Earlier this year, Mielle Organics, a previously Black-owned hair care company, was sold to P&G which houses brands you may recognize like Tide, Pampers, Always, and Gillette. Following the announcement of the sale, there has been quite an uproar, particularly on Black Twitter and TikTok, with people saying things like Mielle is “selling out.” There were also some (very valid) concerns that the purchase of the beloved brand signified impending changes to the formulas of some of our favorite products, but the sellout crowd was much louder.
That was concerning to me because I have always accepted mergers and acquisitions as a normal part of business—because they are. Many law schools offer a whole class on them. Many law firms have whole practices dedicated to them. Statistica estimates that over 2,900 mergers and acquisitions occurred in 2022.1 Some of these deals average $22 billion.2 Don’t we deserve a piece of that too?
This recent Mielle Organics news has pushed me to write this piece—which I’ve been mulling over for months now—about the difference between Black-owned and Black-founded companies and why our support of both is incredibly important.
First, let’s get into some definitions. “Black-owned” business is pretty straightforward: a business owned by a Black person or Black people. Simple, right? But what if there are multiple owners? Is a business Black-owned if 75% of its ownership is Black? 48%? 33? What if there’s a single Black person in a group of 10? What if the owner is mixed? How Black is Black enough to be Black-owned?
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners defines Black-owned businesses as firms with at least 51 percent or more owned by African Americans.3 At Black Girl Buying, we extend that definition a bit to include firms that are owned by people of African descent so that it encompasses all Black people (e.g. Jamaican, Afro-Latino, etc.), not just ones who identify as African American.
But here’s also what I’ll say: I’m not doing math to determine if a business is Black-owned or not. I don’t like math and avoid it as often as possible. What’s most important to me is that I am supporting people who are more likely to understand and support me and my community, not that the Black person I see owns 50 or 51 percent. (Because by the legal definition above Fenty Beauty isn’t Black-owned. Rihanna only owns 50 percent).
As far as answering the question, “how Black is Black enough to be Black-owned?”, that’s not for me to decide. While I can promise that I’ll do my due diligence to avoid the Rachel Dolezals, if they acknowledge their Blackness, I will too.
I recognize that other people may feel differently about what constitutes Blackness and therefore Black owned businesses. But that’s not why I’m here. My goal is to expose you to some alternate options and encourage you to put more thought into where and how you’re spending your money. I’ll also make a note if there is a question of ownership (see 8th and Roast) so that you can make informed decisions.
Moving on, Black-founded businesses are companies that were started by people of African descent, but may or may not be currently owned by Black people. Examples of Black-founded companies would be Famous Amos (no longer Black-owned), Black Girl Buying (still Black-owned), and Mielle Organics (no longer Black-owned).
I think we understand why supporting Black businesses is important. But why does it matter if we support Black-founded businesses? My reasoning is simple: not everyone dreams of owning or running a business for the rest of their lives. Only supporting Black-owned businesses, and denying our support to companies once they transition, limits dreams and growth. Who is going to buy a business if the trend is that as soon as it sells, sales decrease dramatically? How can business owners plan for financial freedom or retirement or legacy if we have to remove selling the business from the exit strategy?
I also want to clarify a couple of things. I am not advocating for us to blindly support any and all Black owned and Black-founded brands. Again, my goal is for us to be more thoughtful before we spend. So if a company doesn’t align with your values, whether it is owned, run, founded, or loved by Black people or not, you don’t have to support them (you don’t have to bash them either, but you can speak honestly about it). If a parent company has demonstrated a disregard for Black people (or consistently changes the formulas of their subsidiaries after purchase) and then buys your favorite Black brand, it’s okay to be skeptical.
As I’ve mentioned before, buying Black is a personal journey. So I will never shame the choices that people make when it comes to buying Black (unless y’all are denigrating them because we don’t stand for that ‘round here).
My main point in writing this is to say that if we say we’re rooting for everybody Black, then we really have to root for everybody Black—when they’re starting a business, when they’re running a business, when they’re selling a business, when they’re supporting a business.
Published by Statista Research Department and Jan 17, “Number of M&A Deals in the U.S. by Industry 2022,” Statista, January 17, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/246750/number-of-munda-deals-in-the-united-states/.
Emily Rouleau, “Analysis: A Look at 2022’s Mega M&A Deals,” Bloomberg Law, January 12, 2023, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/bloomberg-law-analysis/analysis-a-look-at-2022s-mega-m-a-deals-11.
Mark Wallace (SSSD) US Census Bureau, “US Census Bureau Business and Industry Main Page,” United States Census Bureau, February 25, 2009, https://www.census.gov/econ/overview/mu0200.html.