Blackout Day has come and gone, but how will it impact the focus on growing Black Business in our communities? After committing to “Buying Black” to stand in solidarity and put money back into my community, I was thoroughly disappointed with Black businesses’ access and exposure throughout the city. There were lists of Black businesses floating all over social media, but it didn’t appear much. I noticed I was not alone as I scrolled through social media and began to see posts indicating some of the businesses were either closed, woefully ill-prepared to meet the demand, or perpetuated many of the stereotypes surrounding Black companies. I posted a comment about this in a forum for Black business owners and was met with a lot of frustration about the same concerns. Most people agreed there is much room for growth in areas such as timeliness, product availability, customer service, and consistency. In the spirit of support, I shared some tips. I hoped to encourage business owners to invest in themselves and the movement as we try to rewrite the narrative and re-establish the focus on Black enterprise.
In this group, I also asked that we begin to take control over professional inadequacies and learn to take comments and conversations like this one to the business owners or Black forums, instead of to widespread social media. I suggested this is how we are to impact change. It is imperative, as we embrace this opportunity for systemic growth, to go back to the ideals of “keeping family business in the house” and fix broken structures from within instead of continuing to push this narrative in the face of others. It exposes our vulnerabilities, perpetuates this idea of substandard service, and “cutting corners” and makes it difficult for the thousands of great Black businesses doing things right. Our words, and way of addressing shortcomings, often hurt all of us. We must avoid painting a broad-stroke picture of what Black business is.
My goal is to address “poor business practices” through internal structures and avoid giving anyone an excuse to stray from our cause. Now, let me say I agree; there is work to be done. Some businesses must not only step up their game but sit on the bench. I remind you, though, we see that in all businesses and make allowances for it. Sometimes, big companies and White-owned businesses get it wrong too. Why are we more tolerant of their shortcomings than we are of our own? Are we biased? Prejudice? Brainwashed? Have we consciously or subconsciously subscribed to the “White is right” or don’t say anything to “others,” despite how we are treated, mindset so closely connected to the dreaded “slave mentality”? Why is it easier for us to continue to buy from places we are not allowed to enter with large purses or are followed, watched, questioned, and harassed than it is to ask for or address the manager or owner of Black business and explain how they did not meet your expectations and offer them an opportunity to solve it? We tend to patronize non-Black businesses while complaining the entire way but spending consistently nonetheless without an ounce of hesitation. We even say things like “we know there will only be one lane open” before we plan to shop at our least favorite, but high grossing, superstore. Despite what we expect to encounter, we go, complain, wait, and repeat. We often comment things such as “this lady is going to follow me around and make me mad” as we enter and purchase hair, clothing, or other high-end items that are placed behind a counter or in locked cases so they can’t be reached without someone “helping” us. These places, owners, and their employees often display behaviors equal to or, in many cases, worse than what is tolerated from Black businesses.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I despise poor service and will stop spending where I do not feel valued, but I refuse to apply more grace and accept more from anyone business than I do another. My question is, do we have higher expectations for Black companies than we do for others? Our actions tend to indicate we do! Why do we respond so vigorously when dealing with Black enterprise? Is that what people call reverse racism or even worse, “self-hate”? I ask again, are we biased and less tolerant because these businesses are Black? Has the narrative caused us to bring a negative attitude with us as we engage with Black business? Do we come in expecting a “hook-up,” discount, or something for nothing and demonstrate that in our bartering, attitude, complaining, or way of interaction as though these businesses “owe” us something more than the product or services you require?
I am not suggesting we lower our standards for Black businesses or other businesses, either. We deserve, in all situations, to be valued as patrons. I am merely proposing we shift our way of thinking while holding both Black businesses and businesses owned by others, to the same high standard. As we rebuild our communities and support growth through Black entrepreneurship, we need to expose, educate, and demand excellence. Expose through bringing awareness and “calling out” behaviors in ways that help change practices for the better. Maybe ask the manager or owner to step to the side and share directly how their services or staff failed to meet your expectations and clarify what needs to happen to keep your business. Educate by providing business management courses or customer service training to your favorite places and tell them, not social media and the general public, how disappointed you are and how their services or products negatively impacted you and allow them to fix it. Finally, demand excellence by exhibiting what you expect, making your expectations clear, honoring their pricing, not planning discounts you would never request from others, and bringing professionalism and support to the table.
I am convinced that we can rewrite this narrative and thrive if we commit to the idea of excellence in Black enterprise. Black business owners must step up, be open to feedback, and willing to fix issues through training, partnerships, and stringent standards of professionalism in every situation. Black business owners must also provide quality services and products every single time and not expect Black customers to settle while “breaking your neck” to serve your non-Black clientele with excellence. Although I waited until the end to say it, that too is reverse racism riddled with the confines of a slave mentality. The people who support your business deserve your timely, professional, best, and anything less is unacceptable. Get training, train your staff, hold them accountable, and be on time.
Within the problem, and the moment is where change happens. We must both demand and provide excellence in ways that help perpetuate the beauty of Black business. We can no longer allow poor examples to impact every Black Business by linking them all to the actions of a few. We are charged with building during this crucial moment of opportunity. For those who exhibit excellent business practices, we must change how we characterize Black enterprise and how we allow others to do it. We must remember a wide brush never hits the corners. It would help if you had a smaller, more defined tool to reach the areas that stick out most. I believe we need to fix “us” from the inside (family business) and change this narrative through dialogue and consequences aimed to restore and elevate instead of those designed to destroy.
Located in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Catherine Barnes is an established educator and author. She is also the owner of two businesses: Sudden Impact Solutions and Dare 2 Dream Travel Agency. At Sudden Impact Solutions, Catherine provides expert consulting and coaching services, helping women reach their potential through personal and professional development, as well as mental health first aid training. She opened Dare 2 Dream Travel Agency almost five years ago.