About a year ago, I started writing more than just business reviews. It was important to me that Black Girl Buying not only shared with the community where we should be spending our money, but why as well as some things that could encourage or inhibit that. I started with Black History Month Campaigns in Big Box Stores, and I wanted to dive a little deeper into that this year.
To quickly recap, I ranked the campaigns at Target, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Ulta, Michael’s, Bath and Body Works, and Walmart based on how difficult it was to find the display, the perceived intentionality behind the campaign, and the incorporation of Black businesses and people. Target and Ulta did really well. Bath and Body Works and Walmart did not. And what it boils down to is performative allyship or activism.
Loosely defined, performative allyship or activism is surface level support (like the black squares posted on Instagram on that random Tuesday a couple years ago) that requires little to nothing of the person, group or company performing and is often more for their own personal gain than for that of the people or groups they are supposedly supporting. This is “cheap change” as Dr. Tykeia Robinson (a co-host of the Gettin’ Grown Podcast) calls it and is “using a band aid to treat an injury that warrants a blood transfusion.” 1 In terms of creating campaigns in big box stores, this looks like Bath and Body Works slapping some kente cloth-inspired prints on already existing candle scents for 28 days and calling it a day. Or Walmart introducing a red velvet ice cream flavor under its label in “celebration” of Juneteenth.
What we need instead is what scholars call second order changes–actions that require self-reflection and creative solutions to shift outside of the current system. This can look like finding and using Black designers for campaigns all year long. Or incorporating Black-owned or founded products into shelf space all year long. Or realizing the ways that you have upheld an unjust system and figuring out how to change course to create a better way all year long. Like Target.
It may sound like I’m caping for Target in my original post, and maybe I am a little bit. But Target is the only big box store that I have seen consistently support Black businesses in a real way, even before it was the trendy thing to do. They continue to introduce a variety of Black-owned products onto their shelves year round and make it easy for people who are looking to buy Black to do so online, via their app, and in the stores.
Why does any of this matter? Because Black people make up about 14% of the US population,2but only 2% of businesses are Black-owned.3 Black Americans hold only one-tenth of the wealth of white Americans (and a whole lot more debt), and over 70% of Black business owners have to rely on their personal or family savings because they cannot access capital to fund their businesses.4 But, if Black businesses were more proportionate to the population, there would be an additional 700,000 businesses creating 7 million more jobs and over $700 billion in revenue.5 With $1.6 trillion in buying power6, that sounds like a win for everyone.
And I really believe we can make it happen. I’ve said before that I’m not an economist so I really don’t know how any of this works, but I do know that money talks, and $1.6 trillion can say quite a bit. So if we are intentional with our money and buy Black outside of Black History Month, especially in the big box stores (and stop supporting these stores with performative activism and campaigns), I think we’ll continue to see the change we deserve.