We Cater To Racism In Corporate America, Don’t Do It In Your Business: Why You Need To Let Your Consumers Know You’re Black
This past weekend, I attended a marketing meeting with a handful of Black women business owners. The meeting was particularly productive and helpful. Still, in the days since it happened, I’ve found myself going back to something one of the business owners brought up.
Sis said something to the effect of, “When I launched my business, I was deliberate about not posting my image anywhere because I didn’t want to deter White women from purchasing my products.”
But through trial and error, she learned that her customers were not only primarily other Black women, they also invested more into her business when she showed her face. They related her face, Black as it was.
I understood what she was saying. You don’t go into business to be broke. The idea is to make money. And if you can collect that green from Black and White folk, that means more for your bottom line. Plus, hiding your racial identity is a tried and true strategy, whether you’re working for yourself or not. I’ve written about a career counselor, a proud Delta, telling me to remove the fact that I was in the National Association of Black Journalists from my resume. Ann Black wrote an extensive piece about why Black business owners choose to hide their racial identities. It’s a thing.
But I’m here to say that the practice is played out.
Entrepreneurship is not easy. As soul crushing, anxiety-inducing and frustrating as it can be working in corporate America, it is, for the most part, comfortable. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. There’s a blueprint for it, entire institutions are created and designed to filter us into it. It’s the norm. The path with least resistance.
Still, that path is not without its pressures, particularly for women and Black women especially. You’re battling forces of both patriarchy and racism. I know one too many Black women who have spent decades coddling and appeasing White folk, at the expense of themselves.
So, the decision to leave the traditional work model and go into business for yourself likely has something to do with the fact that you want to escape that environment. And while I don’t know this particular woman’s experience, her decision to hide her Blackness, was taking that same coddling approach into her work. And that made me sad. Not only for herself but for humanity as well.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in a season of “call-out.” And while many believe it might be overkill, nothing can be healed until it is first addressed. So the act of spotlighting certain problems in our society, is just step one in healing some of the issues that have been plaguing this nation and the world for centuries. If we’re still in the process of catering to White people’s racism to make a dollar, how is that pushing society toward a place where racist ideologies no longer exist? It’s not. In fact, it’s perpetuating the same ideals that allowed White folk to rationalize our enslavement for so long.
I found it particularly interesting that in her thinking about White folks, she was ignoring the audience who was always likely to spend money on her product: Black women. As much as Black women spend, especially on beauty, we are not the market you want to ignore. There are entire jobs where people try to figure out how to crack into our audience. Being a Black woman herself, she had the type of insight companies would and do pay for.
Furthermore, securing the Black audience, the Black dollar often translates to White folks following suit.
I remember in his sit down with Oprah, Jamie Foxx said that he tests his comedic material on Black audiences first. Because if they find it funny, then he knows it will translate everywhere else.
Essentially, Black folk are the ultimate tastemakers. We push the culture. We define what is and isn’t cool in society, whether it’s music, language or fashion. You need to look no further than a mainstream, White publication to see the styles they’ve co-opted from our culture, often without credit.
As successful as she has been in her professional life, even Oprah had to learn that the people who were going to support her new venture, OWN, were Black folk. While her original programming catered to a mainstream audience, it wasn’t until she brought Black ass Tyler Perry to the network that things started poppin’.
Lisa Price’s brand, Carol’s Daughter, was targeted directly toward Black women. And once it grew, with the help of Black celebrity endorsements, she eventually sold it to L’Oreal. Now if you’re talking about getting that White dollar, that’s the way to do it, no?
Shea Moisture almost forfeited years of work and consumer trust when they intentionally left Black women out of their new round of ads. It was a mistake they paid for. While Black women didn’t ultimately boycott in any large numbers; the dragging was so severe, the threat of cancellation so strong that Shea Moisture had to admit that they f*cked up, or lose the very people who had built them: Black women.
We’ve been disrespected, ignored and overlooked for too long by people and entities we have literally birthed and built. We’re tired. It would be a shame for us, when we get a little taste of empowerment, to also start hiding, diminishing and downplaying one of the strongest assets, ourselves.