The Souls of Black Folk W.E.B. DuBois’ vision was that by incorporating into White industry Negroes could build an economic foundation by becoming skilled workers through industrial education and from their ranks small capitalists could rise.
There is a movement of note to boost Black economic development. The current interest group started when one suburban, professional couple took a stand to live off Black businesses for one year. In early 2009, Maggie and John Anderson an upper-middle-class African-American couple, who live in Oak Park, Illinois, made a vow to only patronize Black-owned businesses.
Throughout the 20th Century, there have been numerous approaches suggested for improving the economic viability of African-Americans. Given the economic discrimination and oppression by institutions in the larger society, many social theorists and urban economists have argued that African-Americans should use their segregated social circumstances to build a separate and autonomous economic base. The shared experience of social segregation, employment discrimination, and minority status should be rationale for the development of cooperative enterprises that would advance the economic conditions of the entire African American population.
African Americans spend more for consumer products than any other racial group; yet have less discretionary income and long-term investments. Blacks have the highest poverty and unemployment rates of all other racial groups. All this despite the billions of dollars we spend each year. It’s the elephant in the room few African Americans want to talk about and even fewer want to do anything about. Blacks stay poor because we refuse to recycle our money. Under the Empowerment Experiment (formerly the Ebony Experiment), the Andersons bring focus on ways of supporting Black-owned businesses and professionals while motivating other Blacks to do the same. They say Black communities “will improve when Black sellers, consumers and investors all support each other”. This iteration of Black economic development is being given wide acclamation. Morehouse College’s economics department chair says the movement is akin to those of Marcus M. Garvey and Booker T. Washington. Gregory Price says "The idea is a sound one, given that Black Americans are still underrepresented in the ranks of the self-employed and that entrepreneurship is a key component to wealth". Lawrence Hamer, associate professor of marketing at DePaul University, praises the experiment as being "brave and courageous," and that the rationale is "exactly right." While the “Buy Black” campaign is designed to have broad reach, the Andersons exemplify the Black nouveau riche – the 2.5 million Black households with incomes over $100,000. The Empowerment Experiment (EE) targets middle and upper middle-class families to get them to make commitments to “Buy Black”.
Like the Andersons, more African Americans now live and buy in the suburbs. The Andersons now want these households to think about buying where they used to live. They live in a suburb bordering the west side of Chicago where the median family income is $103,840. The Andersons gambit is to change Black Americans’ mindsets from just being consumers to being more conscious of how they spent their money and with whom. John is a Harvard graduate with a Kellogg School MBA. Maggie Anderson is a first-generation Cuban American that has a JD and MBA from the University of Chicago. The Ebony Experiment Group, LLC is a community service oriented project. EE seeks community and corporate support toward helping infuse long-term wealth into the Black community by galvanizing and uniting Black consumers, investors, businesses and professionals. "We have the real power to use the money we spend every day to solve our problems” says Ms. Anderson. Blacks can control their own economic destines. James Clingman, an advisor with the experiment who has a syndicated column called Blackonomics, points out that Blacks are negligent in patronizing their own, and “I would love to see more families pledge to do what the Andersons did". “Did you EE today?” is the mantra people who’ve made a pledge to “Buy Black” use. Consumers, entrepreneurs, investors and/or philanthropy heads are urged to sign up at www.EEforTomorrow.com register, a commitment and set up online accounts to track spending.
(William Reed is available for speaking engagements via BaileyGroup.org)