Businesses across the country – and especially those owned by Black entrepreneurs – have been hit inexplicably hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a research study, it was found that there was more than a 40% decline in Black-owned businesses. The same could not be said for white businesses, which only recorded a 17% decline. The same report showed that Black Americans suffered high mortality from the pandemic, joblessness, and had little chance of receiving funding and investment grants compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the country.
Apart from the disparities brought about by the pandemic, the Black community across the country faced yet another scuffle – the death of George Floyd – which brought inconceivable pain, frustration, anger, suffering, fear, and tension. This saw people express outrage through nationwide protests dubbed “Black Lives Matter” seeking to end racial injustice and police violence against Black people.
The protests, which were conducted on the streets and through social media campaigns, were underscored as many corporate and retailer brands began to join in the movement against racism and offer support to Black-owned businesses. However, the sudden interest in buying Black has raised skepticism among some Black entrepreneurs. Some view the outpourings as acts of performative activism.
This article describes how entrepreneurs of color can distinguish between authentic and disingenuous support, how to respond to this kind of 'support', and what to look for in an ally.
Defining a Successful Protest
The increased attention and new business opportunities for entrepreneurs of color are long overdue. However, Black entrepreneurs feel that it’s unfortunate that the support they are receiving now was birthed by a tragedy.
According to Kris Christian, owner of Chicago French Press, the kind of support Black-owned businesses are seeing now is what Black entrepreneurs have been waiting for. But, it also comes at a time when so many Black people have lost their lives.
She says that her online sales surged by 225% as soon as the Black Lives Matter protests kicked-in in late May. “I couldn’t help but cry when I kept hearing the Shopify ‘ching chings’ going off,” said Kris, who started her online store in 2016.
But how did she get noticed so fast?
According to Kris, her Chicago-based coffee brand was featured in various blog posts, spreadsheets, Google docs, and lists of Black-owned establishments in the state which were making rounds on social media.
To spread even more awareness, Yelp – a popular customer reviews website – introduced a search attribute tool to identify Black-owned businesses, which helped her book even more sales.
How To Distinguish Between Authentic and Disingenuous Support
Is The Brand Committed to Change?
As brands like Facebook, Nike, L’Oreal, and Ben & Jerry’s continue to take a stand against systemic racism and show their solidarity, other brands are in it for performative activism. Luckily, now more than ever, people are holding brands accountable requiring them to do better and take action.
For brands to make an impact, more is needed to align themselves via a set of hashtags or post a black square on social media – which is performative activism. They need to also open up their wallets and contribute to organizations or groups that are always at the forefront of championing change and equity.
So, as a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) founder, it is most important to uncover the motivation behind the support you are getting. This will help to develop healthy and sustainable boundaries in which you control the terms of support.
Does The Ally Have Visibility? What About Your SEO Skills?
Look for allies with industry visibility who can use their platforms to promote your business. They can be influencers or people in positions of power. Prominent examples are Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez who handed over their social media accounts to Black organizations to help amplify Black voices and their businesses.
Good knowledge of SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) is another important weapon in your arsenal. So, enrolling in an SEO course to learn SEO fundamentals, including content creation and keyword research, can help even more.
Has The Ally Stood With BIPOC Founders Before?
Allyship is a lifelong investment in building relationships, supporting others, and holding ourselves accountable when mistakes occur. As such, you need to align yourself with people you can trust.
Choose allies who have always stood in solidarity with BIPOC founders, and who have used their privileged positions to call out inappropriate behavior towards people of color. Do your research and see how their previous investments turned out.
Does The Ally Embrace Diversity and Inclusivity In Their Organizations?
How’s the ally committed to ensuring racial and cultural diversity in their organizations? What does the top management look like in terms of BIPOC representation? Are women of color well represented? And if so, are these people just a token in the organization, or are they being paid the same amount as their white counterparts?
Clearly, there is so much to consider in assessing the authenticity of allied people and groups. So, before extending that warm handshake, ensure that the ally you are about to get into partnership with ‘walks the talk,’ and represents the deeds that align with your values.
Does The Ally Donate to BIPOC Organizations?
Talk is cheap. Speaking strongly about racism, police brutality, and injustice needs to be backed by actions. One surefire way of demonstrating support is through donations.
The more engaged the ally is in other ventures, the more opportunity you have to tap into their diverse network for more resources and introductions.
BIPOC organizations contribute generously and these donations need to be accounted for. It is critical to use reliable, cloud-based accounting software for NGOs to responsibly generate financial reports, create invoices, monitor expenses, and more. This helps ensure their donations go to organizations with good financial practices and records.
What’s The Ally’s Action Plan for Self-Development?
As aforementioned, allyship is hinged upon accountability, consistency, and trust. This means that to be allies, action and words must be in sync.
You must constantly call each other in, conspire on the next move, and build each other’s compassion. As such, a true ally will be invested since their success is bound by yours. You can hold them accountable for going against your goals – especially when it comes to anti-racism work.
Here is how to recognize an actionable ally:
- Recognize systemic inequalities and take action
- Lift others through advocacy
- Listen and support
- Rework what they think to be correct
- Not view venting as a personal attack
- Show up for your business and your values
- Understand that not everyone has the same starting point
- Understand differences in privilege and use their privilege to amplify underrepresented voices.
As the BIPOC community continues to battle the end of racial inequality, police brutality, and systemic racism, entrepreneurs of color are keeping a cautious, but open eye on cooperating brands to guard against performative activism, tokenism, and predatorism.