I loved my Juneteenth celebration. This year, it hit a lot different for obvious reasons, but if you aren’t sure…all the recent social transgressions taking place.
While I typically use Juneteenth as a day of reflection of how far we have come, I can’t help but to focus on where we, Black people, are and how much further we have to go. I only see how we are still subjected to the remaining residue of slavery and the institutions it supported.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what is progress as it relates to race relations and systemic oppression. What does freedom and equality really entail?
Physicist and philosopher, Philip B.Smith, wrote —
Rather than ethical incompatibility, an essential concordance between freedom and equality: for no one in a community can be really free where great inequality prevails.
My freedom is an illusion because while technically Black people were considered “free” in the United States as of June 19th, 1865 — we are still subjugated to great inequality; the greatest of which is the economic wealth gap.
Racism is very real and it’s presence is equally as prominent today as it was 50 years ago; however, racism is a mere byproduct, one of many, rooted in maintaining dominance and control over wealth and power.
Unfortunately we live in a capitalist society structured around the need for money when it comes to survival. This paradigm has been constructed and maintained by a few, but impacts many. Economics, politics, and law are all part of the same pyramid of power — with economics serving as the foundation which the other two are built.
If we are going to address racism, equality, equity, and systemic injustices — we have to address the economic status of Black people and others oppressed by this system.
Speaking specifically to my Black experience, economics is likely the only answer to the question of freedom.
In a capitalist society, wealth, and access to it, provides opportunity. As you know, with wealth, you can afford better education and childcare. You have the means to buy organic food that nourishes your body, thus aiding in your health. Wealth affords you the opportunity to invest or take more risk with your business. Wealth affords you the opportunity to acquire more wealth via diversifying your portfolio. Wealth affords you a network of other wealthy people to build with. You can live in a perceived nicer community or keep your debts to a minimum. With wealth, crime is often reduced because basic needs and wants are met. Overall, in a capitalist society, wealth affords you a better quality of life.
Wealth affords freedom.
In his statement, “Standing with the Black Community”, Google CEO and Chairman, Sundar Pichai, wrote —
…We’ll be giving $12 million in funding to organizations working to address racial inequities. Our first grants of $1 million each will go to our long-term partners at the Center for Policing Equity and the Equal Justice Initiative…This builds on the $32 million we have donated to racial justice over the past five years…
Sundar is not alone. Practically every major company and CEO has pledged a significant amount of money to causes for social justice. While I know it is well meaning, that money never directly impacts my family, people I know, or really any of the people effected daily by the realities of being Black in America.
Case and point…Google has supposedly donated $32 million over the past five years, yet we are still watching videos of Black people being murdered at the hands of law enforcement.
So with all earnest I say to you, while you may feel “woke” in the moment and all warm and fuzzy about helping Black folks with your donations — -most of your efforts and intent is nothing more than bullsh!t wrapped up in gold foil.
Haphazardly pledging millions of dollars to social justice causes, changing company logos to multi-color or black squares, providing free support and services to black owned businesses, and making public statements of solidarity mean absolutely nothing. It is all a very passive way in attempting to set things right and change the course of history. As business leaders, you know that passive actions do not reap transformative results!
But this is not your fault. Many of us, myself included, have a tendency to be passive in our actions. This is the nature of Western society — -we have a tendency to throw money at a problem, without real intent, thinking the problem will go away or help the situation. We also like to solve for symptoms and not the cause of those symptoms. And we continue to sit, scratching our heads, wondering why things aren’t changing.
That said, I do believe money can help, but there has to be a much deeper strategic vision and intentional effort at play. Economic empowerment, while it may not solve all the ills harming the Black community, I do believe it will get us most of the way there — bringing about the type of change necessary for the Black community.
As a Black man, entrepreneur, and business owner — please do not patronize me with hand outs and in-kind donations of your services. Don’t invite me to your panel discussion, think-tanks, or opportunities to pick my brain for your benefit without a willingness to pay my rates or at least offer something of value in return.
The Black experience should not be used as another moment to stroke your white and/or rich savior ego. Us saying Black Lives Matter is not to guilt trip you all into action. Your new found awakening should not be a result of a corporate trend of “the right thing to do…” but should come from a place of authenticity and knowing that you are, in fact, doing the right things.
The right thing is asking, what can we do to empower the Black community?
Your participation in our economic empowerment comes from your willingness to invest in Black founders; hiring Black employees throughout your organization, including leadership roles and not just the undervalued and often tokenized Chief of Diversity Officer position; and doing meaningful business with Black business owners. By meaningful I mean hire us for primary or lead partners for a project — don’t pigeon hold us to small payouts, supplier diversity programs, janitorial or back office administrative services.
Throughout my business career I have been denied opportunity to respond to RFP’s because my business is not a certified MBE. I have been told too many times that in order to do business with a major company like yours, I have to be part of the Supplier Diversity Program, a.k.a. the color people entrance. I have grown tired of proving my competency, tearing down red tape, and enduring intense scrutiny just for the opportunity to propose a business solution.
When we talk about social injustice, we cannot and should not ignore economic injustice.
Over the last 10 years, minority businesses accounted for more than 50 percent of the two million new businesses started in the United States, creating 4.7 million jobs. With more than four million minority-owned companies in the United States, annual sales totaling close to $700 billion — despite that growth, there is still a disparity when it comes to access to capital, contracting opportunities and other entrepreneurial development opportunities for minority-owned firms.
This is where you can be the most impactful. Your business engagement has the potential to directly change peoples lives. If you want to help the Black community, the best option is in closing the wealth gap and shifting the economic power to a state of equity by doing business with the Black community. Simply put, spread your wealth with Black people by participating in our economy or inviting us to yours.
Your engagement will have a profound and direct impact on the Black community by having business transaction that will allow us to scale and grow our businesses. We can accumulate wealth like you, allowing us to support our family’s and elevate our community. With wealth, we can start to address the disparities that exist for ourselves by having the means to properly invest.
Your investment in Black employees may provide your business the opportunity of new perspectives, ideas, and voices — if you foster a company culture that is inclusive, empowers, and encourages your Black workforce. Your employment, obviously, also serves as a vehicle for for them to potentially grow their wealth.
Black people have been the trendsetters of culture since modern civilization came into existences. We have pioneered industries throughout history with very little credit given; therefore, investing in Black founders has the potential to be a very smart business move with the potential for profound returns for both parties.
I implore you to expand your thinking about how you can bring change. Donations help and are necessary toward the cause, but in addition to, some of your money can go toward Black businesses, Black employees, Black partners, Black founders, etc — as that is where you will be the most direct, see your ROI, and feel the benefits of your efforts.
Here are a few things to consider:
When it comes to a prime contractor, ask yourself have you considered a Black owned business to take the mantle? Are you willing to hire a Black owned firm to be your company’s top legal council, accounting , or advertising and marketing agency?
On your shortlist of strategic partners, advisory board members, or recruits for top positions, are there Black people on that list? Do you even have dope Black people in your direct network to tap when the opportunity arises?
When thinking about catering your corporate holiday party or gala, are you considering a Black restaurant or caterer for the event?
When it comes to managing your portfolio, did you consider a Black financial advisor.
Let me let you in on this thing that floats around the Black community from time to time. Group Economics is the intentional act of spending and recycling the Black dollar within the Black community. While I am a proponent of the idea of group economics, I believe the current form conveyed is too limiting. All people should buy Black and invest in the Black community, economically. That includes you!
Freedom and equality go hand-in-hand just like economics and empowerment. If Black Lives Matter to you…so should the uplift of the Black economy.
A Black man who happens to be a business owner.
What are your thoughts? Do you think closing the wealth gap will help foster more equity and improve Black lives? Do you feel corporations are doing enough, could be doing more, or should not be doing anything at all? Please join the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments.
Louis Byrd is also Chief Visionary Officer at Goodwim Design, a hybrid design studio developing technology solutions that positively impact culture and people.