Playing down blackness is a common tactic many Black people have become accustomed to. It is the “double consciousness,” that Black individuals have adapted to navigate the world. Whether it is changing our names on resumes to avoid discrimination and land job interviews or switching up our voices on phone calls to evade dial tones – this is a topic many are familiar with. Born of necessity, perceived or real, it takes an emotional toll on our lives. And no area is left untouched, including business.
Out of all the questions Black entrepreneurs must grapple with when starting businesses, there is none more insidious than the questions, should I advertise as a Black-owned business? Should I make consumers aware of my blackness? Is the display of my ethnicity/race detrimental or beneficial to the success of my business? And while it should not matter, this is a genuine concern for Black business owners.
Regardless of the side you’re on, it is not always an easy decision to make. We review some of the pros and cons below.
- Certified minority-owned businesses have access to specific governmental contracts, grants, and business programs
One benefit of promoting your business as Black-owned is the support of federal and local governments and private industry to help you start up, build and grow your business. Under the Small Business Act, 23 percent of federal government contracts are required to be rewarded for small enterprises. Five percent of that budget is given to black and minority-based businesses. So, if you become a certified minority-owned business, you will gain access to programs that can help your business get off the ground a little quicker.
- Garner cultural support
If you choose to be the face of your business and promote it as a Black-owned business, you will also garner support from the Black and minority community. In a 2014 Nielsen report on Black-American spending habits, it was reported that 55 percent of black individuals with household incomes of at least $50,000 would buy or support a product if it were offered by a Black person or minority-owned business.
- You become a model for future Black entrepreneurs in your community
If it is part of your plan to inspire and lead the way for other entrepreneurs, then publicly announcing your business as a Black-owned business is a way to be recognized. As a Black business owner, you also contribute to the pool of Black enterprises as a whole and create a blueprint of sorts for aspiring Black entrepreneurs to model themselves after. Additionally, if your business is successful, you open yourself up for awards and other honors.
- Being judged or stereotyped
Black entrepreneurs are often pigeonholed. From the thought process that a black business can only go so far to the idea that a Black business person can only provide certain services or sell certain products. Because of long-standing stereotypes, it is no surprise that you may want to hide your identity to avoid being placed in a box. There’s also the long-held belief that customer service at black businesses leaves a lot to be desired. Promoting yourself as a black business opens you up to people not patronizing your business because of these negative thoughts.
- Being discriminated against
Some Black entrepreneurs keep their picture off their website, social media, and other marketing materials to avoid losing customers and investors due to discrimination. In addition, some Black business owners may avoid adding images of Black people on their sites for fear that potential White clients could assume that their business is only geared towards black customers. The same 2014 Nielsen report revealed that only 20 percent of non-Black Americans in the $50,000 income bracket would support black or minority-owned business. Black businesses also receive less funding from venture capitalists and other investors, so to appeal to a broader audience you may also decide to hide your blackness.
When weighing the pros and cons, it’s important to determine whether promoting your business as Black-owned will help or hinder it. Will it interfere with your business’ chances of survival? Or will it be the key to setting your company apart from the rest and increase your consumer base?
Each side of the debate has valid reasons to support it, so the choice is understandably a difficult one to make. Ultimately, you are merely seeking a way to offer a product and/or service in the least challenging way and make a profit. You may be seeking an exit from the traditional 9-5 lifestyle of working for someone else and want to launch a business in a way that won’t present any more roadblocks than what exists for you already. However, there are some who argue that hiding one’s Blackness as a business owner encourages the inferiority complex of black businesses.
As an entrepreneur, you must weigh whether or not it is a choice or a responsibility to expose your business as Black-owned. Then, you must decide how integral your Blackness will be to your branding efforts. Will it be a critical component of your brand’s identity or will it be something that doesn’t make much of an impact? Will proclaiming your Blackness be something you choose because it gives YOU a sense of authenticity or is it something that will make your brand authentic as well?
While you may not like it, this is a very real issue that must be discussed, and a choice must be made. While avoiding it won’t make it go away, it’s important to know there are no right or wrong answers. Business owners have experienced success as Black-owned businesses both publicly and privately. Ultimately, it is a matter of survival. As business owners, you have to make the best decisions for your company based on your own experiences and instincts, and most importantly have faith in your ability to succeed.