Written by Brian Reyes, Yale 21'
Edited by Eva Magyar, Yale 21'
Along with the renewed mainstream focus on racial inequality this summer came a resurgence of interest in Black-owned businesses. Lists proliferated on social media showcasing businesses to support in various cities, including New Haven. Even Netflix pledged $100 million to financial institutions and organizations in support of Black communities.
At the simplest level, supporting a Black small business means supporting a Black household. Most Black businesses are not operating at the level of a major corporation; most do not hire paid employees or bring in particularly high levels of revenue. There has been a steady stream of excitement around supporting these entrepreneurs because there is a justified understanding that helping keep them in business is a good and altruistic thing to do.
Beyond this, many Black businesses contain not only monetary but cultural meaning. For example, one of the most famed Black millionaires, Madam C.J. Walker, built her company by selling hair products that catered to Black women. During the early to mid-20th century, Black women suffered hair loss as a result of malnutrition and constant labor. White business leaders had no interest in providing a product that would solve this, so Walker stepped in and filled the void. Decades later, current Yale senior Alyse Robinson is doing something similar with her digital skincare business, SkinBloom Kits. For Robinson, owning a Black business is about much more than just monetary gain. It’s also about providing experiences that help “Black women to reclaim pleasures that have been historically denied to them” so that they can, in turn, feel free enough to pursue social activism for their communities as a whole.
For reasons like these, we should continue to give our support to Black businesses. That being said, we should be wary about the way that we do so. The rhetoric around Black business can be misused to divert claims for transformative change: the success of Black entrepreneurs can be heralded as a sign that structural change is not needed, and people who view themselves as allies can easily spend money on Black businesses without confronting the tougher questions that activists are raising. This would be a mistake. A close look reveals that Black businesses are plagued by the same underlying conditions that produce inequality in other realms of Black life, and that the best way to help them is to help Black Americans as a whole—and this, in turn, requires us to go beyond individualistic notions of achievement that might otherwise accompany support for small businesses...