Helpful hint: if you’re a black business owner with the ability to reach folks who observe Kwanzaa (in other words, this applies to every black business owner who has ever heard of the internet), you should consider either releasing new products on December 29th or having a sale that day, or both.
The 29th of December is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, and its principle is Ujamaa, or “co-operative economics.” Observers are encouraged to support black businesses and black business owners in order to help build and strengthen the community.
The phrase “Buy Black” is familiar to many people by now, and it’s an important, subtle yet meaningful way to counter some of the economic oppression which has been endured by the black diaspora for centuries. It’s clear that a disturbingly high amount of dollars from within the black community don’t remain within the black community for long enough to build the community up; what isn’t always so clear, in an age where so many financial transactions are completed without you ever knowing the ethnic background of who is eventually getting your money, is how to correct this at the micro level.
“Buy Black,” you say. Especially on December 29th. Okay, yes, of course … but how do I buy black correctly?
One of my default Ujamaa shopping spots is A Different Booklist, a black-owned bookstore here in Toronto. Co-owner Itah Sadu went to school with my father, so her Black Card credentials are easily verifiable. So let’s say I head over there to buy a copy of “The Hate U Give,” one of my favourite new reads of 2017. It was written by Angie Thomas (another black woman) and happens to be full of socially aware content in a compelling story told through the eyes of a black girl narrator (bonus black points!). Have I done Ujamaa right?
Because I’ve definitely bought black … well, mostly. It is, after all, highly doubtful that all of the links in the chain of production for “The Hate U Give” are black. It may be that a majority of the people whose work was required to get this book into my hands are not (or, are not only) black, although the woman who birthed it and the woman who sold it to me both are.
And speaking of birth … what if the owner of the store, while identifying as black, had one biological parent who was black and one who wasn’t? Or, let’s say there are two black-owned bookstores that I know of, both within a reasonable distance from me. (Sidebar: the fact that this is not the case points right back to the importance of observing the principle of Ujamaa in the first place.) Both are stocked with books I want at prices I find reasonable. If one is owned by a black person whose parents are both black, and the other is owned by a married couple consisting of a black spouse and a non-black spouse, is shopping at one a more appropriate Ujamaa mission than shopping at the other? What if the other spouse is mixed?
Maybe I’m over-complicating this; maybe a book is a bad example. Something like taking your family out for soul food at a black-owned restaurant is a lot more straightforward … although the restaurant’s ingredients probably come from all over the world and its suppliers are likely not all black … plus, what if their staff aren’t all black either? Hey, what if the generic franchise eatery down the road, with a much larger staff, happens to employ three times more black chefs and servers – isn’t eating there the same as putting money into the pockets of more black people?
I don’t mind admitting that I got a lot less done than I planned to on December 29, 2017, largely because of this. Two of my black business owner friends make and sell kickass, unique clothing and accessories (scroll to the end for links); I made sure to purchase from both of them earlier in the month, but I wanted to find new benefactors for the modest amount of disposable cash I had left over from Boxing Day. I kept finding or thinking of cool items I wanted, and then waffling because I wasn’t sure whether the purchase would receive the stamp of Ujamaa approval. For example, I want that gorgeous lip colour from Rihanna’s makeup line … but I don’t see any proof that she’s an owner. (She probably will benefit from my purchasing it, but does the fact that the line is branded with a black person’s name make it a truly “black” purchase?) I found websites which sell adorable accessories featuring black mermaids and the likenesses of black singers (again, scroll to the end for links) … but one is owned by an ally who appears to be white, and one has no “meet the owner” section which might enable me to gauge who they are. What was I supposed to do, assume that a person selling something with Lauryn Hill on it must be black just because Lauryn is? Start creeping them on Facebook to find out what they look like? Send an email that said “Hey, I hope this doesn’t sound racist, but are you black? Because I like your product, but today is the fourth day of Kwanzaa so I’m only going to type in my credit card info if you reply back with a selfie before 11:55pm EST ”?
While I did eventually make a decision (my LipservceCos lipstick is on its way to me right now), this dilemma prompted me to set some guidelines for myself when it comes to buying black, on any day of every year:
- Accept that these guidelines are what works for me right now; no one else is required to agree with them. And if a future version of me doesn’t agree with them, she is free to choose new ones for herself.
- Acknowledge that businesses, like people, are complex and multifaceted. There will be occasions when sifting through layers of data to find out “whose business is this, really?” is ultimately a waste of time. (Especially when a Google search can actually hinder instead of helping this cause.)
- Remember that because buying black is an increasingly constant priority throughout my year, I don’t need to stress out about it come December 29th. This means I will continue to keep an eye out for small black-owned businesses I can support at any time, the same way I keep an eye out for opportunities to support small businesses, period.
Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, the meaning of the Swahili word “ujamaa” (outside of the context of Kwanzaa) is “extended family,” “brotherhood,” or “socialism,” which suggests to me that anyone who is too eager to judge a particular purchase on some sort of Black Enough? scale is really missing the point. So with that in mind, alongside the guidelines above, I decided to create a challenge for myself: Between now and the end of the year, I will have made a first purchase from at least 12 black businesspeople; and I will also be purchasing from allies who are supportive of black progress though they themselves do not identify as black.
And for real, I hope to see some Ujamaa sales and/or discount codes popping up right after Christmas!
PS: In case you’re interested, here’s a so-far list of folks who can expect to get my money in 2018, whether it’s for clothing or accessories or event tickets or makeup or food.
Angie Thomas – I want my own copy of THUG … <3 … and I’m also going to see the movie when it comes out in theatres. (Ms Thomas, will your second novel be out before 2019? Because I’m coming for that too…)
Pat McGrath Labs - I’m so in love with the colours of her makeup through the screen, and can only hope not to be disappointed IRL … oh, also, that new lip balm sounds tantalizing.
Chinedesign - I love the clothes I’ve bought from Chinedu Akabam for myself; my cousin loves the shirt I bought for her from him; my friend Max loves the clothes she bought from him too. He’s 3 for 3! Plus …
Supafrik – … the very same Chinedu throws some of the dopest parties around. There are still so many people I want to bring to their first #GUMBO party =D
Papaya & Co – this brand is one of my fave finds of 2017, for sure! I still get tons of compliments on my blue tote … one of my homegirls is gna flip out when she sees her belated Christmas gift … and I haven’t even debuted my latest piece from them yet =)
Fenty Beauty – it’s simple, really: I want that Stunna Lip Paint, pronto. I’ll probably cop a Mattemoiselle too.
Oh Plesiosaur – you know what? When someone creates pins featuring beautiful brown-skinned mermaids, is told “nothing to do with race, but black mermaids don’t look good!” from a prospective purchaser, and then decides to keep making the black mermaid pins while also making a donation to the NAACP, I am quick to hand over my money. Here’s the kicker: as far as I know, she isn’t even black >>> top-notch allying right there. I’m ordering one set, and I’m on the email-me-when-back-in-stock list for another. This is also where you should go if you want pins with mermaids who aren’t skinny, mermaids wearing hijabs, lovely and imaginative pins of all sorts (most are not mermaids, lol) by an LGBTQ+woman-owned line.
High Five Pins – let me not say too much about what I’m buying from here, since it’s a gift for someone who will almost certainly read this post …
Radical Dreams - in 2017 I bought pins from these folks for my dad, my friend Jerome, and myself, and I’m planning to come back for more!
Good Dope Supply Co – it would really suck if, between the time I wrote this and the time I placed my order, the Lauryn Hill pins had sold out completely. Fortunately that isn’t the only one I want! =D
(New to my blog? I promise most of my posts are far shorter than 1700 words. xoxo)