Buy Black! or Buy Black?

Limitations of Buy Black Campaigns

I had a thought this morning, after spending much of yesterday on 125th Street in the Mecca (HARLEM, USA) about the limitations of “Buy Black” campaigns in the US. The thoughts were brought on by an argument I had with a colleague years ago upon his return from Korea. He was of the opinion that Koreans were more entrepreneurial and more culturally grounded – and as evidence he submitted the emergence of South Korea as an industrial/technological nation of some consequence.

That South Korea serves a role similar to Israel and Iran – under Reza Pahlevi, seemed not to matter. US subsidies financed substantial development on the southern end of peninsula to ensure it’s stability as a counterweight against China and North Korea. And the story of Korean grocers in New York and Los Angeles is hardly the story here.

The levels of education, literacy, and numeracy in the Korean population exceed that of most nations – East or West. It’s not clear, however, that this is a function of indigenous drive – or a function of external support – or a considerable measure of both.

Korea has been able to build large scale economic and development projects through the use of government-subsidized funds to prominent, wealthy families who provide leadership, consolidation and networks for expansion in particular industries. The emergence of Samsung, far from being attributable to the beauty and simplicity of the flip phone is also a function of these subsidies.

Which brings me back to 125th Street. It seems that Buy Black campaigns are much like “Get out the Vote” campaigns. The voter registration campaigns DO NOT deal with the issues and interests of the black community, generally speaking, except to say that voting is important. Voting, in an of itself, however, is largely meaningless. Bill Gates, for example, does not have to cast another vote in his life to have considerable political influence. So, these voting campaigns are non-specific, decontextualized exercises in reaffirming the status quo. That notwithstanding, there is some value here.

With respect to “Buy Black” campaigns, shoppers are enjoined to buy from black merchants – regardless of their financial structure, business model, degree of customer service, aesthetics, quality of product, etc. And, irrespective of what is known as “the white man’s ice is colder” syndrome, Black shoppers have been asked to do the impossible. It would be entirely irrational to make consumer decisions outside of these obvious considerations. Still, what amounts to a black boycott of black business has been crippling.

David Horowitz’ article deriding the call for reparations for slavery states that the GNP for American Blacks would rank this collective as the 10th largest nation in the world – but we know that dollars in the Black community are not recirculated and that Black WEALTH is roughly 10% of white Americans. So, there are significant limitations to this 10th place finish among nations.

To the point, my thought was that Buy Black campaigns should be organized around providing Black firms possessing viable business models, structures, products with an infusion of capital to strengthen their ability to compete internationally…the result of this infusion would lead to consolidation in the industry and increased competition – ostensibly increased market share and incentives to innovate, hire talent and diversify operations…Successful Black firms in industries with higher barriers to entry and exit would be the primary candidates for this kind of support…in addition, firms whose business model imposed a high cost to costumers for changing vendors (ie. Microsoft and its corporate clients; NetFlix and personalized customer service) would be another class of firms worthy of considerable support.

certainly there is still enough $$ to help “mom and pop” operations, but Mom and Pop don’t hire…they may have to retire. They may have to choose a business based on what is needed – versus what they want to do. If an infusion of capital could lead to the development of national franchises and improved standardization of services, some enterprises could begin to reap tremendous benefits for Black folk. It’s not enough to buy based on phenotype – but I believe many of our community based businesses could be international leaders with the right support.

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