When I was in graduate school, Mike Brown was killed by a police officer less than 5 miles from the bubble I had built for myself. In that moment, and as I watched my school, with all its resources, fail to provide anything to the hurting community, my bubble burst. I committed to making every assignment about police brutality or an issue that adversely impacts Black people. I also became much more intentional about buying Black (you can read the full story here).
Four years later, I became the founder and CEO of Black Girl Buying, which allows me to not only continue to buy Black but to also share my experiences as a way to encourage and help others to buy Black as well. I have learned quite a bit in that time.
Lesson #1: Be flexible
Many of the businesses we frequent when we say that we are supporting Black-owned businesses are run by solopreneurs, families, or very small teams who are trying to not only sell a product or service, but also manage marketing and social media, address customer service issues, plan for the next step in growing the business, and so much more without the option or resources to delegate. And all of that is on top of being a human being dealing with regular human being things. Furthermore, many business owners have no formal training or education in business, no mentor, no blueprint to follow. That means that everything may not be perfect every time, but if we want to continue to see Black businesses start, grow, and thrive, we have to be patient and flexible through the growing pains.
Lesson #2: Keep that same energy
One of the reasons I started Black Girl Buying was because I saw people holding small Black businesses to the same standard as large white corporations, but responding very differently when the same problem came up. Most of us won’t stop ordering from Amazon—or cancel the ever-increasing Prime Membership—because there is a shipping delay. Most of us will return to Walmart after a bout with long lines and terrible service. But I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people write off ALL Black-owned businesses because of a small issue at one. I think that it is important to respond to Black-owned businesses in the same way (or better than) we respond to any other business. If you still go to McDonald’s and ask for ice cream, you can give your local Black business another chance, sis.
Lesson #3: Voice your opinion
Let me be clear: I am in no way saying that just because a business is owned by Black people that we should allow it to operate any kind of way. What I am saying is that there is a way to go about holding businesses accountable that would actually be helpful.
Again, many Black-owned businesses are run by small teams, which means that you are much more likely to interact with the owner or someone who has the owner’s ear. So if something negatively impacts your experience, find a way to (with grace and love) let them know. And on the flip side, if there is something that you absolutely love, let them (and all your friends) know! Be honest in your commentary, both in-person and online, without allowing emotion to cloud your judgment (see lesson #2).
Lesson #4: Do your research
Just because a business performs blackface or uses Black people in their marketing does not mean that it is Black-owned. Black people have a LOT of buying power. We know this. We set trends in just about every industry. But what that means is that many companies will do whatever it takes to tap into our buying power. So just do some quick Googles before making declarative statements about all Black businesses and such.
*Shameless plug* If research isn’t really your thing, or you want to buy Black without too much effort, there’s a whole map directory of Black-owned businesses that I have personally financially supported and I have shared my experience(s) in reviews of each business right here on Black Girl Buying so you can know what to expect.
Lesson #5: Recognize that everyone’s journey is different
Not everyone is going to be excited about supporting Black-owned businesses. Not everyone is going to understand why I am so adamant about sharing my experiences. Not everyone is going to be ready to replace all of the items in their home with products from Black businesses. It is okay. Some people are satisfied buying from Black-founded companies. Some people want a business to be majority-owned by Black people. Some need the business to be 100% Black-owned. And it is still okay. Each person should decide what buying Black means for them and go with that. BGB will always be a resource for wherever you are on your journey.