For the last few weeks, I've listened intently as the President, the Congressional Black Caucus, and other Black "leaders" have discussed the economy's impact on the Black community. It seems to me like everyone is playing politics. We've all gotten so used to the finger pointing that we accept it and participate. But the truth is, the finger pointing, only makes for lively conversation; it does not solve any of the problems.
Years ago when I was in college, a friend said to me, "Assimilation was the downfall of the Black community." My opposition to his statement was swift and vehement. You have to understand my background. I come from an upwardly mobile, middle-class Black family. Both of my parents had college degrees and worked in careers that offered good salaries and even a little prestige. So we lived in nice houses, drove nice cars, bought new clothes from fancy stores in the small-- in short we were the American dream. From a very young age, I was taught that if you got an education and worked hard, you would be successful. Assimilation, at least the way that my private school teachers taught it, had allowed Black people to obtain education, voting rights and a better life.
Unfortunately, my friend is deceased now so I can't explain to him that I understand now how short-sighted my views were. When you grow up with a life that affords you certain privileges, it's much easier to believe that the world is fair and that anyone can survive by simply lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. It wasn't until my first real job, an eye opening experience, where I was working with people who lived in poverty that I finally understood that the life my parents had been able to provide me was the exception, not the rule.
Reports say that an entire generation of Black people who had pulled themselves up from poverty to middle class have now once again been relegated to poverty during this recession. I was reading article about a Black man with a masters degree who has been out of work since ha was laid off in 2009. He made the statement that in tough economic times, business owners tend to hire their out of work family and friends but because Black people don't own these companies we continue to struggle. That statement has been bothering me for months now.
We have been a part of this country (although some of it was involuntary) for 400 years now, so why don't we own more Fortune 500 or 100 companies? Why haven't we been able to build up enough resources to help each other weather these tough economic times? I really believe the answer is that we have lost our sense of community.
If you live in or around Atlanta, you have seen these little Asian communities popping up. There are restaurants, dry cleaners, grocery stores etc. They all appaear to be owned by Asians, they have only Asian employees and about 90% of the customers are Asian. Seeing these communities reminds me of the story of Black Wall Street. I wrote paper about the rich enclave of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma when I was in college and I know that the story has been publicized in a book and documentary film by Ron Wallace.
If you don't know the story, it will be my great pleasure to give you a little synopsis. Black Wall Street has been described as a Beverly Hills for Black people back in the early 1900s. The town had 21 restaurants, grocery stores, 2 movie theatres and its very own hospital. The town also contained many Black professionals including doctors, lawyers, and accountants. In fact, more than 15 Black millionaires called the town home and 6 of them had their own private planes. Why is this important? Because it shows that we clearly have the aptitude to succeed.
Just as simple case study, let's look at the city Lithonia, GA. Back in the late 1990s, Lithonia was touted as the new mecca for Black folks. A quick 15 minute drive from Downtown Atlanta, the city contained upscale apartments and houses and the residents were predominantly Black. Several Black owned businesses opened in the area including restaurants, clothing boutiques, and hair salons.
Fast forward to 2011 and the area has been hit hard with home foreclosures and several of the areas that were once prosperous are now blighted. So where did it all go wrong? Years ago, the small Black businesses began to be pushed out by large corporations. Instead of frequenting the small boutiques for clothes, residents flocked to the new Stonecrest Mall and spent their money with large retailers. That I know of, only 2 of the Black owned sit down restaurants still remain, J.R. Crickets which is really more of a sports bar and Gladys Knight Chicken and Waffles which has high name recognition.
I've read that in Black Wall Street the Black dollar circulated 15 times in the community before it left. Now, as soon as we get our paychecks we're spending money with big corporations who aren't owned or even run by people who look like us. You can't be mad with the big corporations, they know that Black women spend 4 billion dollars a year on personal goods and of course they want that money. But don't we deserve something better for our money? Hey, I'm a shopaholic and I am not interested in any 12 step programs to stop my habit. I like stimulatng the economy, I just think that in the future I'll be more aware of where and how I do it.
Just last night, I was assessing my spending habits and realized that for the last 10 years, I have exclusively worn 2 brands of jeans. Now I'm a curvy girl with a 26 inch waist and 39 inch hips so jeans that fit properly are NECESSARY. But, I never even realized that the PZI jean company is both Black owned and local to Atlanta. So I'm saying goodbye to my Calvin Klein stretch and my Citizens for Humanity and buying my first pair of PZI jeans this weekend. Who knows maybe next week, PZI will love at their new fiscal numbers and decide that they can hire a few more employees. Baby steps!! But I will impact the world!!!