AN OPEN LETTER TO ASPIRING AFRICAN-AMERICAN BUSINESS OWNERS
With this post, I’m talking to other aspiring and current African-American business owners. Even if you’re not in a position to comment and publicly discuss your views, please consider the points raised by this post. I want you to succeed and prosper in your business. I’m concerned about you and the other very few African-Americans who are brave enough to start their own businesses. I’m concerned because I see some flawed assumptions in peoples’ business strategies. Flawed assumptions that can unnecessarily cause you to lose every penny that you’re investing into your business.
One major flaw is that too many aspiring African-American business owners blindly assume that they can structure their businesses around African-American consumers. This generally does not work. Even when it works to some degree, Black business owners create extra difficulties and headaches for themselves when they try to service Black consumers. I would invite all aspiring Black business owners to look around Black residential areas. Look around at the wreckage of most businesses that tried to do business in Black residential areas as visibly Black-owned businesses. You’re not the first aspiring Black business owner who daydreamed of serving Black consumers. Other Black business owners had that dream. And failed.
THEIR ACTIONS SHOW THAT MOST AFRICAN-AMERICAN CONSUMERS DON’T WANT BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES TO EXIST
There are reasons there are few visibly Black-owned and operated businesses within the African-American collective. The primary reason is that African-American consumers don’t want to see visibly Black-owned businesses succeed. They don’t want to—and for the most part won’t— patronize visibly Black-owned businesses. The only partial exceptions to this rule were African-American owned hair salons and barbershops. Don’t be deceived by the many, many lies African-American consumers tell about their motivations. Actions speak much louder than words. Look at African-American consumers’ collective actions. The harsh reality is that African-American consumer decisions are not motivated by considerations of quality or customer service.
IF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CONSUMERS CARED ABOUT QUALITY OR SERVICE, THEY WOULD NOT PERSIST IN PATRONIZING FILTHY, RUDE ARAB AND KOREAN-OWNED STORES
If African-American consumers cared about quality or service, then they would not be jam-packed in the filthy, rude Arab and Korean-owned stores that exist within Black residential areas. Black consumers will continue shopping in Arab-owned stores even after learning the Arab shopkeeper allows Black gang members to sell drugs outside the back. Even after learning the Arab shopkeeper is exchanging groceries for sexual favors. Even after learning the Arab shopkeeper is sexually harassing underage Black girls in the store. As demonstrated by the sad case of Latasha Harlins, African-American consumers will continue flocking to Korean owned stores even after a Black child is unjustly shot in the back of the head and killed by a Korean shopkeeper.
Most African-American consumers don’t care about quality, customer service, or anything else. Those are just the excuses they give for not supporting Black-owned businesses. Most of them are lying. Other motivations form the backdrop of their buying decisions. One of the many unfortunate unintended consequences of the civil rights movement is that it reinforced the African-American perception that:
“SHOPPING WITH NON-BLACKS = FREEDOM, ACCEPTANCE & PROGRESS”
So, most African-Americans get an emotional high from shopping with non-Blacks. We’ll even fight with non-Black others to make them take our money. It makes many African-Americans feel “free” to have their money accepted by non-Black others. They don’t get any emotional satisfaction from patronizing their own people’s businesses.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM—THE PARALLELS WITH DISHONEST, “BLACK LOVE” CONVERSATIONS
I usually refuse to engage in “How to Have or Save Black Businesses” conversations with people who are not engaged in business activities themselves. I typically refuse to engage in that sort of conversation for the same reason I refuse to engage Black men in the “if Black women would only do X,Y, and Z then more Black men would want to marry them” conversation.
I firmly believe that both of these types of conversations are fundamentally dishonest. Because the underlying premises are untrue. In the business context, I believe that this false premise is about denial (of how slave-minded most of us are), and wishful thinking about the true nature and motivations of African-American consumers.
“Black Love’s” Double Standards. Black men will happily marry NON-Black women that have all the traits that they claim to find so off-putting about many Black women: obesity, difficult personalities, and so on.
Masses of Black women could twist themselves into pretzels physically, emotionally, and spiritually to try to cater to African-American males, and the bulk of these males still would not marry a Black woman. They’ll have sex with and impregnate Black women; but not marry them. Also, many of these males would still choose non-Black women whenever they get the opportunity.
Dishonestly Stalling to Maintain Monopoly Control Over Black Women. African-American women are the only resource that African-American men control. They have nothing else. Many Black men will be in trouble if more African-American women start imitating Black men by doing whatever works best for them. Without worrying about the so-called community or “Black love.”
Consequently, the true underlying purpose of most “Black love” conversations is to keep Black women’s money, time, energy, attention, and efforts solely focused on supporting Black men and their issues (which are redefined as overall “Black community issues”). All while Black men continue wandering off to do whatever they want to do, without considering how their choices affect the so-called community. Which is their right. As was mentioned during the Who Else Wants An Optimal Lifestyle? post:
There won’t be any collective solution to what has been called “Black Marital Mogadishu” in the United States because 50% of the participants needed for any Black marriage—Black men—benefit from the current absence of marriage among African-Americans. Black men generally like things the way they are right now.
The collapse of the African-American family is not about a lack of jobs. It’s about African-American men generally being content with the collapse of the African-American family. Black men will complain about the aftershocks created by the mass absence of marriage among African-Americans, such as the legions of fatherless, violent Black male criminals. But other than that, they’re content with the status quo.
Anybody who thinks that this behavior is driven by a lack of opportunity should examine the collective behavior of the African-American men who do have “good” educations and jobs. Since so many Black men in that category are not marrying at all, or they’re not marrying Black women, there’s no reason to assume that Black women would gain from African-American men having more opportunities. I learned that just by watching the behavior of the Black men that went to college and law school with me. There’s usually little to no return on that investment (creating opportunities for African-American men) flowing back to any Black woman at all.
If you look at their mass behavior and not their rhetoric, it’s clear that most African-American men don’t value marriage, and are not concerned about the now-dead “Black family.” African-American men like the status quo situation of their mass refusal to marry the Black women they have sex with and impregnate. From outward appearances, most African-American men are happy with a lifetime of sleeping around without the commitments or responsibilities of marriage.
If you look at their mass behavior, it’s also clear that African-American men are also not particularly concerned about the children they produce.
These “save the dead Black family” discussions are not even a blip on most African-American men’s radar . . . unless Black women start talking about solutions that don’t include continuing to wait around for African-American men—such as interracial marriage and a focus on dating non-African-American Black men (for those Black women who must have a Black man as their husband).
This is the point that many Black men (and the Black “race women” who are so Black-male identified that they can’t see straight) enter these conversations. They do so solely to try to defend Black men’s image and the status quo, not out of any genuine concern about the already-dead Black family. This is when you hear various bad-faith assertions, such as:
Denials that the Black family and Black marriage are dead in the United States.
Attempts to minimize African-American men’s culpability for their own mass actions. (Their mass failure to protect or provide for African-American children, including the failure to provide stable, married households for their children to grow up within.)
Attempts to scare Black women away from exploring their interracial marriage options. (The “White men will just use you for sex and never marry you” rhetoric. Meanwhile, that’s exactly what the masses of African-American men are using Black women for, and not marrying them. Somehow, this detail escapes the Black male protectionists’ notice.)
Nonstop pressure for Black women to lower whatever standards they might have. They apply this pressure through incessant demands to hear Black women say, over and again, that they would date blue collar Black men.
Meanwhile, no other type of woman on this planet is required to recite a “dating loyalty oath” to include blue collar men as dating partners. Many of the same African-American men who insist that Black women swear dating allegiance to blue collar Black men also demand that Black women extend this same dating allegiance to Black male ex-convicts, Black male recovering addicts, old Black men for young Black women (see Steve Harvey), and so on.
Attempts to pretend that others are doing the same things and having the same experiences to the same degree. No, nobody else is having out of wedlock children at the rate of African-Americans. No, nobody else is trying to turn a woman having an education into a stigma at the rate of African-Americans. Others might be experiencing milder versions of these pathologies, but nobody is living like the masses of African-Americans.
Black Consumers’ Double Standards. Similarly, African-American consumers will happily shop in NON-Black-owned businesses that possess all the traits that they claim to find so off-putting about Black-owned businesses: rude service, goods that cost 2¢ more than rock-bottom prices, untidy stores, lack of selection, and so on.
Dishonestly (and Subconsciously) Stalling to Ensure Black Business Failure and Loss of Money. There’s a similar dynamic with many of the African-American consumers who engage in “How to Have or Save Black Businesses” conversations. Black-business owners could spend their last dollar twisting themselves and their businesses into having the aura and presentation of the jewelers at Cartier, and most African-American consumers would still continue their informal boycott of Black businesses. African-American consumers would still choose to shop with non-Blacks whenever they get the opportunity. When you look at the overall behavior pattern, it is an undeclared boycott of African-American businesses by African-American consumers.
When African-American consumers get off into dishonest, hypothetical “How to Have or Save Black Businesses” suggestions, many of them subconsciously want to see Black business owners fail and lose their money. That’s why they give such reality-defying, expensive, and futile advice to aspiring Black business owners. Underneath it all, they want the Black business under discussion to flop. Black business owners taking business advice from most African-American consumers is as foolish and dangerous as Black women taking relationship advice from Black men. In both cases, most of the people dishing out the advice don’t have the listener’s best interests at heart.
There’s much mutual “hateration” among African-Americans. Most African-Americans hate and resent Black people with any money. We’re famous for being “crabs in a barrel” who don’t want to see another African-American prosper. We’re only comfortable with a narrow category of African-Americans having wealth: The often semi-illiterate Blacks who are drug dealers, throwing balls around sports fields, or cursing on a microphone over some beats. These are the wealthy Blacks that we idolize.
As an aspiring Black business owner, there are some things you need to recognize. If you’re a Black person whose money comes from activities other than the above, then many of us will resent you. We have a level of envy and ”hateration” for you that we don’t feel for non-Black business owners. No matter how badly these non-Black business owners treat us, we’ll just find another non-Black business to patronize. We certainly don’t want to see you prosper and we’re not going to knowingly support your economic activities. We give lip service (and nothing else) in support of the Black person who studied and built a legitimate business to get their money.
Besides the “secretly want you fail” Black consumers who have a long laundry list of demands for Black businesses, there are the Black wishful thinkers who want to believe that most African-American consumers are rational actors. These naïve individuals project their own rational consumer behavior onto the masses of African-Americans. They like to believe that these irrational, Black consumer double standards are ghetto issues. They’re not. This attitude extends across class boundaries. The African-American professional who would not be caught dead shopping in some slum Korean or Arab store is typically somebody who—just like the Black poor—also does not patronize Black businesses. Nor do they hire Black professionals for any of their needs. Somehow, everybody these middle class African-Americans use is non-Black. From their doctor, to their dentist, to their tax person, to their real estate broker, to their insurance agent, and so on.
There’s only one difference between the middle-class African-American consumer’s unspoken boycott of Black businesses and the poor African-American consumer’s unspoken boycott of Black businesses. That is the level of sophistication involved in their rationalization for their behavior. Dysfunctions are easier to spot with the Black poor and underclass because they often lack the polish to explain them away effectively.
THE PRICE OF DENIAL AND COMPLACENCY
I’m always amazed by the human mind’s capacity for denying reality. I understand the human urge to “keep hope alive” and desperately search for exceptions to painful rules. The problem is that taking this posture usually costs more in the end. As unpleasant as it can be, in the long run it’s usually best to face harsh realities and act accordingly.
CONSIDER WHAT DENIAL AND COMPLACENCY ABOUT “BLACK LOVE” DID FOR CARIBBEAN-ORIGIN BLACK WOMEN IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Whenever these sorts of topics come up, there’s always the chorus of voices claiming that there’s no need for alarm, or to rethink previous assumptions and behavior patterns because “things aren’t that bad.”
During “Black Love” conversations, there are always those voices reassuring Black women that most married African-American men have Black wives. And that only a small percentage of African-American men are married to non-Black women. What these soothing voices of complacency don’t mention is that the statistics they cite aren’t counting the African-American men who are not married, but are shacked-up with non-Black women. Or those Black men who exclusively date non-Black women. These voices of complacency will continue singing their lullabies even as the African-American out of wedlock birth rate eventually reaches 90-95 percent.
From the comments and essays I’ve read by Caribbean-origin British Black women bloggers and readers, I get the impression that women in their communities in the UK were lulled into denial and complacency as similar trends developed. Well, now they’re at the point that West Indian Black men’s interracial relationship rate in the UK has reached 48 percent. (See the BBC Caribbean.com story from January 19, 2009, The Mixed Race March in Britain.)
I believe the UK situation is a sneak preview of how African-American men will continue their singular focus on seeking their own individual bliss while the deceived masses of Black women in the U.S. keep trying to uphold “Black love” and the “Black family” . . . all by themselves.
If you want to succeed, you can’t afford to live in similar denial as a Black business owner. In that spirit, you need to understand the following:
BLACK RESIDENTIAL AREAS ALREADY HAVE THE BUSINESSES THAT AFRICAN-AMERICAN CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO SUSTAIN. THESE BUSINESSES ARE OWNED BY THE PEOPLE THESE CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO SEE PROSPER.
African-Americans have an informal tradition of buying what they want, and begging for what they need. The unflattering truth is that Black residential areas already have the businesses that African-American consumers are actually willing to support. No more. No less. And those businesses are owned by the people that they are actually willing to see prosper. And nobody else.
If something doesn’t exist in a Black residential area (such as independent, Mom and Pop-owned bakeries or decent sit-down restaurants), it’s because African-American consumers are not willing to sustain having that particular thing in their midst. It’s not about poverty. Equally poor Latino neighborhoods generally have independent, Mom and Pop-owned bakeries or decent sit-down restaurants.
DON’T BUY THE SNAKE OIL
For an aspiring African-American business owner, buying into that “if only more African-American-owned and operated businesses would do X,Y, and Z, then more Black consumers would patronize Black-owned businesses” delusion will typically lead to that Black business owner’s financial ruin. I’ve seen this happen more than once to naive African-American business owners who mistakenly believed that African-American consumer decisions were about quality. [I’m talking about quality Black businesses in middle-class and working-class Black residential areas. Not dives in slums. Over the years, I’ve seen several bakeries go under. A bridal dress store. Several bookstores. A printer-copy shop. And so on. As well as a lack of support, there were constant break-ins. And so these businesses died. I firmly believe the owners would have had a much better chance if they had set up shop in non-Black neighborhoods, and pretended the owner was White. This is part of what I mean by having a "colorless" business.]
African-American consumers’ statements can’t be taken at face value. Their actions show that they don’t want what they claim to want. And their motivations for supporting or not supporting various businesses are not what they say they are.
I’m not buying into—or peddling—that snake oil. I’m not trying to destroy aspiring African-Americans’ businesses before they even start. Which is the end result of entertaining this “if only more African-American-owned and operated businesses would do X,Y, and Z, then more Black consumers would patronize Black-owned businesses” delusion. This is why I generally refuse to engage in “How to Have or Save Black Businesses” conversations with people who are not engaged in business activities themselves.
IF YOU WANT TO MAXIMIZE YOUR ODDS OF SUCCESS, LEAVE MOST AFRICAN-AMERICAN CONSUMERS BEHIND
Again, it’s interesting to note the parallels between the dilemmas faced by Black business owners and that of marriage-minded African-American women. As mentioned on this blog’s FAQ page, Black women who are serious about marriage need to expand their dating and marriage prospects to include men from the wider world, and not limit themselves to dating Black men. A marriage-minded Black woman needs to position herself so a large pool of quality men, including non-Black men, can find her.
In a similar manner, Black business owners who are serious about success need to stop structuring their businesses around hopes of appealing to African-American consumers. The masses of African-American consumers are emotionally incapable of responding appropriately to any visibly Black-owned business, regardless of its quality. African-American business owners need to position their businesses as “colorless” in order to tap into the larger pool of non-Black consumers. Leave the deranged masses of African-American consumers behind. Don’t worry about excluding Black consumers. Most of them would never support your business anyway. Meanwhile, just like other consumers, the handful of healthy African-American consumers will run across your colorless business while shopping in the mainstream and respond appropriately.