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Black Business, Economic Empowerment -

Black Consumer 101

How To Be a Responsible Black Consumer

by Tre Baker

I've done a lot of studying and research on economic development as it relates to the Black community, and, as you can imagine, I've found many critical issues that need to be addressed.  But I think most of these issues stem from the same core  problem: lack of ownership and control of the companies that we spend most of our money with.  Economics can be complicated and boring, which I guess is why we kind of forgot to deal with it while we were worried about integrating in white schools and businesses and getting Black politicians elected during and after the Civil Rights Movement.  But a half a century later, we're not much better off relative to whites, economically, than we were when we were getting lynched and hosed down in the streets.

What's the solution?  Well the entire solution could fill a book (which I'm actually writing), but the average Black person doesn't really need to concern themselves with all that if they don't want to.  It really comes down to a very simple fact.  Melvin Gravely, in his article “When Black and White Make Green,” points out that black-owned businesses are much more likely to hire blacks/African Americans (85% more likely than their white counterparts) (Gravely 2004).  So...in order to increase Black wealth and reduce unemployment, the most efficient use of our money would be to spend it with Black-owned businesses.  One dollar spent with a Black company is more effective at creating Black jobs then One dollar spent with a non-Black-owned company.  Makes perfect sense.

With that fact in mind, here are a few thoughts on how to be a responsible Black consumer and help get us started down the path of economic empowerment.  Of course I realize that most of us (including myself) won't have the discipline to do all of this all the time, but they're things to think about before you pull out your wallet or dig in your purse.

  1. Think twice and try not to buy whatever it is you're about to buy if you can resist and don't really need it.  Save your money instead, so when we get our economic act together, we can use all that saved up money to go out and invest in and/or take over businesses.  For example, what if Black people had been patiently saving all their money from their integrated jobs with white corporations ever since the Civil Rights Movement knowing that eventually these companies would mess up the economy and stocks would crash (recessions/depressions are built into the system).  Then when Bank of America and GM needed that bailout money and their stocks were at historical lows, we could have swooped in, bought a bunch of stock, took over the board, fired all the executives and put our own people in charge.  You want Black wealth and economic equality?...gotta think big to get it.
  2. Ask yourself why you are buying what you are buying.  Do you want the thing or the feeling that you think the thing will give you (hint: it's the feeling)?  Then ask yourself if you can get that feeling without buying the thing, or if there's something else that's cheaper, better for the environment, better for society, and/or better for your health that would give you the same feeling.  For example, fellas, do you really want that expensive car, or the girl you think that car will get you?  Be creative and figure out a way to save those racks on racks on racks, and get the girl anyway.
  3. Do not support companies that are destructive to your culture, humanity, or the environment.  This requires a bit of research and consumer education.
  4. Do not buy things with debt unless they produce income (assets) or help you be more productive/efficient.
  5. Buy things as close to their natural state as possible (especially food).
  6. Buy things that are made or grown locally whenever possible.  The only exceptions are things made or grown in Africa or by Black-owned companies.
  7. Buy organic, but be careful because just because it says "Organic" on the label doesn't make it so.
  8. Read ingredients labels on food and beauty products.  If there are more than a few ingredients and you can't pronounce them, they probably don't belong in or on your body.  Remember that your skin is porous and absorbs what you put on it, so if you can't put it in your mouth or eat it, then you shouldn't put it on your skin or hair either.
  9. The last and most important for Black people...Support Black-owned businesses whenever possible
    1. If necessary go out of your way to find them and buy from them.  I live in a fairly dense city, so my rule of thumb is that I will go up to 5 miles out of my way on a regular basis to support a Black business.  For special occasions I may go 20 to 30 miles.  (sign up at ujamaadeals.com if you don't know of many Black-owned businesses in your area if you live in a major city)
    2. DO NOT EXPECT DISCOUNTS!!!  If anything you should be willing to pay more.  Consider it a tax that is going to a good cause rather than the taxes you voluntarily pay to the US government, which is wasteful and racist.  My rule of thumbs is 10 to 20% premium for Black-owned goods and services, which means if I could get breakfast for $7 at waffle house, for the same food at similar quality, I would be willing to pay up to $8.40 consistently at a Black-owned establishment.  If, to my surprise, the Black-owned place is actually cheaper than the white/asian/hispanic owned joint, I'll leave an extra big tip for the cause, aka the voluntary Black Tax.
    3. Give them a break.  Our expectations are often higher for Black-owned companies than others, when it should be the opposite given the realities of where we are.  Don't be so hard on them if they're not quite up to competitive standards with non-Black companies.
    4. But when you give them a break, tell them about it...respectfully.  A major complaint for Black-owned businesses (and even just Black people working anywhere) is poor customer service.  Be willing to take that bad customer service and still support the business, BUT tell the manager or owner as nicely as you can that they should try and do better, and maybe give them some suggestions on how they could do it.  In general, we all need to get rid of all these bad attitudes.  Yeah, your job may suck...it's not my fault and maybe if you put a smile on your face, have some respect for yourself, and respect for others you'd actually feel better and do better.
Anyway, what do you think?  How can we all be better consumers?  Email me at tre@ujamaadeals.com
Tre Baker is an entrepreneur and business development strategist.  He is the co-founder of dnbeapparel.com, positive propaganda apparel, and ujamaadeals.com, daily deals from Black-owned companies.  Tre has a BS in Engineering Science from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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