Why “Buy Black” Ain’t Nuttin’ But A Word (Unconventional Wisdom) (Guest Post)

By Thembi Ford

Maggie and John Anderson, a black couple in Chicago, started the Empowerment Experiment – for the next year they will only patronize black businesses, which so far has meant traveling between four and sixteen miles for such common needs as banking and grocery shopping. So far they’ve spent $45,000 at black owned establishments in 2009.

More after the jump.

Yes, I said $45,000. Maggie, a lawyer, and John, a financial advisor head a family of four but their disposable income is still well above average. Sixteen miles isn’t too far to travel to make sure your dollar is spent well, but it’s certainly a luxury that not all of us can afford. I can’t wait to hear about the experiment’s findings, but in the meantime should the rest of us feel guilty about not buying black? Conventional wisdom says yes, but unless you’re capable of what the Andersons admit is a ‘sacrifice’ (read: charity), my answer is no. Supporting black businesses is ideal, but sadly, on a large scale it’s an economic losing battle with an overly idealistic premise.

It doesn’t take a Harvard economist (which I happen to be) to realize that multinational corporations are taking everything over. Where there used to be Mom & Pop hardware and grocery stores there is now just one huge Target, and that’s not a color issue, it’s a capitalism issue. The Walmartization of America across every industry hasn’t just excluded black people, it’s excluded “the little guy,” and thanks to efficiencies of scale the multinationals can offer everything cheaper and faster, meaning they’re more likely to get whatever pennies we have to spend these days. Burning gas money to get to Costco makes sense economically, but traveling the same distance to get less for you money but put said money into a brown hand – or even into “the little guy’s hand”- just isn’t practical for most people.

National trends aside, the movement of black dollars is especially funky. For example, Koreans overwhelmingly dominate the black beauty supply network (and depending on your city, Chinese/Vietnamese nail salons and corner stores), but this is yet another product of capitalism. The average Korean could care less about black hair; in fact during a trip to Seoul my brassy naps were a curiosity meriting laughs and points from locals. But when I walk into a beauty supply store in West Philly the Korean man behind the counter accurately points to a package of Afro Kinky #33 and if I choose not to enhance with extensions he knows just what shampoo would work best for me. These are businessmen using the same Sneaky Pete business tactics that every other business in this country is built upon – put competitors out of business, lock up the market for insiders, be a product expert, and fix prices so that the customer can’t go elsewhere. Black hair care is not exempt from the laws of economics just because we hold it near to our hearts.

Why don’t more black folks own these businesses ourselves? Aside from being pushed out by what are simply bigger or better businessmen, our work ethic is just not built to compete. Black American economy began with producing for others without pay, so it’s no surprise that we traditionally define “success,” as having a good job working for someone else. Black Working Class parents raise their children with aspirations of becoming Middle Class, black Middle Class parents raise their children to be…mo’ betta black Middle Class. Get a good job at a good company, maybe even become a VP, but not prime stakeholder in a corporation, inventor, or anything with true agency. The focus on entrepreneurship is just not present in our community on a widespread level. I suppose this is why I patronize a black-owned laundromat but otherwise have to ask “what black businesses?”

When it comes to ‘giving back,’ I’m not sure I buy that so much either. Contrary to our belief that beauty supply stores, for example, “don’t give back to the community,” every beauty supply store I’ve ever been into has a handful of black beauty consultants on staff. Furthermore, if a black guy owned Wal-Mart would be he be “putting money back into the community” or just hiring the best people and organizing a charity basketball game here and there? Once I find a black business, what is the brother gonna do with my dough? Hire Mexican migrant workers? Invest it in the stock market? Or, as we fantasize, “give back,” although we’re not really sure what that looks like? Believe me, I’d rather give my money to a black person when all else is equal, but equality and capitalism have simply never mixed.

Thembi Ford is the author of the blog What Would Thembi Do?

71 thoughts on “Why “Buy Black” Ain’t Nuttin’ But A Word (Unconventional Wisdom) (Guest Post)

  1. This post is problematic on so many levels…but I’ll let that pass with no comment from me…however I will say that most of these "unconventional wisdom" posts aren’t very unconventional…they seem to be filled with common stereotypes and thoughts regarding black people, capitalism, sex etc.Basically no new thoughts – just rehashing of a lot of what’s been said/thought before.

  2. "but equality and capitalism have simply never mixed."Yes, that’s true. African Americans have systematically been denied business opportunities in this country like no other group. And then on top of that many African Americans find every excuse in ‘the book’ to not patronize a Black business. You know; the ice cubes at the White/ Asian store are colder than the ones at the Black owned business.I had an Asian co-worker who on a Friday afternoon was talking about how she was going to drive to a nearby city after work. When another co-worker asked why she was going there she told us that a (Asian) couple had opened a dry cleaning business there and she was going to take some clothes to be cleaned. When we asked if she knew them she said no. She was patronizing them to help them get their business started. If only African Americans did that sort of thing. Instead we find excuses to avoid Black owned businesses. I know it’s not totally our fault, America teaches everyone that White/ non-Black is better. But we ought to try like the couple from Chicago to patronize Black owned business. If it’s not a point of ethnic pride to do so then it should be done for economic reasons. We, as African Americans, have a trade deficit with every other ethnic community. Our money goes out and never comes back. So just as it’s bad for America to have a trade deficit with China it’s bad for us to have one as well.

  3. I think more Black people need to own small businesses. Although there is a lot of large corporations that dominate the market there are still things that could be provided through small businesses. I am 26 years old, African American female, a doctoral student, and I own a tanning and nail salon. I don’t tan at all but there is a market for it where my store is located so it works. I am a minority owned business. I think the best way that black owned business could help the community is not by putting money back in the community with their business giving money. There needs to be an increase in black business ownership. Other communities have done it and that is how they are able to be successful. If we want wealth building professions (which is something that lacks in our community) business ownership is one way to go to deal with this problem. Business ownership needs to increase in our community regardless of who the patrons are. In my case most of my patrons are white. My boyfriend teaches about the importance of entrepreneurship to teens and how they can be successful through business ownership. Most of the students during his last session of classes were Black students from Columbus, OH. Check it out: http://www.highschoolbiz.com. I am less concerned about patroning black businesses then I think there needs to be an increase in Black business. Additionally, just because you are a Black business doesn’t mean that you have to limit your product so that it is only marketable to the Black community. You must think broader.

  4. @Cher Nikki "I am less concerned about patroning black businesses then I think there needs to be an increase in Black business. .."Isn’t that a contradictory statement? I mean if you want more Black businesses and yet you don’t think it’s important to patronize them how are they going to survive? Just curious.

  5. why should you feel guilty about what’s doing what’s best for YOU? while it’s all well and good to help out our respective communties, i’m not going to break my neck for the attempt. my community (for the most part) isn’t paying my bills.

  6. @Monie You said a lot of what I was thinking.Yes you can save money by shopping at Wal-Mart, but you could employ hundreds of black people by patronizing black businesses. Driving out of your way could mean a lot more job opportunities for folk who look like us.You don’t have to care about a person just b/c they look like you – but then you should stop complaining about all the problems folk who look like you have – so many middle/upper class black folks are "embarrassed" by lower/working class blacks so much so that Cosby launched a tour to ridicule them, but no one can seem to make a connection between the plight of black American and are lack of economic power. One of the reasons this recession for America is depression for black folks is because we don’t have businesses that can support and hire our own. This is basic economic lesson one on one…in the 70’s we have more black owned business then we do now…we were also better of economically as a group then we are now…there’s a correlation between the two.So until we are willing to spend a little ore and drive a little farther to support our own then many of the problems middle class black folk like to complain won’t be solved…but sometimes I think we just like to hear ourselves talk.

  7. I only eat at one of a kind resterants and try to buy everything I can at small businesses but that gets harder and harder all of the time…

  8. why should you feel guilty about what’s doing what’s best for YOU? while it’s all well and good to help out our respective communties, i’m not going to break my neck for the attempt. my community (for the most part) isn’t paying my bills.And that’s the attitude why Black folks are in the dire straits we are in.It’s fine for folk to ahve that attitude…it’s all the complaining, hemming/hawing and hand wringing about black problems that cracks me up…the politicians don’t care about us…we get charged more for mortgages and car loans…oh there’s such horrible representation of black women on tv…on black men don’t like/care for/need us…yadda, yadda, yadda…But when it’s time to put your money where your complaints are and make a real difference its, "hy should you feel guilty about what’s doing what’s best for YOU? while it’s all well and good to help out our respective communties, i’m not going to break my neck for the attempt. my community (for the most part) isn’t paying my bills."Like I said…we don’t get it…money is power in this country and on a whole we spend our duckets making other people rich…

  9. The whole "Buy Black" idea is purely mental masturbation. Value should be the primary concern when deciding where to spend money, not the race of the merchant. Besides, in the end ALL money goes back to white folks anyway. Don’t believe me? Just look at where "successful" black businesspeople spend their money: luxury autos, retailers, restaurants, wax statues of themselves, etc.Patronizing a business just because it’s black-owned is just as silly as whites not patronizing a business because it’s black-owned.

  10. "in the end ALL money goes back to white folks anyway."Yes, but if that money stayed in the black community 26 times before it left to land in the hands of the white man it would make 26 other black people rich and make 1 white man rich.Right now our dollars are only making the white (Asian, Jewish, Hispanic) man rich since as soon as we get them they leave the community.

  11. It is an interesting question, which is more important, supporting someone of your own race or is price more important? I’m not sure that there is any guarantee that if you spend your money at a local store that they are going to help the community anymore than one expects Wal-Mart to help the community. But then again, if your locally spent money can help keep a couple of folks employed that may be the most you can hope for. On the other side, entrepreneurs should be encouraged as the real strength of the American economy is the small business.

  12. I think there needs to be more black businesses that sell necessities. In my neighborhood the only necessities that are black owned is the various hair dressers and barber shops and 1 of the dry cleaners. A lot of the black businesses are always trying to sell the high end clothes, wine and $20 lotion. The pharmacists, the hardware store, grocery stores are owned by other ethnicities. I would love to patronize a black owned business but bottom line if you own a store selling necessities in a convienient location you will make money b/c people of many races will find themselves in postion to patronize you out of convienence.I know all black folks aren’t poor but we need to be realistic. A lot of these stores that tried to sell upscale items in my class diverse neighborhood have gone out of business. I remember there was this high end shoe store that opened up selling Italian shoes, they went out of business in about 2 years while the shoe repair guy remains in business and has been in business for years.

  13. I’m sorry, I don’t like being bullied about where I choose to spend my money. In my neck of the woods, when a black owned business opens, the word spreads to support the business. My husband and I always hop on this bandwangon. BUT, if we don’t like the service, product or whatever, we don’t break our necks to go back. And yes, we do give them a second chance (sometimes a third). Now this rule goes for any establishment. I stopped patronizing my dry cleaner who happens to be Hindi b/c of poor cusomer service. The problem is that some blacks figure that owing their own business gives them license to run it the way they see fit. Fine, but don’t expect your customer base (be it black, white, or green) to remain loyal if you are not providing good service, a good product, etc. The door swings both ways.

  14. I support good customer service. I will go out of my way to support Black folks doing positive things, especially the youth. There was a group of young black girls at my local farmer’s market trying to raise money for some organization they were a part of (can’t remember the name) by selling homemade cookies. I bought a couple of bags. The cookies were hard as nails and tasted just as bad but I would buy from them again because they were polite and appreciative. Don’t get it twisted, though. I refuse to hand over my hard earned cash to anyone who doesn’t know how to treat a customer.

  15. Here’s why it’s important to support black owned businesses: So they can stay afloat.Here’s why it’s important for black owned businesses to stay afloat: -So that when you’re sat in the back of a resturant and look around and notice that everyone sitting in your area looks like you, you won’t need demad an apology.-So that when you go to a bank to get a loan, but find it hard to be taken seriously, you won’t need to protest.-So that when you go down to the local pizza parlor and demand to know why there aren’t any black people on the wall, you won’t feel the urge to throw a trash can through the window. We need our own self sufficent communities. Period. Say what you want about the Nation of Islam, but at least they’re self sufficient. At least the residents of THE HARLEM CHILDREN’S ZONE know what and how their children are being taught.I get so SICK of black people complaining, picketting and protesting about the way that we are treated in this country. Al Sharpton on the front lines fighting and marching for a half-assed, insincere apology. Simple solution, people: GET YOUR OWN…and then support it. Keep it alive and help it thrive.

  16. You try to support black owned businesses but every single time…I ‘ve come away disappointed with the service or lack of. Sorry to say but this is my experience.

  17. Now I will support a fundraiser – hard cookies and all!Has anyone considered that sometimes blacks don’t take the time to find out what running a business entails? Or worse, they think they know but really don’t understand the full scope of running a business. Just because you can "cook good" doesn’t mean you know how to run a restaurant and know how to make if profitable. I’ve seen this too many times – a place does good business but mysteriously closes or is bought by someone of a different race. We can patronize black businesses all we want but we can’t keep them open if faulty business practices are at play.

  18. I wish I could be as charitable. I have to go where it’s cheapest to shop most of the time, which means Walmart.

  19. I believe in at least attempting to patronize Black owned businesses. In fact I would prefer to, BUT… and that’s a huge but. I’m tired of the attitude and lack of professionalism experienced when patronizing a BB. I do realize that there’s bad customer service everywhere, but it’s even worse when you personally go out of your way to support a place and you get "rolled eyes", "shortness in conversation", and overall rudeness. Of course not every BB is like this, but honestly a lot of them are. I totally agree with the person who commented: Just because you can cook doesn’t mean you can run a restaurant. Sometimes you just have a great idea/ product, that someone else can take to the next level, but that’s where NETWORKING comes in. I mean that applies to all races. I would love to see more Professionally run Black Business grow in our community…

  20. Wow, after reading these negative comments there is no wonder Black businesses have such a hard time. Seems like Cher Nikki is right about advising Black entrepreneurs to open a business that doesn’t rely on having Black customers. So sad.

  21. Girl. This post was on point and I have the feeling you could have waxed and waned poetic more. The bottom line is that the group mentality think tank hasn’t existed for African Americans since segregation. Segregation blew the bottom out and removed the need for us to stick together and protect one another.Foreigners have not lost that skill. They stick together cause they have no choice. They need each other. The truth of the matter is that we are as American as apple pie so all that ish about blacks supporting each other is outdated hogwash. As long as your a black business owner: Oprah, Bill, Jay, Beyonce and countless others I’m good. Everyone under the sun is buying their products; not just us. To me that’s a more realistic business model.

  22. All that Yes Yes Yall..Blackity Black Black Yall mess is tiyad. Fill a need and sell what people want; not what you think they should have.

  23. Cause for every conscious person who understands that we should support each other as people of color.. there’s about 20 ignant unconscious jokers in the deck to match. They’re the ones buying the Rockawear, Phat Farm, House of Dammit Its Wrong, Nike, Urban Fashion Lines, Frappacino’s, Ipods, Flavor of Love/New York/Real Chance and every other successful crossover brand you can think of. Do you think they really care about stepping into a brick and mortar black owned business?You can’t support a business or start a business model based on making folks feel guilty about not buying from you. Believe that. And BTW…Who has the time to educate the aforementioned people? It’s exhausting and not even worth the aneurysm.

  24. This post is full of stereotypes and I am not sure why DB allowed this to be published on her website: Not a good choice in my opinion. Someone please help explain to me whatshemeans by this: "our work ethic is just not built to compete." Can someone please explain: I need some help in trying to understand this sista girlfriend scholar is tryin to say.Help? Or is it every man and woman for themselves: Just like last week?

  25. ooopss…. I need some help in trying to understand WHAT this sista girlfriend scholar is tryin to say.

  26. I have to wonder: If "conventional" wisdom by definition is that which is generally accepted as true without analysis, and "unconventional wisdom," is an attempt to analyze those ideas to the contrary, how can the ‘unconventional’ be so much more (or less) ‘common’ or ‘stereotypical’? than the original, ‘conventional’ belief? Even if I felt that my personal beliefs were the stuff of stereotype, that would be like saying "how dare you fight fire with fire or compare apples with apples." My take on the premise of this series is to present views that oppose ideas that we take as true just because they sound good – NOT buying black, as I suggest, does not sound good, and in order to refute the ‘obvious’ the reasons for belief in the obvious straight up have to be addressed.Criticism of ideas or beliefs is great; the semantics of whats new under the sun, notsomuch.

  27. @ whashesayNo problem expounding. My meaning in "our work ethic is just not built to compete," refers to how American blacks are taught to think about money and success. Our legacy is that of working for others (slavery-sharecropping-beyond), and that’s a legacy that we pass on generation after generation. While we have the same pride in our work that anyone else would we’re later in the capitalism game than much of America, and certainly do not have the ‘hit the ground running’ attitude of immigrants, so these factors (not to mention lack of seed money and other basics) result in black folks just not being as competitive in this particular facet of the economy. The idea that its NOT every man/woman for themselves reflects a belief in collective economics and community, which, for better or worse is not at all what this country was built on. You can call it a ‘stereotype’ if you want, its definitely a generalization, but not at all a gross one.

  28. I agree with the post, it’s hard to patronize some black stores because you get the inflated prices, half the stuff you don’t really want or need and then you get nasty attitudes and i’ve always had the attitude that if I am going to spend money anywhere then I had better get the best customer service and that’s no respect of skin color. I’ve walked out of quite a few places because I got treated poorly. For example I went back to chicago for a visit and we were staying with mother in law in the south suburbs. Her and I went to this new grocery store close to her house. On the outside it looked very nice and presentable but once we walked in, half the shelves were stocked, it smelled funny and the owner was walking around with a chip on her shoulder. I asked my mother in law why the store looked so desolate and she said because the owners grocery provider quit and they had no other means of receiving new shipment of groceries. That’s unacceptable and you would never see any of the "other" stores have issues like that. How are you still operating at 50%, anyone would be turned off with service like that.Saying all that to say regardless of who’s fault it is and where black people choose to shop at, we need to be educated on how to run a business, how to manage money, how to invest period and how to have great customer service. You can’t go off on everyone because they said something wrong to you, you can’t stand around and talk and then expect repeat customers. It’s just unacceptable and if I walked into any establishment and that was the attitude then I would quickly turn around because they are making it apparent that they aren’t interested in making money.Stereotype or not, black people in my opinion are the only race that seem to have that poor work ethic. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of us who work and work hard at trying to pursue goals and own things but it’s the select few that make it bad for all of us. We need to be educated on how to make money and maintain in our communities and if we don’t learn then we can’t blame anyone else for our failure. So instead of me just rambling and complaining, I am in the process of creating the workshops and financial classes that will help us have the tools to succeed like everyone else.

  29. I agree that alot of these "unconventional wisdom" posts are full of the same ole same ole. Do you guys at Black Snob HQ really think you’re saying something provocative and new?

  30. @ Court, et al:The series purpose has always been to encourage debate (which it has) and to encourage people to discuss different viewpoints. I STILL encourage anyone who has an opinion besides myself (as I never intended for the series to be all about me wearing various for and against hats), to write on a topic, any topic, listed for the series if they have an idea. I’ve also encouraged people that anyone can write a response to the author that would also be published on the main page (but no one has taken me up on that one).It’s a reader participatory stories series meant for discussion. If you disagree with it or don’t like it you’re actually participating in what was the initial intention — to find out whether long held views are right or wrong. It’s up to the reader to discuss the relevancy of what the writer wrote. If you disagree, you’re free to say so. If you agree, jump in. That’s the main purpose. To look at ideas, beliefs, stereotypes, et al, and discuss what is true in your eyes and what is not. The series title is simply a reflection of its purpose.

  31. I also cosign with JJ-very nice comments! I’m proud to say that my primary bank is Capitol City Bank in Atlanta Georgia-an African American owned bank. I live in the Druid Hills area of Atlanta but I drive all the way to the main branch located in the West End (South side of Atlanta) to do my banking because I’m proud to support my black bank. Bank of America and Wachovia are just down the street from me but I feel a sense of pride to even have the opportunity to bank at an estabilishment that is black owned.

  32. @dilettante Harvard economics – True *takes Harvard diploma, turns it into a paper plane, and files for this week’s unemployment benefits*

  33. Great post. I think we need more entrepreneurial schools for young people and we should patronize and encourage young people when they are business oriented. I always buy from the kids when they are selling for school programs and I let them know there is no shame in selling and they appreciate the support. I remember when all the kids in my school sold flower seeds and holiday cards–it was a great experience. I wish more parents would show their young people how to earn money…

  34. @Demetra "Stereotype or not, black people in my opinion are the only race that seem to have that poor work ethic.""I am in the process of creating the workshops and financial classes that will help us have the tools to succeed like everyone else."So, if our, Black peoples, work ethic is so poor why would you waste your time creating workshops for us. I mean would we even show up? Wouldn’t our bad work ethic having behinds just stay home?

  35. I’m sincerely curious…if work ethic/style is not a cause of why there are not more black owned businesses, what causes the lack? Ive heard lots of criticism of the idea that work ethic is a factor but ZERO explanation of other reasons why (besides lack of capital and other results of the overlap between class and race, which I mentioned). Just really interested in people’s viewpoints…Anyone?

  36. "You try to support black owned businesses but every single time…I ‘ve come away disappointed with the service or lack of.""I’m tired of the attitude and lack of professionalism experienced when patronizing a BB. I do realize that there’s bad customer service everywhere, but it’s even worse when you personally go out of your way to support a place and you get "rolled eyes", "shortness in conversation", and overall rudeness. Of course not every BB is like this, but honestly a lot of them are.""it’s hard to patronize some black stores because you get the inflated prices, half the stuff you don’t really want or need and then you get nasty attitudes…"—————————————————————————————If you get bad service at a White business do you resent all White businesses or just that one that gave you bad service? I’m not trying to start an argument but it seems we do to each other what we ask everyone else not to do which is generalize. I mean if you get bad service at a Micky D’s do you write off all Micky D’s?

  37. @ThembiI think that we as a group are not immune to thinking in ways which hurt our own efforts. For instance when we make gross generalizations about Black businesses and speak of them as though they are all run by the same person, who of course gives bad service. And please don’t underestimate the effect that school of thought has. I mean lets face facts; most non-Black people aren’t going to be flocking to Black owned businesses. So then who will patronize Black businesses?Another problem is we don’t yet have a culture of business ownership. That’s changing but we are not there yet. Most small business owners generally learn to run a business by working in a family business. That imparts knowledge but also a certain confidence. Another problem is generally less wealth is being passed on from one generation to the next in the Black community. This means that in many Black families every generation starts over again. There is no passage of anything of value. A home being passed down would allow one to borrow against that home and that’s a head start to starting a business. Also many Black people have traditionally sought low risk employment rather than striking out on their own. And lets not discount the effects of racism. Redlining, not being able to get the best prices on products, having difficulty getting licensed all have been problems that we have and still face.And you mentioned that our work ethic was hurt by slavery. I don’t really understand that. I mean we worked for free under the most brutal conditions imaginable for hundreds of years. So how is it that we wouldn’t have a work ethic? Or a poor one. Seems to me working is all many Black people have ever known.And finally the Government has also done its part in discouraging Black business growth. The SBA for instance routinely offered loans to Whites which were denied Blacks with the same qualifications. Just in the last few years a case involving Black farmers and being denied loans was settled. Although they may not be able to collect anything. Anyway my point is that it’s really easy to offer the Blacks are lazy and have a poor work ethic argument but once one digs a little deeper it’s easy to see that their have been and are still all sorts of impediments to Black businesses starting and becoming successful.We have a unique history in this country. There have been extraordinary roadblocks in front of us since we arrived here and many roadblocks remain. I just hope that we will try to see the bigger picture and not simply think that we have no work ethic or that we are lazy people with bad attitudes. We shouldn’t so easily buy into the same stereotypes which are thrown at us on a daily basis by others.Sorry if that was too long. 🙂

  38. This has to be said. I can see why this race is so %^%*& up.Just look at the self-hating and defeatist mentality of black women. Look at how self-loathing they are about their own race. How they look at the black race as helpless and other races as gods.You can’t tell me that they don’t infect their children who by the way are probably fatherless with their sickness.

  39. @MonieI hear you on the idea that its unfair to not patronize black businesses because of the belief that black businesses don’t offer good service. I dont want to respond to the claims of others and since that was not part of my piece I won’t do so.But when it comes to work ethic, I have to clarify terms that seem to have been taken and run with here that force me to conclude that there are kneejerk reactions at play and the perception of stereotypes where there are none being presented. There is a HUGE difference between the stereotype of ‘lazy’ black folks with a ‘poor’ work ethic and a work ethic that doesn’t focus on entrepreneurship – nothing about black people being lazy was EVER said in ANYTHING I wrote nor will it ever be. Black folks work HARD, and the last person to deny such would be me, whose grandmother (who I consider a genius) worked her fingers to the bone – just for someone else. That’s the position she was in, and the position that most black folks have found themselves in since this country was founded. A commenter noted that desegregation eroded the need for black-owned businesses with black patronage and that’s certainly part of it, but just like every other ethnic group we are products of our upbringing. As I argued, we are pushed to work hard and do well, but not necessarily to start self-sustaining businesses. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, for example, argues that the reason why there are so many Jewish doctors and lawyers after their first wave of immigration to the US is because that culture stressed business ownership in the garment industry at just the right time, and the children of these entrepreneurs were then free to pursue the most lucrative and prestigious careers possible, and he backs it all up with a series of very convincing family trees. During the very same era, my grandparents worked very hard for someone else, one owned a business intended for black folks, but all stressed to my parents that they attend college and build a strong future but entrepreneurship was not a cultural value. My story is not unique, unless someone can truly debunk conventional wisdom and demonstrate that there’s a plethora of black owned businesses out there that have formed and failed at rate different from those of business owned by any other ethnic group. So when I say that our work ethic was hurt by slavery (and then sharecropping etc) I don’t mean that we were laid up in cotton fields being lazy field hands and thats why we don’t have nothin’ now. What I mean is that our attitudes toward success, money, and building a strong foundation for ourselves are built in present day reality, passed down to our children, and the legacy of the past still lives with us today – just like speech patterns, music, dance, and everything else that makes black culture what it is. I will never find a problem with highlighting the good and bad of what makes us US, because so much of it is beautiful. It just is what it is.

  40. I also have to say that if this discussion were about the "entitled" white person who believes that the world is their oyster, most of us would accept the idea that a white man in America would (and probably should) decide that the sky is the limit and they can achieve whatever it is they choose. "I’m free, white, and twenty-one," was one of the most popular lines in early cinema and that wasn’t for nothing. So if that’s true even for a second, wouldn’t that self-image be beneficial in a capitalistic system where risk is the only way to win? And on the contrary those of who don’t feel as entitled or limitless feel pressured to take a ‘safe’ route and therefore not end up in a position of ownership as often? Just something to think about.

  41. @ThembiFirst, I should have been more specific when I mentioned the "lazy" thing. I was talking more in general on that to the thread.I get what you are saying. And at this point I’m not sure if we are really disagreeing. I just wanted to make the point that success or failure is more complicated than outward appearances would lead us to believe. On that note; I read Outliers. It was a good read. I hoped that Mr. Gladwell was going to explore his theory and how it would relate to African Americans. I know that he talked about the schools in the Bronx but I was hoping for something more comprehensive on that subject.Nice talking with you.

  42. @MonieSo glad we’re on the same page here (although everyone can’t be), and I think that its so easy to switch to outward appearance when talking about culture and ethnicity, which is probably where the bulk of ‘race’ discussions often incorrectly stray. So glad you read Outliers also so I didnt just sound crazy and I was BEGGING for him to get into slave descendant culture but I suppose his discussion of color in Jamaica was impressive enough :-/ Great talking with you too!

  43. It’s a reader participatory stories series meant for discussion. If you disagree with it or don’t like it you’re actually participating in what was the initial intention — to find out whether long held views are right or wrong. It’s up to the reader to discuss the relevancy of what the writer wrote. If you disagree, you’re free to say so. If you agree, jump in. That’s the main purpose. To look at ideas, beliefs, stereotypes, et al, and discuss what is true in your eyes and what is not. The series title is simply a reflection of its purpose.

    Um, how does any of this change anything Court said? If you’re having a conversation about ____ and trafficking only in types, how well could that conversation actually play out? What if the fundamental premise of a given post is just janky?

  44. Sorry, this post is just not well thought out. Four points:1) I take particular offense at the notion that "our work ethic is just not built to compete." Thanks for channeling 19th-century racists! Just one example among many to refute it: ironically, in discussing black hair care, the author fails to mention any of the many thriving salons and barber shops owned by black people. Somehow she missed this clear, obvious example of entrepreneurship that has been present in our community for decades. And given that the black community, being denied entry to segregated white institutions, had to build and run their own, that statement is just astonishingly ridiculous.2) One challenge for would-be black business owners has been, and continues to be, a lack of access to capital. The root causes of this, of course, go back centuries, and they are exacerbated by things such as banks’ discrepancies in lending, etc. Even immigrant entrepreneurs have had a better time in this regard. Yet this was also omitted from the post and only included as a parenthetical aside in one of the author’s comments below.3) Regarding those comments: "The idea that its NOT every man/woman for themselves reflects a belief in collective economics and community, which, for better or worse is not at all what this country was built on."Many businesses, especially those in immigrant communities, are built from a pooling of resources–usually from friends and family–and support from within. (Chinatown is an obvious example.) And it’s curious to assert that collectivism is a hindrance to black entrepreneurial success, given that so many immigrant business owners come from places that don’t necessarily share our dog-eat-dog mentality and do uphold the idea of building prosperity through community. 4) Even with the challenges black entrepreneurs face, their numbers have grown exceptionally: the number of businesses increased 45 percent (four times than the national average) between 1997 and 2002 to 1.2 million. Those are figures the author might have considered before spouting off nonsense about black people’s lack of work ethic.@Danielle:I appreciate the intent behind this series, but I don’t believe in provocation for provocation’s sake–the arguments put forth should be thought out, especially if they’re seeking to debunk so-called "conventional wisdom," and these posts just seem hastily done. This one is by far the most egregious offender. I would normally just not come back to the site, but I’ve been reading this blog fairly regularly in the past few months and have found most of the posts enlightening and entertaining. But for some reason, this series hasn’t held up to the rest. Just my honest feedback.

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