Is your black owned business anti-black? It’s a compelling thought right? It all starts from an understanding that when we are talking about Anti Black racism we are not talking about the actions of individuals, but instead the product of policies and procedures that lead to inequities for Black people.
I’m an entrepreneur transition coach who focuses on the journey and transformation of Black women as they start their businesses. And the idea of anti Blackness is something that I see as a chief roadblock to our success. There are three ways that I see Black owned business owners surrender to ideas of Anti Blackness. We will outline them below, along with some suggested remedies for confronting and healing those wounds.
Firstly, in who we patronize for support as we build our business. Secondly, in looking at how we pay ourselves or sometimes don’t pay ourselves. And finally, branding and how we choose to show up in either embracing or denying our own blackness.
Self Bias Concept
Years ago, I found myself teaching a workshop about unconscious bias and during the conversation I challenged the learners to think about the idea of self bias. Could you be biased against yourself? Could you internalize ideas that led to actions that kept you from your own liberation, that perpetuated your own disempowerment? And yet, this is a very common thing. We internalize the policies and procedures that we live in.
In corporate America this manifests as the Black woman who doesn’t apply for the VP role because she doesn’t see any Black women VPs (under representation is a by product of racists policies and procedures). But, if the Black woman doesn’t apply, she surely will not ascend to the new role. That approach is self defeating. Any spaces where Black people surrender to the negative stereotypes of not being qualified enough, worthy enough, hard working enough, are spaces where we have given up our power. Where does this show up in the entrepreneurial space?
As a business owner, you quickly find that you need a lot of supportive services in order to make your business run. I talk to my clients about the Five Besties all the time: your Coach, accounting pros, legal team, loved ones and marketing expertise. But when you start thinking about the professionals that you want in your circle how are you considering who to hire/subcontract? I love the Mantra “I’m rooting for everyone Black”. And when I tell that to others sometimes I am rebuffed with “well I don’t want to hire them just because they’re Black”. This sentiment assumes that if you hire someone Black that you’re somehow compromising on value or ability. Rooting for everybody Black is not synonymous with “I am willing to compromise on value”. That ain’t in the mantra. Assuming it is – is a function of Anti Blackness in your entrepreneurial mindset.
If you’ve ever second-guessed reaching out to a Black professional because you didn’t want to “just hire them because they’re Black” how much other data did you collect? Do you have a different process for vetting a Black owned business than you do for others? Are you not taking into account that in the US Black people make up 13% of the population? This is not to say that there are fewer professionals available, only that if you want to work with one, you will need to be intentional in your search. Just as in the corporate/employee world to hire more Black talent, they must be intentional about where they seek out those folks. If you were committed to supporting other Black – owned businesses how many people would you interview before you made your selection? Where would you go to seek out those parties?
Suggestions for Addressing:
- When hiring, speak to minority owned candidates at a higher ratio than others
- Get clear on your hiring criteria before you interview anyone, and be consistent in the questions you ask
- Intentionally create and grow a network of minority owned business owners – People hire those they know, like and trust. A good way to start is to get to know more minority-owned business owners, period. Join an online community, networking group or mastermind that allows you to meet that need.
2. Pay and Funding
Another way this idea of anti-blackness shows up is in pay equity. In the corporate world we see it all the time, where Black professionals are not commanding comparable salaries to their white counterparts. (There’s also a gap when we consider gender, but that is not the topic of today’s conversation.) As a business owner you have full control of your own salary and wages. But far too often I’m noticing the black owned business owners are either 1) not paying themselves (girl why?) or 2) are paying themselves last.
I’m not saying that being thrifty is wrong, but if you actually saw yourself as a CEO, would you still be paying yourself so poorly? How is it you have a business that cannot sustain you? That’s called underfunded/lacking in capital. And historically, black owned businesses do not apply for financing at the same rate as their white counterparts. This is a reflection of self-bias at its most evident. We know historically that lenders have not been as generous with their funds to Black owned enterprises as to white owned enterprises. If that fact prevents Black-owned entrepreneurs from applying for financing, we perpetuate the problem of us being underfunded. Vicious cycle. We hurt ourselves when we surrender to the policies that keep us economically depressed.
There are hundreds of grants available for black and women-owned businesses. How many have you applied for? Why? Remove the assumption that they won’t give it to you because you’re Black/brown/woman – owned. It’s self-defeating.
Suggestions for addressing:
- After using suggestions in step 1, hire a bookkeeper, accountant and a business coach to help you figure out a reasonable salary, how to track it and the best way to pay yourself. Consider the Profit First method of accounting for when you start – it’s a great practice in prioritizing your value in your business, and a solid foundation for responsible P&L management
- Increase your prices yesterday (because you are worth it)
- Apply for business funding and financing – The SBA and programs like LISC or Hello Alice has several programs available for minority owned businesses, but if you aren’t applying for those opportunities, you are being complacent in the racial wealth gap. Cut it out.
3. Your Brand Identity
Finally, branding. I love this category because I think it’s something that all minority-owned businesses struggle with. Do I want to be the face of the brand or not? If people see that my business is owned by a woman or a person of color will that deter them from working with me? If these questions pop up for you, you are operating from an assumption that your identity is a liability for your brand. Ask yourself, is that true? Do you choose to believe that? If others see your identity as a liability, that’s a reflection of their anti-Blackness, not yours.
If you support that by censoring yourself, you are complicit in those same oppressive ideas.
When we hide a part of ourselves in order to advance in a system that requires that we are surrendering our power to ideas of inferiority. One of the most popular questions I get is, “How did you decide to make a brand focused on black women? Weren’t you afraid of excluding too much of the market?”. Quick answer? No. And it was a process. I want people to know that my business is black owned and woman-owned. People should know who the person running the business is. And people who recognize that there is an imbalance, especially financially, when it comes to marginalized groups, will see that as a reason to support you, not dismiss you. (What’s up Minority- owned/woman – owned business grants?).
Why would you disallow people to be an ally to your business and actually be an avenue for dismantling inequity for minority owned entrepreneurs? If you are afraid that people will think that your business is too Black, too ethnic, too female focused, then you yourself are participating in a policy that relegates all of those identities as inferior to the “norm”.
Are we willing to position our Blackness, our “otherness” as an asset instead of a detriment to what we’re creating?
Suggestions for Addressing:
- Take the brand identity challenge – get clear on who you are for others and your core values
- Get comfortable with your headshot, and up-level your LinkedIn profile
- Get that About Me page popping on your website
- Apply for certification as a minority and/or woman owned business in your city, state and at a Federal level
What would your business look like if you actually treated your Blackness as an asset? What would that mean to the brand? To the progress of your business? To the progress of marginalized groups as a whole? I know we’re not going to solve racism and oppression in one day. But we can do the work of decolonizing our own ideas as we continue to build businesses, work culture, and ourselves. Let’s create something that values and nurtures us in the fullness of our identities.