People are hurting right now. They are angry, they are fed-up, and they are weary. For many generations than we like to remember, Black people in America have been targets. Targets for enslavement. For torture. For murder. For rape. For castigation. For return to their “rightful” masters. For Klan-sponsored violence. For lynch mobs. For bored white women’s accusations. For red-lining. For denials. For eviction. For incarceration. For cheap labor. For scapegoats. For environmental racism. For political hedging. For robbery. For looting. For government-sponsored crack experiments. For . . . fun.
But, we have survived. Not all of us. And not all the way intact. But we are here, living and laughing and still finding joy and somehow carving out small corners of America to call our own. We have made so many strides, from a class of people in bondage to the source of a boon in newly-created businesses.
Since the uprisings tipped off by George Floyd’s horrendous on-camera murder began, we’ve seen many people calling for an increased support for Black-owned businesses. It’s a natural (and frequent) reaction to prominent and blatant racism. Which we obviously support whole-heartedly at Nile. Our entire platform exists to encourage and streamline the support for Black-owned businesses. As much as we encourage and appreciate interest in supporting Black-owned businesses, we recognize that Nile, other platforms like it, and Black-owned businesses, in general, cannot fix the position of Blacks in America alone.
Yes, there are 2.4 million Black-owned businesses in the US. And yes, thankfully, that number has grown rapidly over the last decade. But, our businesses haven’t saved us. They can’t.
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced businesses to desegregate, many thought that this would not only allow Black shoppers to access previously unavailable arenas, but that it would also bring non-Black shoppers to Black-owned businesses. That didn’t happen. Instead, Black-owned businesses found themselves decimated by the new social landscape, where previously captive buyers flocked to non-Black businesses, and no one took their place. It wasn’t just Black-owned storefronts that took the hit and faltered. Black banks and insurance companies, which were found in most Black communities prior to integration, are now unicorns, even as Black property-seekers are denied mortgages at twice the rate of whites.
Simultaneously, plenty of large companies market directly to Black consumers, but have few Black executives or shareholders. Further, many of the companies that target Black consumers turn around and participate directly in the system that strips those consumers of their social and economic mobility, such as by using prison labor fueled by a racist system of mass incarceration. This is not novel or surprising — Blacks in America have often been treated the worst by those who profit the most from us. But we have to take a moment to recognize that the money we spend with these companies is quite literally being used against us, no matter how many Black Lives Matter statements and “commitments to diversity” the corporations make.
Even as the number of Black-owned businesses rises, entrepreneurs still find themselves facing the same realities of being Black in America as the rest of us. Black businesses struggle to get loans, or investment from VCs and other investors. Our businesses are stereotyped when it comes to customer service, professionalism, and quality (even by other Black people). When economic circumstances spur government action, Black-owned businesses are often locked out of those benefits. Black brick-and-mortar businesses are effectively redlined into areas that many patrons won’t visit. Sometimes our businesses are just flat out destroyed to keep us from thriving.
So what can we do? We are fighting for our literal lives, and everyone is tired. There is an oft-repeated statistic, that is completely unsupported, about the number of times the dollar circulates in the Black community as opposed to other communities. The point usually seems to be that we don’t do enough to spend our money with our own. The better point, that’s almost always lost by those who throw out the statistics, is that we live in a society that was forcibly designed to make it next to impossible to do so. Right now, people are protesting and agitating to change the system that makes it so difficult for Black-owned businesses to thrive. And we’re getting verbal support from many outside of our community, who are recognizing the persistent wrongs. There is an opportunity now to spread the responsibility not just for bringing an end to police violence and the carceral state, but for helping to build up the economic base of our community that has been kept down by this system for so long.
Encourage our friends and allies to buy Black in the same way that we finger-wag one another. Black-owned businesses need all of the non-Black supporters who are posting #BLM on social media and making nice statements on their websites to do what they didn’t do during desegregation. Positioning Black-owned businesses like Red Bay Coffee to become just as mainstream as the prison-profiteering ubiquitous Starbucks is arguably just as important to changing the racial landscape of America as the abolition of a criminal “criminal justice” system. Buy Black, even as a non-Black. Tell your allies to buy Black. Share social media pages of Black-owned businesses. Use resources like Nile, or Katika, or OneKin, to buy Black more easily.
Yes, some things are for us and by us, and we LOVE those things. But there are so many businesses making candles, wines, perfumes, chocolates, clothes, and things that people all over the world want and love (check out this list of Mother’s Day gift ideas we put together, for example) and buying those things from small Black-owned businesses — instead of the corporations that keep prisons in the business of incarcerating Black people disproportionately and inhumanely — that can make all the difference. If you’re an ally to Black lives, be an ally to Black business, because while our businesses can’t save us now, we can still save them — and we must in order to enjoy the full picture of equality in America.
theNileList.com is a digital platform connecting consumers with Black-owned brands that are available online. Use the site to discover Black brands selling the products you need and want, and easily filter your searches to find businesses that cater to your niche. Our site lists over a thousand Black online brands, and you can add yours for free by signing up for a business owner account, then creating a new business. Finally, our platform wholeheartedly believes that Black lives matter, and will always stand with those who attempt to make that ideology the reality.