How Black are Black Businesses?

Woman standing in front of retail store.

Supporting black businesses is a cherished pastime of most within the black conscious community. From eating at black restaurants that cook in a similar manner to your relatives, to buying hair products from someone with the same hair goals —supporting black businesses is not only an act of patronage but an act of pride. However, many of these businesses have sought to prioritize inclusivity, an act that dilutes the supposed purpose of their presence.

A decade ago, there were limited black- owned hair care products let alone companies. Despite the absence of black owned companies, there were abundant products that catered to African-American hair but were created and owned by whites. The white owned and distributed products solely featured black models as seen on brands like Just for Me or Dark and Lovely. Presently, the contemporary world has countless black companies that despite being black-owned and operated,  feature non-black models, or sponsor the racially ambiguous or multicultural women to market their products.

Black hair found a contemporary companion in Carol’s Daughter, a small black business started by Lisa Price in her Brooklyn kitchen. The company features recipes of Price’s late grandmother that proved an ideal ally to the black female quest for the perfect crown. Once a black- owned and operated company that catered to the needs of African-mericans,  Carol’s Daughter is presently a facet of Loreal that has expanded beyond the hair care needs of African-Americans.

In an article, “Shea Moisture responds to Accusations of Selling Out Black Women”  Kiersten Willis examines claims speculating whether Shea Moisture is on a similar path to Carol’s Daughter–a path that would deem its black patronage convenient not central to their franchise. The article quotes Shea Moisture as follows;

Separate but equal has never worked in any arena, including beauty. So, we were proud with ‘Break the Walls’ to tell the stories of so many women who ever experienced being underserved by the beauty industry.

This response illustrates the power of word choice. Namely, the careful wording  afforded to those who invest in a publicist. While seemingly a universal statement, appropriating the phrase “separate but equal” suggests an equity that has never truly existed between black women and any other female faction.

Thus, black business has proven a means for blacks to assume the burden of systemic oppression by taking on diversity, an initiative not considered in past or present traditionally white companies for any  purpose other than profit.

This strategic deflection corresponds with what Audre Lorde articulates in “The Master’s Tools:”

This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. (Lorde 113)

As long as blacks are preoccupied with diversity, we become distant from systemic disadvantage and become consumed with changing ourselves not the system. This action  deflects from the reality that whether black companies feature white models, white women remain central.  Perhaps more importantly, this dynamic suggests that black companies implement a racist mentality in failing to include white people, an ideology that is not simply untrue but impossible.

This diversity initiative is also present in black restaurants. One of my favorite soul food spots has a white hispanic girl as a seating hostess and an Asian bartender. Another soul food spot I frequent has a white woman as one of the aides. This same dynamic is mirrored in countless other black restaurants who have white servers, cooks, or models on their company websites. Although black owned and operated companies, these establishments reflect an overt commitment to diversity—a commitment that seems to oppose the actions of their oppressors, but actually reinforces ideas of white supremacy,  suggesting that the black body is an equal participant in global oppression.

As an excluded group preoccupied with inclusion, the black collective encompasses the counter productivity essential to dismantle the black community.  Black businesses should be an gateway to black liberation, but instead functions as an oppressive platform nurtured by a community severed.  Black preoccupation with inclusion illustrates how the western world has convinced blacks that their community is detrimental to the very systems they wish to combat.

This inclusion seems solely a priority of the black collective. Non-white factions of color  like Indians, Hispanics, Asians etc do not hire blacks at the expense of hiring their own. So while many will read this article and castigate me for overlooking the “good” in these actions, to take an opportunity away from your own is not diversity, it is self-depricating. This act of self-deprecation depicts confusion, an essential component in thwarting community.

As Neely Fuller said:

If you don’t understand white supremacy/racism ,everything that you do understand will only confuse you..

This confusion is also an essential component of white supremacy. As long as the black collective finds its enemy in the mirror, we remain consumed by the epidemic of racial confusion and our true villains will continue to bludgeon and ultimately murder our minds and bodies to their amusement and economic gain.