Monday, March 09, 2009

Update on the 'Ebony Experiment'

A few months ago, we brought you the story of an Black Suburban couple who had decided to spend their disposable income with Black-owned businesses in 2009.

Here is an update on them.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Oak Park couple travel far and wide to buy only from black-owned businesses
Ebony Experiment encourages other African-Americans to do the same
By Ted Gregory Tribune reporter
March 9, 2009

Maggie Anderson drives 14 miles to buy groceries, which might seem curious given that she lives in bustling Oak Park. She and her husband, John, patronize gas stations in Rockford and Phoenix, Ill. They travel 18 miles to a health food store in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood for vitamins, supplements and personal care products.

The reason? They want to solve what they call "the crisis in the black commu- nity." They want to, as they say, "buy black."

The Andersons, African-Americans who rose from humble means, are attempting to spend their money for one year exclusively with black-owned businesses and are encouraging other African-Americans to do the same. It is part experiment, part social activism campaign.

They call it the "Ebony Experiment."

"More than anything, this is a learning thing," said Maggie Anderson, who grew up in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami and holds a law degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago. "We know it's controversial, and we knew that coming in."

But the Andersons said they also have known that a thriving black economy is fundamental to restoring impoverished African-American and other "underserved" communities, and they have discussed for years trying to find a way to address the problem.

What they came up with is provocative. One anonymous letter mailed to their home accused the Andersons of "unabashed, virulent racism." "Because of you," the writer stated, "we will totally avoid black suppliers. Because of you, we will dodge every which way to avoid hiring black employees."

Apart from that letter, a solid majority of comments they have received have been encouraging, the Andersons said, adding that most people see the endeavor as beneficial to all.

"Supporting your own isn't necessarily exclusive," said John Anderson, a financial adviser who grew up in Detroit and has a Harvard University degree in economics and an MBA from Northwestern University, "and you're not going to convince everybody of that."

The undertaking "is an academic test about how to reinvest in an underserved community" and lessen society's burden, John Anderson said. Focusing the estimated $850 billion annual black buying power on black businesses strengthens those business and creates more businesses, more jobs and stronger families, schools and neighborhoods, the Andersons and other advocates said.

"When a thriving African-American or urban community is realized, certainly as a society as a whole, we all win," John Anderson said.

They are using a public relations firm, have created a slick Web site——have been laying the groundwork for nearly two years and have enlisted researchers from Northwestern to detail and extrapolate the impact of their spending.

Read rest of article at link above.


Brian said...

I don't believe in this kind of thing... that means... I believe that "Black owned businesses" should have the best opportunity to make it...and I hope for them to succeed... but I don't believe in segregating my shopping. Don't we segregate enough?

Now there was a time where this sort of self segregation was necessary... because the "Black owned business" was the only service provider and product supplier for communities that were primarily Black. And Blacks couldn't go anywhere else. But that was 5 decades ago.

The fact is... today it would be pretty difficult....really impractical to say the least (if not impossible) for someone to completely survive by using "Black owned businesses" only. "Black ownership" is simply not extensive enough in several industries to make that work. And it would be difficult to determine exactly who owns a particular business anyway. Should people spend hours everyday checking public records.... or calling businesses to ask the race of the owner? This idea is wacky for so many reasons.

I want to shop with whoever can provide me with the best products...the best selection...the most convenient location and hours, and the best service... I don't care if they are white, red, green, blue, black....etc.

As I said... it's completely impractical...especially if you aren't in a major metro area with a large Black population.

And more important that practicality...there is the issue of safety. I will just be honest. I'm in the St. Louis metro...and most "Black businesses" tend to be concentrated in Baghdad USA...also known as North St. Louis. I don't even visit my family there. North St. Louis is full of urban terrorists that roam in groups. It's like the 3rd world up there. I can;t shop where I don't feel safe....and the Police don't feel safe in North St. Louis. The 2008 homicide rate was one of the highest recorded by the City. 2009 is expected to be another big year for crime.

I just think efforts like this are silly.

If someone wants to help a "Black owned business"...they should help that business to reach out to a wider customer base. They should diversify their product selection. Move to a better location and offer a good price for their goods and services.

I know there are Blacks who strongly believe in this stuff... but I have never embraced it. Most "Black businesses" are selling products & services that I don't want to buy be honest. The only exception is my barber... but that's a practical decision.

Most tend to center around:

- Urban clothing
- Fast food
- Cell phone vendors (I don't own a cell phone and haven't needed one so far)
- Hair care products
- Auto repair
- Auto detailing (urbanizing the automobile...which I hate...but it's something that is very popular in the "Black Community")
- Prepaid legal services (we know what that's all about)
- Car stereo and alarm
- Night clubs/strip clubs
- Liquor stores
- Mega Churches
- Criminal Defense Attorneys
- Funeral homes (part of the urban trilogy that is doing well in St. Louis.... and can do well even in a Depression.. that is... Liquor stores, Fast food joints, and Funeral Homes)....see the connection between them? It's the urban life cycle. Just thrown in guns and drugs...and it would be even more complete.

I know there are all sorts of "Black owned businesses" out there but the list above tend to be the more prominent ones... at least that's the case in St. Louis. They represent most of the ads on the radio and the newspaper. And they are businesses offering products that are generally not of interest to me.

And why should I add wear and tear on my car (and waste precious gas) driving to the opposite side of the Metro to shop at a business that isn't offering a good selection or that is selling something that I don't want or don't need? Not to mention that I am risking my life taking the trip in the first place.

If Blacks want successful businesses... I think they have to broaden their products and services and re-examine their business model to match the global world we live in. They have to broaden their customer base...and (if they believe they can compete) they should take their products to people throughout their larger communities... whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc. The urban mentality is like a prison... even for those who don't have their businesses located in Black areas. The mental confinement is noticeable.

And to be honest... I have had some bad experiences at "Black businesses" where the service wasn't up to par. Just a general example...for some reason Black folks (not all) don't run restaurants very well. I notice this even in places that aren't "Black owned"...but simply "Black managed". (again... it's often hard to determine if a business is Black owned or simply Black managed).

A better approach to all this would be to bring Black businesses into the 21st Century. Coddling them in their safe urban/racial cocoons is probably more damaging to them in the long run.

Brian said...

And furthermore... "buying Black" isn't going to solve the crisis in the Black Community.

They should focus their efforts on helping to provide an education to Black youth...and start an entrepreneur mentoring program so that young folks might want to become business owners.

It's also necessary to help young Blacks establish credit... and manage money.

It's also important to clean up the crime in so-called "Black communities". This is very important folks. If an area is crime ridden... a prospective business owner or group won't be able to get insurance for whatever venture they want to start. Without insurance for the property, they won't be able to get a bank loan. And it will be hard to market in such an area...("Come to Baghdad USA...we have the best sandwiches in town... the bullet wounds are free...ducking and dodging to get here is actually good for your cardio").

Banks and insurance companies see such ventures as too risky. Even in cases where banks and insurers take the risk... there are often strings attached...such as... you have to maintain a certain level of security...etc... which creates huge overhead....too much to operate and turn a good profit.

So there has to be a first things first approach here. Not the cart before the horse.

And last but not least on "buying black" as the savior for the Black Community.... personal responsibility has to take on a new meaning. I know some Black folks don't like the term... but it's something that so-called "Black America" has to come to terms with at some point. Turn off the damn TV and Play Station...and read a book to your kid. Save up some money and give that kid music lessons or something else productive to do outside of school... and make sure that the school he/she is going to is working for them....and support the teachers and be involved with what's going on at school. Too many blacks allow their kids to languish in bad schools and they don't support teachers... If a teacher calls Jamal's parents to complain about an issue... too often...that teacher ends up getting cursed out, vilified, etc...(and that's if they can even reach a parent or any responsible adult at home) when they know little Jamal screwed up. It's sickening.

Anonymous said...

Got any ideas on how to break the viscious circle of black crime, black under education and black lack of jobs.

I don't have a clue--I would want to start with delayed births, but it would take 15-20 years for that to help, and I am not sure that would be a valid answer anyway.

In this climate there will probably be little money for the black communities no matter what color the president is. The inertia of the government is huge, it hasn't helped much before and probably won't again.

I am serious about the questions and will check back.

Paradigm said...

As long as crime (violent crime in particular) remains in the black community, ppl can b**** and complain all they want to. NO ONE wants to feel like their life is in jeopardy when they go buy a gallon of milk. That's no stereotype, I'm no right wing nut who hates his own kind, I've seen it and been a participant.

I have an old buddy of mine that still does this to this day. Let me know if this sounds familiar: "Ah, that fools from Richmond, CA (insert crime ridden city near you here). You know that fools hard." We value ppl coming from these places because of the amount of violence they have either survived or participated in. And we're supposed to run and say what? "Damn, I gotta go get my eggs from there to help a brotha out. I might get caught in a cross fire but it's gotta be that way?" I'd see that brotha coming a mile away. The ppl. I used to hang with called them "simps" or today, "marks". Easy prey. (for the record, I never hurt anyone, just hung w/ ppl who did and I know that makes me complicit)

Until our ppl. break this love affair with violence and deal w/ the inner workings of our lives on a psychological level we can start all the "black owned" movements we want to, nothing will change.

redante said...

This is an interesting discussion to me as an Asian-American because many people perceive certain Asian ethnic groups as "model minorities" who, through following similar ethnic-based economic strategies as the Ebony Experiment, managed to rise collectively up the socioeconomic ladder in US society.

The truthfulness (or not) of the model minority myth is a big subject for debate in itself so I'm not gonna get into that. What I would say is that there are tried and true strategies that many ethnic groups have done which resulted in certain segments of that group to be successful. I am thinking about Chinese Americans as an example. The Ebony Experiment, by itself may be flawed. But I think the effort contains a grain of truth to it that if really refined and studied and applied in a rigorous way, has the potential to produce real results. But it would take someone to study what strategies are successful and which are not and what is required to make it successful.

As a former Sociology major in college I wonder where and how I can find scholars who have studied this area to see what is real and useful and what is merely stereotype.

Anonymous said...

Wow all the rage against this experiment by black Americans, and it took an Asian woman to say "hey it worked for my community, it might work for yours too."

Slavery really messed us up mentally to this day. Where someone of another race can see the benefits of blacks doing for themselves. Yet "niggas" will write a 20 page thesis against it, when they could have put that energy towards helping a black business write a business plan.