The first synagogue was a Spanish/Portuguese synagogue founded in 1634 in New York. They came here to escape the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

There are some African Americans in the Souther part of the East Coast have a similar situation. The Geeches on the coast of the Carolinas for example are African Americans who have their own language, culture and their own community.

Ehav Ever said...

One other thing I would like to mention. In order for money in the "black" community to remain and rotate in the "black" there would have to be a clear sense of what is meant by "black community." For example, people who have a similar culture, language, and origin normally form communities with like mind people. People who have goods that they can ONLY get from members of their community, will gravitate to those who have these goods. When you have defined what a "black" community i.e. its culture, morals, needs, wants, and common historical sense. Then you can deal with the next question. What goods or services do ONLY African Americans need, and can only be provided by African Americans? In my previous example I discussed how this works in the Jewish COMMUNITIES worldwide. A community is formed when there is a synagogoue (a place to pray), when there 10 Jewish men, and when there is the ability to obtain Kosher food. With the exception of the last one the first two functions can ONLY be performed by Jews, and with the last one, kosher food, for the most part on Jews open Kosher resturants. There are other services that only Jews open that eventually also open after this first three things are met. As more people move into said community, there are more resturants. So then there is a Kosher Moroccan, Kosher Yemenite, Kosher Deli. Then another guy opens a clothing store. (Jewish clothings ins't supposed to mix linen and wool.) Then non-Jewish businesses see the value of stocking Jewish products since for example Passover generates a lot of money. All of this starts with a synagogue, a group of 10 or more Jewish families, and a Kosher resturant. Money comes back to fellow Jews BECAUSE, as certain business owners get rich they give what is called in Hebrew "Tzedaqah" which loosely translates into charity, but essentially means Justice. It is required by religious law that every Jew gives 10% in charity. So if the synagogue receives charity then from the rich they then have the ability to help less fortunate Jews. In EVERY Jewish synagogue when you receive certain honors it is customary to give a certain amount of money. For example, at my synagogue whenever we are called upon to read from the Torah scroll, we normally denate a certain amount of charity for the honor. At the heart of all of this is 1) a common belief system, 2) a common culture (with minor differences based on location), 3) a common need for certain products and services, 4) a common language, and 5) a common homeland. Any group of people who have those things, at least in part have the ability to form a culture.