COMMENTARY: What Do Blacks Control Economically?

By James Clingman  

The Vietnamese control the nail industry; the Koreans control the major distribution channel for Black hair care products; Jewish people control the music industry; the Indians/Pakistanis control a major portion of the hotel/motel industry; and the Chinese control economic enclaves, as do Greeks, Italians, Mexicans, Cubans, Polish, and Irish people.  What do Blacks control?

That question opens up a lot of avenues for thought, conversation, and action by Black people.  Considering our intellect and creativity, undergirded by our economic resources, it makes sense to me that we should be able to identify some portion of the U.S. economy that we control. Based upon the items and services on which we spend our money there must be some niche that we can control. Rather than seeing an increase in control over things only we purchase, Black folks have witnessed a decrease, about which we have been warned by Black and White business owners over the years.

In 1949, Black beauticians expressed concern that whites were pushing their way into the lucrative beauty shop business.  The following is an excerpt from industry leaders at a national conference:

“The old line beauticians were losing a long-waged battle to keep the $450,000,000 beauty business in tan hands.  The move [is] for non-colored promoters to buy up beauty shops and rent out booths…they have moved into the actual operating end. This year’s convention saw two-thirds of the demonstrators white, or merely having colored to front for them…whatever the blame the fact remains that a highly profitable field is surely and not so slowly being taken out of our hands.”  Source: The History of Black Business in America, by Juliet E.K. Walker, PhD.

In 1986, Irving Bottner, a Revlon executive, predicted Black hair care companies would be “taken over by White companies in 15 years.”  His insulting prediction began to come true 12 years later.

In the 1990’s Black funeral homes were gobbled up by, “… the ‘Big Three’ death care businesses — Service Corporation International (SCI), The Loewen Group, and Stewart Enterprises.  [They] owned 15 percent of the country’s 23,000 funeral homes, handled one in every five funerals, and enjoyed average profit margins approaching 25 percent.  Canada-based Loewen Group, which deliberately targeted black-owned funeral homes for acquisitions, bought up more than 340 properties between 1996 and 1998, and reported an operating profit of nearly 58% in 1997. After studying federal census and crime statistics, the Loewen Group apparently concluded that higher mortality rates — coupled with a cultural preference for high-markup burials — made funeral homes in black communities attractive properties.”  Source:  Even though these conglomerates’ businesses have declined, many Black families even today believe they are supporting a Black owned funeral home without knowing who the real owners are.

What about Black bookstores? Many have closed their doors because the big-box stores, many of them now closed due to online sales, could sell Black books cheaper.  Black publishers have also been shunned by Black writers over that last twenty years or so.  Haki Madhubuti, Founder of Third World Press, in Chicago, told me some very interesting stories about what he has gone through as regards Black writers’ support of his business.  He is one, however, who has sustained his business for over forty years despite some very well-known Black writers opting for White publishers.

Those four examples alone show Black folks’ loss of control of industries in which our consumption dollars dominate.  Who uses Black owned beauty salons?  Who buys Black hair care products?  Who has is the exclusive consumer of Black owned funeral services?  Who writes and buys Black books?  Pardon the rhetorical questions.

Don’t blame the Koreans, the Vietnamese, and the Indians; they are taking care of business, and even though Black folks danced to the “TCB” mantra by Aretha Franklin, the “sock it to me” part has been directed at us.  Consequently, as Booker T. said over 100 years ago, we get no R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

In 2000 the MATAH group began work on leveraging control of the Grenadian nutmeg crop for Black Grenadian nutmeg growers.  In 2006, Dr. Claud Anderson, after being dissed by the Black Mayor of Detroit, began work on carving out a niche in the fish industry, again where Black consumer dollars abound. Now, in 2017, THE One Million is working hard on getting Black consumers to purchase coffee from a Tanzanian company founded by David Robinson, Jackie’s son.  The best coffees come from Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and the only way to control a significant share is by demanding and purchasing it ourselves. T-C-B!

Economic empowerment declares that we must control one or two products where we have a competitive advantage in terms of consumption—if not production.  A lot of will and a little sacrifice are all it takes.

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