How often have you heard or even said you would never hire a Black company to do anything for you. The myriad of rational commence with, they are too lazy or they take too long. Black firms are too impressed with themselves, and make too many mistakes. Their pricing is too high, and they don’t give you the service you expect.
Alas, the pathetic truth is that all of those statements and feelings are true. I have never hired a white roofer that when he was finished with my roof, it didn’t leak. I have never engage a white contractor whose professionalism was so great, they always finished the project on time. I’m forever impressed with white businesses since of humility. They never give me the impression of being better than I.
How often have you walked into a white Business that had Black management and you were treated like you weren’t important. You notice the laziness of the workers. You see that Black manager walking around acting like he/she is a God, and they always act as if you are a lessor creature. Forever quoting policy and acting holier than thou.
When ever I’m confronted with a White manager, I’m always treated like I matter. I’m never patronized, the red carpet is laid out for me. When I venture into Orange County I never see lazy good for nothing employees. The white manager is always humble and congenial with me. You know what, I don’t mind telling that Black manager or Black business owner about that either.
My sarcasm is not fueled with hate, but fueled with frustration. The frustration of watching my people sell themselves short. Rather than being consumers of goods and services, we have become merchants of our sovereignty. We have sold our economic power. Businesses of every ethnicity has grabbed a firm hold of our community, except businesses owned by Blacks.
In one hand we carry the Kente cloth we adorn ourselves in, and in the other hand we hold a huge magnifying glass to scrutinize ourselves. We have placed much pressure of perfection on our own Black businesses and managers that we have caused them to go out of business.
With that magnifying glass we have looked for faults rather than to seek answers. We neglect to search for understanding. Why is it we are willing to dismiss a Black business or businessman for their lake of perfection. We’ll defer a Whites, Hispanics or Asians lack of perfection and will accept mediocrity.
We hold our own people up to a much higher degree of scrutiny. We don’t allow our own people to make mistakes or have flaws. At the first sign of deficiency we’ll dismiss our own. We instantly throw up our hands and say, “That’s what you get for dealing with Black folk!”
Others we will continue to make rich. We allow ourselves to receive poor treatment, higher prices, and less care to detail. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we wont receive the same treatment from a contractor or retailer working in our community, as that same contractor or retailer would give in their own community.
Rather than condemning the Black business owner, we should ask the question why. Why does the Black contractor cost more than the White or Hispanic contractor. The answer is purely economics. Where as the White or Hispanic contractor can work for a Black client, they can just as easily obtain jobs without difficulty in any other community.
The Black contractor is usually confined to his own community for work. Black contractors meet with great impediment when trying to obtain work in Hispanic or White communities. Because they perform less jobs, Black contractors find buying materials more costly.
Weather it’s putting on a roof or cutting your grass the Hispanic or White businessman will have no problem making a profit from the many communities they can service with relative ease. The Black businessman will have a hard time making a living let alone a profit, with his limited resources, purely because of the color of his skin.
The same holds true with retailers. Most Black owned retailers have to fight with the same obstacles as higher prices in distribution. They often pay higher rents, and far too often have to live with limitations of where they can establish their business.
Black management within white owned retail establishments are often placed in their positions solely because of the color of their skin. Not to take away from their abilities, but you have to understand the blatant yet subliminal racism that occurs in the placement of Black management within white corporations.
White powers within a corporation feel the only way to manage and service our community in with a Black manager. Considering we are such animals the only way to tame us is with a Black person. Those same white powers never consider the qualifications of the individual just the color.
More often than not the Black managers you see are the best and most dedicated management that chain has. Still they are only allowed to work in Black communities. Very seldom are they allowed the opportunity to manage outside their own communities.
Not only do Black managers have to put up with the obstacles of raciest upper management, they have to endure that magnifying glass. They are called “Uncle Toms” by their employees for doing the job they are paid to do. They are battered by us the consumer who expects to be treated somehow differently because we are Black and the manager is Black.
If we are not satisfied with the Black manager, we have no trouble going over his head to find a white man to tell us the same thing the Black manager said. Only then are we satisfied. Then we have the audacity to go back to the Black manager and tell him/her “I hope I didn’t get you in trouble.”
Worse yet we give a white manager the opportunity to appear as a hero by satisfying our complaint, which in most cases is an unwarranted complaint. This give that white manager more power over the Black manager. We then say, “I didn’t mean to get you into trouble but…” Divide and conquer.
As we look through out our community we see Asian, Hispanic, Whites and a myriad of others taking hold of the economic power. What do we get in return? Do we get better service? I say not. Do we get better selection? I say not. Do we get better quality than we would get from our own? Again I say not! At lease do we get a better price? No!
What we do get is more inquiries about our ability to pay. We gain more security. More eyes are watching us from fear of our steeling. More armed guards to protect the shop owner from the barbaric animals we are. More gates and bars to keep the likes of us out when the business is closed. We get strip malls rather than elaborate plazas.
As we use that magnifying glass to put our own people out of business, the others are laughing their way to the bank. How many Korean shop or gas station owners are contributing to the United Negro College Fund with the profits they make from us? How many Hispanic gardeners, contractors or grocery store owners subscribe to Ebony, Upscale, or Emerge magazines. How many Black playwrights, artist, and writers benefit from the profits of white owned businesses?
Black business provide more to the community than by taking our money for goods and services. Black business recycle dollars back to the community in many more ways than we realize. We should expect no less nor no more from our own than we expect form anyone else. We should however give more consideration. One thing to remember, if you take that magnifying glass and Blacken one side it becomes a mirror.
This article originally appeared in THE NEW JOURNAL & GUIDE. Copyright 1997, Christopher D. Odom (view PDF here)