By Ernie Brown Jr.
The idea of blacks supporting black-owned businesses is not new. In fact, Booker T. Washington, the famed black educator, author and lecturer, advocated blacks supporting their own, as did Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.
A recent story in this newspaper about a “buy-black” plan, however, apparently aroused the ire of some folks on our Web site’s message board.
In fact, some of the comments accused the black people in the story of being racists.
This is a classic example of people’s reading a story and missing the point of what the story was trying to make.
In case you missed it, Maggie and John Anderson, a black couple from Chicago, decided to patronize only black-owned businesses for a year.
In part, their decision was an experiment to determine where the black-owned businesses are, and also to recirculate dollars in the black community “to use the money we spend every day to solve our problems,” Maggie Anderson said in the story.
The story went on to say how the Andersons had to go on a 14-mile trip to find a black-owned grocery store. The couple, who began the “Empowerment Experiment” about five months ago, has spent thousands of dollars with various black-owned businesses. But at the time the story appeared in our paper, they were still searching for a black-owned mortgage lender, toy store — they have a 2-year-old daughter — and security-system vendor.
The experiment is to track spending among supporters nationwide and build a national database of quality black-owned businesses. An affiliate chapter of Empowerment Experiment is operating in Atlanta.
That is why the story is news. This kind of national tracking has rarely, if ever, been tried.
Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Black Chamber of Commerce show blacks have a lot of expendable income — more than $800 billion — and there are more than 1 million black-owned businesses in this country accounting for more than $100 billion in annual sales, the story says.
With $800 billion to be spent, wouldn’t it make sense to turn those dollars over in the black community and help black entrepreneurs with their businesses and create sorely needed jobs?
Various cultures have long had a history of supporting one another. Businesses have been passed down from generation to generation for years. So, why is this support questioned when black people try to do or talk about doing the same thing?
Would the critics have come out if the story had promoted patronizing businesses owned by white women or Latinos?
Besides, this was a one-year experiment for the Andersons, not a lifetime commitment.
I spend hundreds of dollars every year patronizing a black-owned barbershop. That money helps the owner stay in business and helps him pay his bills and support his family. Certainly there is nothing wrong with that.
In urban areas such as Youngstown and Warren, it would be good for more black-owned businesses to open up to meet the needs of those living in the inner city, most of whom are black.
It would be nice to go to a roller-skating rink or a movie theater in Youngstown instead of having to drive to the suburbs.
One day, the color of one’s skin won’t make a difference in whether someone gets a job or a loan to start a business.
That day is indeed getting closer, but it hasn’t arrived.
Yes, we have a biracial president, and that’s a great start in bridging the racial divide that still exists in this country.
But to find fault or to criticize someone who wants to help others in their community by patronizing their businesses seems to me to be shortsighted or just plain ignorant.