Friday, May 29, 2009

My French Connection

I must first apologize for being away for so long. Everyday I think about all of you, thank God for you, miss you and promise myself that I’m gonna talk to you the next day. Been too many days of that. Please know that I have been really busy living life in the EE Zone. I’ve been maintaining my pledge to find, support and uplift quality Black businesses. I’ve been trying to uphold my pledge to inspire my community to use the love and pride we have to finally do something about our problems.

Much easier written than done! Trust me folks, that’s a lot of work. And never forget that I have a family to take care of …I am still Mommy, Wifey, Head of Household, Auntie and Daughter of a sick woman.

But since we had this new media push (see next post), I am expected to take on this new role. Teacher. Yes teacher. Here’s what happened between the French journalist with the Black husband (she had to make sure she advised me of that as she admitted she thought my family’s project is racist.) and me.

A large French cable network came to Chicago to do a documentary on the city. They wanted to focus on some of the city’s problematic stereotypes, like political corruption and racial segregation. They had heard about EE and asked could they spend an hour with me shopping and to do an interview. I’ve done a few of these now, and I figured the French are progressive enough to understand what we are doing, cover us fairly, and help us generate some exposure overseas.

During our time together, she asked the question every White journalist asks, “Isn’t this racist?” I’m OK with answering the question. What bothers me is when they ask it. (more on that later) They always start off the interview with “How did you come up with this?” … “Why are you doing this?”… “What do you hope to accomplish?” … “How is it going so far?” So I answer all those questions. You all know what I say, because you understand why I do this. But just in case you need a refresher, here’s what I say. Here’s what I feel. Here’s what in our hearts.

Here are the ABCs of EE:

How did you come up with this?
The concept of Buying Black is not new. We did not "come up" with this. We decided to do create The Empowerment Experiment because, like millions of other middle-class Black people in America, we wanted to do something about the problems disproportionately impacting our kids and neighborhoods. We want to give back. And although we are not millionaires, celebrities, or politicians, we can do something with what we do have. We can invest the money we earn and spend everyday into those communities we care about, go to bed crying about. We came up with a year-long commitment because we wanted to see whether prolonged, targeted investment could actually make a difference. We made the pledge public because we hoped that, through this journey, we could also dispel some of the negative stereotypes about Black business. We could finally prove, scientifically, that the talent, services and products coming from Black Americans are just as good as anyone else’s. We are sick of the asymmetry between Black talent and resources and what’s actually represented and reinvested in the Black community.

Why are you doing this?
We do this because we care about what’s going on in Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit and the West Side of Chicago. These communities are all Black. We care about the kids there. We are tired of crying every night because we heard of another kid getting shot in those neighborhoods because those kids don’t have role models, their parents are unemployed, and their communities are dirty and ravaged by gangs, drugs and crime. I care about that. I’m tired of crying about that, shaking my head, and waking up and living my great life in Oak Park, having my great education and my great job Downtown, and driving right over and around all those places where Black kids are suffering from lack of good schools, parks, clean streets, because their town does not have the tax-base that mine has. I could have just kept living my life. I decided to act. I decided to take a stand and say that this... THIS IS NOT the end of the road for my people in America. I do this because I believe that if our community was economically empowered, if our people started believing in and investing in our own talent and businesses, most of other problems would just dissolve away.

What do you hope to accomplish?
I hope that our experiment puts the issues facing Black businesses and our communities back into the national dialogue. I hope that we can raise awareness about the disparities in those markets and industries where Black people represent such a significant portion of the consumer base, but have no business owners. I want to show people how important it is for Black American children to feel like someone who looks like them has more choices in America than being a ball player, rapper or a gangbanger. They need to see more success stories in their own community from the business and professional sectors. I do this because right now, for the average Black kid in America it is absolutely inconceivable that a successful grocery store, drug store, hotel or restaurant could be owned by a Black person… or that someone Black could produce and distribute toys, beds, software or cheese… or that a Black person can be successful just by being an entrepreneur. And finally, I hope that other Black middle class families, with the time and wherewithal to make some small changes and sacrifices, would consider making the effort to find and support Black business.

How is it going so far?
It feels great living like this. It feels wonderful to know that I am serving my community by doing something as simple as buying bananas. But it is a huge sacrifice because there are not enough Black-owned businesses. There should be more. Most of the businesses in the Black communities I want to invest my money in are not Black-owned.

So after all that… after I just talked about the kids I am trying to help, the communities suffering with no hope in sight, the Americans who live in second- and third-world conditions that no one seems to care about… after all that, she has the nerve to ask me, “Isn’t this racism?”

As I said before, I’m OK with the question. Most interviewers ask it. I accept the question because I assume the interviewer has not been exposed to places like Gary, has never heard the term ‘buy Black’ and only focuses on the snippets and sound bites that portray me as an advocate of buying based on race - and that’s it. I usually don’t give credence to the idiotic question and I just restate what my intentions and hopes are:
I want to promote entrepreneurship in the Black community. I want more role models for Black kids in underserved communities to come from the business world. I want more Americans, of all races, to become aware of and have more access to the wonderful talent and businesses coming out of the Black community.

This time, I was upset when the racism question popped up. This woman had spent two whole hours with me, had heard the ABCs of EE, and was still thinking me a kooky racist.

She needed to be educated. And I needed to be her teacher. She could not believe that there could be neighborhoods that were totally Black, but overwhelmed by non-Black businesses. She was baffled to learn that there was only one Black-owned grocery store in the entire great state of Illinois. She could not understand.

So we went for a drive through the West Side. As we drove, class was in session. No more ABCs. She needed EE 301. Take notes pupils:

As a race, Black people suffer disproportionately in every measure of social and economic progress - highest incarceration rates, highest dropout rates, highest unemployment rates, highest rates of gang, drug, and AIDS penetration. EE has never said and will never say that those horrible facts are racist or due to racism. It would be very easy to do that. Instead of crying racism, we cry for self-help economics.

As painful as it may be for some to accept and admit, self-help economics is a practice of economic empowerment where consumers of a certain group try to support and invest in businesses from the same group. We hope that instead of crying racism, waiting for a hand-out, or ignoring and accepting the status quo, we can rally people to start investing in long-term solutions that can mitigate the causes and effects of the problems affecting our race. Self-help economics enhances the collective self-esteem, provides more role models... while creating jobs, promoting entrepreneurship, and converting tax-burdens into tax-payers.

Our race is suffering and we cannot depend on the government or lofty statements and ideals like “There is no Black America. There is no White America. There is only the United States of America.” to fix that. Those pronouncements and virtues need to be backed up with action and answers. We owe the student who has to join a gang to stay alive, or sell drugs to keep his lights on much more than that. We say that maybe one answer lies in the consumers and businesses allocating their resources and talent to fix the problems our race faces - since many of those problems stem from black neighborhoods being economically deprived.

Is it ok for the problems to be associated with this race, but not the solutions?

Just as the problems and crises that disproportionately impact our race and have to do with our history, our environment, and our culture, maybe some of the solutions have do with our race not coming together enough to solve them.

We do not advocate NOT shopping at a business owned by a White person or an Asian person because you do not like people of other races. We do advocate looking for and shopping at a business that it is owned by a Black person because it might lead to increasing wealth in communities that are economically deprived and increasing the chances of more Black role models for at-risk youth. Our whole focus is the economically deprived communities where Black kids are killing each other and are more likely to go to jail than college. Our whole focus is finally doing something about the children who have no role models besides gangsters, rappers, and ball players.

I wish all I had to do was shop in those underserved communities to help the kids who live in them. That doesn’t work because the Asian, White, Hispanic, and Middle-Eastern business owners there, who represent the majority of the businesses in those underserved communities, take the money out and back to their own neighborhoods. And because most of the businesses in the Black community are not owned by Black people, for every dollar earned and spent in the Black community, five dollars leave. We can call that racism, but we don’t. Instead, we just want to find a strategic and creative way to keep some of that money there so it can start working against the social crises killing our families.

After she rode with me through the West Side, and I showed her how these good people were being neglected and rejected, and were made to feel that even in their own neighborhoods (much less anywhere else in America) they were not good enough to own the businesses that could drive and provide the vitality the community so desperately needed. I looked at her and said, “What can I do?” She said, “I understand now.”

I hope so. Because what we do is no more racist than buying American, or LGBTs buying from gay business owners to support them, or women seeking women-owned businesses.

This French woman got it in under three hours. How long will it take some of you?


  1. WOW! That is all I can say about this post. The last sentence was really a call to arms. The sad thing is that most people will nod agree and do nothing. I buy black!

    I'm surprised that no one else commented.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.