If you’ve looked at social media recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen multiple posts promoting the Black-owned businesses in your area and encouraging you to support them.
The call to support Black-owned businesses is long overdue, but there is one question that social media has failed to answer: What does "buying Black" actually do?
According to James Whitt, the City of Columbia’s Director Supplier Diversity Program Development, there are struggles that Black-owned businesses face that many white business owners don’t encounter. Whitt says the largest roadblock that Black business owners face is access to capital. He traces this struggle back to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill offered loans to white veterans that allowed them to move to suburban homes, while many Black Americans were denied these loans and forced to live in crowded, inner-city neighborhoods. The suburban houses that white Americans purchased during this era continued to grow in value.
“To start a business, you need a certain amount of assets," Whitt says. "Most businesses start by investing personal assets, like you've got a home, and your home has some equity built up in it. A lot of our white counterparts have been able to tap that as equity to invest in businesses. For minority-owned businesses, we don't really have that to the degree that our counterparts have.”
The effects of redlining, or banks denying mortgages to minorities to prevent them from living in certain neighborhoods, can still be seen in Columbia today, according to Columbia Housing Programs Manager Randall Cole. Cole says Broadway functioned as a clearly defined line with Black people living north of the road and white people living to the south. This process denied many Black Columbia residents the ability to build wealth through homeownership.
Della Streaty-Wilhoit is one of Columbia’s many Black business owners who has struggled to run her business. Streaty-Wilhoit owns ARW, a training firm that provides services such as diversity training, communication improvement and consulting. She knows ARW has the ability to create economic and social change, but believes that as a Black business owner, she has not had the chance to economically participate like most white business owners.
“How can we possibly get ahead? We don't have the resources,” Streaty-Wilhoit says. “More times than not, I have more education and experience, and I never get a contract. I never can promote or build my training firm, because people are not going to assist. I cannot pay myself or my employees, because the commercial banks are saying, ‘What do you have as collateral?’”
The racial wealth gap is no myth. According to the Economic Policy Institute, average wealth for white families in the U.S. is seven times higher than average wealth for Black families. Black businesses often struggle more due to this wealth gap and lack of homeownership, so how does it help to buy Black?
Whitt says more Americans buying from Black-owned businesses could help slowly close the racial wealth gap. According to Whitt, Black-owned businesses often hire employees within their own communities, which provides a living wage for Black employees.
“We start driving down this disparity between white unemployment and Black unemployment and bringing more Black people into the working world,” Whitt says.
Streaty-Wilhoit adds that Black businesses deserve the opportunity to participate economically. She says that her business and other Black-owned businesses are often excluded from receiving loans or grants because they have been unable to turn a profit. If more consumers buy from Black-owned businesses, a Black business owner will be better able to pay themselves and their employees a living wage, make a profit and qualify for grants and loans.
Buying Black is about more than just supporting a product that a Black person created or bolstering representation. Buying Black is about aiding businesses that don’t have access to resources that white businesses do due to systemic racism.
“We can say we have a business, but until we can economically participate, it’s no good sitting at the table,” Streaty-Wilhoit says.