Black Enterprise — July 2012
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How To Buy Black
Maggie Anderson

Spending with economic self-help as a goal takes more than good intentions.

Here are 14 strategies for conducting your own empowerment experiment

WHEN CHICAGOANS JOHN AND Maggie Anderson made a pledge to spend all of their income with black-owned businesses for an entire year, they launched a movement that would eventually become The Empowerment Experiment (www.eefortomorrow. com). The story of that year, 2009, has now been told in a new book by Maggie Anderson, Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy (PublicAffairs; $25.99).

Along the way, the Andersons—highly educated, upper-middle-class professional parents of two young daughters—discovered that spending with a focus on community self-help takes more than just good intentions—it requires a strategic approach. In the following excerpt from Our Black Year, Anderson details 14 key tips to take economic empowerment from lofy notion to practical and executable reality. Here’s what it takes to follow their “buy black” example.

—Alfred Edmond Jr.

Maggie’s Tips for Buying Black the EE Way

BEGIN WITH THE “LOW HANGING FRUIT.”

Make it easy on yourself: Jump-start your new lifestyle by altering your spending habits on what is most convenient. Subscribe to a black newspaper or magazine, support black designers at the department stores, buy black-made products at mass retailers and grocery stores, open an account at a black-owned bank, buy gif cards at a black-owned McDonald’s or Burger King.

TAKE BABY STEPS.

Do this so you won’t give up if your first attempt to “buy black” does not go as planned. Start with some product, place, or person you know. That first good experience will be the impetus to start living differently. You cannot fly into flying.

USE A BLACK COMPANY FOR A SERVICE YOU NEED ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Once you find a black dry cleaner, mechanic, or bank, become a repeat customer. Have a portion or all of your paycheck deposited directly into a black bank or credit union. They’re FDIC insured, too! Now your money is helping to grow a black investment or community bank.

IT’S NOT A TEST—IT’S A RELATIONSHIP.

As with every major brand or company you support, from Walmart to your optometrist, there will be good and bad experiences with your new black companies. Don’t make those entrepreneurs overcome hurdles and maintain standards you do not impose on the big companies. Don’t treat them with suspicion, expecting them to fail you. It’s your new black dry cleaner, a role model for your community that you choose to support because he helps sustain the neighborhood economically and is inclined to employ black people. If the service or product costs a little more, pay it. Consider it an investment in the growth of a black company. It speaks to your commitment and willingness to sacrifice.

BUYING BLACK AT THE MASS RETAILERS.

We have to support the black manufacturers and distributors whose products are already in the stores. The mass retailers all have websites and 800 numbers. They also have diversity or supplier diversity executives. Ask them to stock black-made products and to use black vendors. We all have to do this. What if one such executive got 20 calls in one day?

SHOP ONLINE.

On websites like www.blackbusiness network.com, www.izania.com, and www.blackshoppingchannel.com, you can find a wide range of goods and services. You will not find everything, but my guess is you will find something you assumed you could not. My detergent, NuWash, is better than Tide, but it’s not in Publix or Kmart—yet. I found it at www.blackbusinessnetwork. com. Compro-Tax (www.comprotax.net) does not have thousands of outlets like Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block, but the products and reward you get from supporting it are beyond compare. More resources can be found on our website, www.eefortomorrow.com.

BUY IN BULK.

When you go to the one black-owned dollar store in your city, buy five containers of lotion, ten bars of soap, three containers of dishwashing liquid, five boxes of pasta, and three bottles of veggie oil!

CONSULT YOUR LOCAL BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND URBAN LEAGUE.

They know the best-quality local entrepreneurs, and they want to hear from you. (Go to www.nationalbcc.org, and www.Nul.org.) If they don’t have the answer to your question, they know how to find it.

BUY OR DIE.

When you buy black, you are not just buying bananas, shoes, coffee, or a laptop; rather, you are making an investment in our collective well-being. So buy black as if our future depends on it—because it does.

BLACK BUSINESSES ARE NOT CHARITIES.

Do not think you are doing someone a favor by buying black. Yes, it is our duty. But when you start thinking that this is an extra thing you gotta do, it transforms what should be a natural and voluntary act into a burden, which ultimately has an impact on your spending habits.

BLACK IS BETTER.

You have to work from the paradigm that our businesses, entrepreneurs, goods, and services are the best. And they are the key to your community’s future. That truth is priceless and better than anything else.

SHARE YOUR GREAT FINDS WITH THE EMPOWERMENT EXPERIMENT.

We are out there preaching about how black businesses and professionals are the best in the world. We need to back that up. If you own a business, register it on the EE website (www.eefortomorrow. com). If you find a great black business, let us know so we can spread the word. Every time you do you make it easier for the next family or business to buy black, and it improves the strength and credibility of our movement.

SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS.

Get a big envelope and put your receipt in it every time you make a purchase. Soon this action will become second nature. And when you look at these little pieces of paper at the end of the week or month, you will smile, recommit to this effort, and think about the future you’re creating.

JOIN WITH US.

We get asked all the time, “Have you been able to inspire others?” The movement will die if it’s just the Andersons. From the start we envisioned a national campaign in which Americans would pledge to support black businesses and the mainstream corporations that do business with black businesses via substantive supplier, vendor, and franchisee diversity, and The Empowerment Experiment would facilitate and monitor the fulfillment of the pledges. We are building partnerships with several historic, activist, and professional organizations like FraserNet, civic groups, corporations, and academic institutions to do this. The money you spend is your EET (EE Total). This is what the EE Campaign—which we’re calling the “What If?” Campaign—is all about. The cumulative spending will be tracked in real time and showcased on our website. So please make your purchases and investments really count by keeping track of your spending and passing that information along to us at www.eefortomorrow.com.

From the book: Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy. Excerpted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012.
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