Buying Black – The Ebony Experiment
By JAMES CLINGMAN JR.
JAMES CLINGMAN JR.
John and Maggie Anderson, who live in Oak Park, Ill., embarked on a year-long initiative to make all of their purchases from Black owned businesses. This couple should be commended for such an effort and the sacrifices they are making to conduct their “Ebony Experiment.” The Andersons are doing what Marcus Garvey and others espoused; they are showing what can—and should—be done by conscious committed Black people all over this country.
As usual, the detractors are calling the Ebony Experiment “racist and divisive.” I wonder what these same folks call Black people who have for years supported White owned businesses. No one ever complains about the China Towns, Greek Towns, and Jewish enclaves that promote and, provide mutual support to their businesses and consumers. I have never heard anyone call these people “racists” and “separatists” nor have I ever read where anyone ever responded to these ethnic economic enclaves by saying they would only buy from White owned businesses.
In fact, we celebrate their “entrepreneurial spirit” and characterize them as “educated and informed consumers,” “self-supporting” and “hardworking” citizens. Now that the Andersons have started their quest to spend as much of their money with Black owned businesses, some are characterizing them as villains and racists rather than forward-thinking concerned individuals who are trying to empower not only Black people but this country as well. Black folks did not invent nor do we practice racism; we only react to it. For this effort to be characterized as racist is short-sighted, ignorant, incendiary, and disingenuous.
It is a shame that this couple would have to endure any negativity for doing what is right; but it comes with the territory. Because $850 billion moves through Black consumers’ hands each year, more than 90 percent of that amount going to businesses owned and controlled by others, it is no surprise that turning a significant portion of that money inward to Black businesses is frightening to the establishment. Because Black people have been looked upon, and in many cases conducted ourselves as mere consumers rather than producers, any effort put forth since 1964 (Integration) has been squelched. But whose fault is that?
If we would take more control of our dollars, it would not matter who said what about our efforts to leverage our collective income into real wealth in our communities. As I noted in my interview with Ted Gregory, writer for the Chicago Tribune, regarding the Ebony Experiment, this is not the first effort of its kind, but it is unique in its experimental aspects. It could also be unique in its sacrificial aspects, in that the Anderson family has to drive long distances to make many of their purchases from Black businesses.
Prior to integration, we did exactly what we are trying to get back to today. There were Black cooperative buying programs, Buy Black Campaigns, Double-Duty Dollar campaigns, and other initiatives that brought Black consumers and business owners together in support of one another. Maggie Anderson, who hails from Liberty City (Miami, Fla.), an all Black community in 1950’s, which thrived on mutual business support among Black people, is now doing her best to revive the economic spirit of her childhood community.” According to the Tribune article, among the responses received by the Andersons was an anonymous letter mailed to their home accusing them of “unabashed, virulent racism.” The writer stated, “Because of you, we will totally avoid Black suppliers. Because of you, we will dodge every which way to avoid hiring Black employees.”
With all of the hurdles and obstacles they face, this paragon of a Black couple has made a commitment and is following through on that commitment, which is commendable, especially when it comes to doing something positive for Black people. Drop them a line or an e-mail and tell them you appreciate what they are doing, and then get involved by starting your own Black buying “experiment” in your city.
Black owned businesses will be discovered by other consumers, minds will be changed about buying Black, and consciousness will be raised among Black consumers. John Anderson said: “Focusing the estimated $850 billion annual Black buying power on Black businesses strengthens those businesses and creates more businesses, more jobs and stronger families, schools and neighborhoods…When a thriving African-American or urban community is realized, certainly as a society as a whole, we all win.”
James E. Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people.