While the Black community has experienced disproportionate deaths as a result of COVID-19, the pandemic has left us all with clarity about the lack of value of Black Americans to the larger society.
Until 1865, Black bodies, minds and souls were an official currency in our capitalist society. The remnants of the peculiar institution of slavery, which exist today in the form of institutional racism, may be withering away slowly. Yet today, there is more energy from white Americans to demand change, including, more support for our lives and our businesses.
If you are not Black, why should Black businesses matter to you? Aside from wanting to support a more racially just society, and benefit from additional diversity as a consumer, frankly, it becomes more difficult over time for whites to segregate from Blacks. Black families are disproportionately living in poverty, and poverty creates a number of social problems, which affect us all.
Last week I moderated a virtual panel discussion on economic empowerment in the Black community. The panelists further elaborated on several important issues and barriers critical to Black economic empowerment.
Fear — African Americans have often been discouraged from entrepreneurship, even as a “side hustle”, due to the risk and lack of access to capital. COVID-19 is an excellent example of when additional income sources would have been helpful to a population that was largely out of work due to social distancing restrictions. Consider encouraging Blacks who are proficient in an area to pursue business training and start a business.
Business Directories — Business directories which highlight Black businesses are necessary. As Randy Philip, owner of the Washington Insurance Consulting Group and one of the cofounders of the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce noted quite simply, “We can’t support them if we don’t know who they are.” Race blind initiatives may result in policies and ideologies which prevent us from knowing who to support. If you know of a Black-owned business, share them with ARLnow.com to be listed in this directory of Arlington Black businesses.
Preparing Youth/Role Models — All of the panelists agreed that preparing our youth was critical to encouraging entrepreneurship in the Black community. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently shared this blog post by Eshauna Smith from the Urban Alliance on the importance of supporting future entrepreneurs. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a common refrain used when encouraging any unrepresented population to excel. We should connect Black youth with entrepreneurs for internships and encourage Black entrepreneurs to speak at career days and other youth events.
Chambers of Commerce — Some Black entrepreneurs may find value in joining several chambers or affinity groups of more traditional chambers. I applaud the Arlington Chamber of Commerce for supporting the US Chamber of Commerce’s National Summit on Equality of Opportunity where leaders from across the private and public sectors will discuss solutions to some of the underlying challenges driving inequality of opportunity for Black Americans including employment and entrepreneurship. We should all respect the desire for Black entrepreneurs to grow their business through these channels, and support efforts to build these organizations and support all Chambers.
Buy Black Days/Weeks — While these isolated efforts are helpful, more should be done to market Black businesses all year. As consumers and contractors, we can make a conscious effort to “Buy Black” after the protests have stopped. If we are in a position to promote businesses, we should intentionally diversify our lists. Contractors should actively pursue qualified Black subcontractors and purchasing agents should exceed minimum diversity standards and push to raise the minimum quotas.
Training/Mentoring – The panelists noted that some Black business owners are experts at their craft and less proficient in the operations of a business. We need even more support for existing business training programs, including BizLaunch, and increased outreach to Black business owners through these programs.
The immediate response to focused efforts on the Black population are often met with, “I had to work hard for what I have, so should you.” I am not sure there is a more obvious way to prove that systemic racism is alive and well in the United States than continually seeing the murder of Black people on TV and online. Racism is a function of several factors including our skewed system of capitalism. After centuries of being devalued, it is our collective responsibility to actively value Black people. When you raise your voice or do your part for Black economic empowerment, you uplift a whole nation.
Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.
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