Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can a Middle Class, Suburban Family Lead a Black Power Movement?

My family made a choice, publicly, to spend as much money as possible with Black business owners and professionals. We made this decision and make this sacrifice because we believe Black people have too much talent and spend too much money for their community to look the way it does and for its families to suffer the way they do. We urge our community to practice self-help economics. We want our people to unite, in this positive and peaceful way, to counter social ills that disproportionately impact our people (recidivism, unemployment, gang activity and drug abuse, lack of education), by infusing wealth into underserved neighborhoods, creating more jobs, and providing role models for the youth.

Sounds good…right?

Many people have violently criticized our pledge, our project, and our overall mission. Through hate-email, blogs, Facebook, letters to our home, we have been called racists and Nazis, and demeaning, malicious attacks have been lodged against us and our people.

There are those dismayed by EE’s call for Blacks to leverage and engender collective consumerism as a solution to our problems… threatened by EE’s blatant refusal to continue to wait and rely on the largesse of others or well-meaning government programs to trickle down… confused by our public and proud choice to support our own genius and products. Those people have been feeling that way about any call to ‘buy Black’ for a long time.

But they’re more fired up now because what really burns them about EE is us.

John, Maggie, Cara and Cori—the Anderson family of Oak Park, ‘Apple Pie’ USA. We scare and appall them.

That people like us could dream up something like this is what’s new and inspirational about our movement. And sadly, this is precisely what bothers so many about it. We aren’t poor and disenfranchised. We aren’t ex-offenders reformed in prison. We are not militant radicals. My Ivy League husband and I earned six-figure salaries working in corporate America. We went to white universities and studied with and about good white people.

We don’t fit the Black activist profile.

How dare I, a manifestation of the great American Dream, the product of many races and nationalities, preach self-help economics for Black people?

How dare John? John came from a ‘good’ home in a ‘good’ neighborhood. John’s father paid for his Harvard education. John even has White friends!

So we aren’t supposed to be offended and distressed. We shouldn’t be starting movements. They say we should be humble and grateful, doing everything we can to repay our country for the victory of our lives—not trying to improve America so that there can be more families like ours living that American Dream too.

We’re supposed to do what everyone else does. You know, shop with the big names and designers instead of with our conscience. Drive over and around the struggling Black parts of town. Ignore the plight of our people, the rights of our people, the power of our people—all in exchange for the welcome and cozy embrace of American middle-class life.

We are pretty confident that our girls will get good educations, wonderful opportunities, and grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of society. This is all that should matter to us.

“What else could they want?” They say. “Why are they trying to change things???!!!!”

Yes, we do have a wonderful life. But it’s not enough. And we’ll throw it all away if it means we could not keep fighting for what’s right.

You know what we really want? We want to live that wonderful life in a society where our beautiful people are not relegated to the bottom anymore. So we fight for that. That’s our fight. That’s our journey. That’s our movement and it’s just beginning.

(This blog was originally written by me, Maggie Anderson, for Black Enterprise.)


  1. KUDOS once again on your efforts! I think what you're doing is great! I recently came across your story through a Black Enterprise article, and it's truly inspiring. What can others do to get involved with what you're doing? What's the best way for like-minded people to connect with the Empowerment Experiment?

  2. Peace and Blessings.. I just read about your family on Facebook and I've signed up to take the challenge immediately. I just celebrated my 33rd birthday a couple of days ago and told myself that there is more I can do to help the journey of a disenfranchised people. Many other cultures don't understand what you are doing because its such a common practice in their culture that it goes without saying. We have supplied money for other cultures to live a better life, put their kids through school or buy that "dream home". I commend you all for starting this movement.. now its up to the rest of us to keep the fire burning.

  3. Maggie,

    I feel your pain. As owner of one of the few remaining Black bookstores in the country, we have experienced some of that negativity, as well. Our store, Azizi Books, is located in a suburban shopping mall. Therefore, we are accessible to all. I would like to think that people of other cultures could enter our store with an encouraged curiosity that will allow them to find out more about Black culture. We do get that from some. However, from others we have been accused of being "un-American", or they shrug and grunt at our existence, many times stopped cold at the threshold. It is almost as if stepping in would relegate them to the same fate as Sodom's wife.

    However, we are not deterred by any of this. We stand as a beacon of hope for the survival of Black business. We also stand as an oasis of literacy in the desert of mindless media that plagues our youth. Keep on doing what you are doing. You are speaking the message for all of us. I pray for your strength and continued courage.

    Kevin Roberts
    Azizi Books

  4. [small correction] I meant Lot's wife, when she turned to look back at Sodom and Gomorrah. Y'all know what I meant.

  5. I give you my 100% support -- as a black owned business in San Antonio, Texas it is quite different to conduct this type of challenge.

    Funny thing we have an international flower business online that pulls orders in from all over! The internet may be the saving grace for black business owners who can't rally enough support from the local area to stay open. Hopefully your readers will find us and spread the word about our flower shop for their Thanksgiving, Christmas flowers, Mother's Day, and Valentines Day needs:


    Christopher Herring
    My blog: http://africanamericanownedbusinesses.blogspot.com/