October isBlack History Month in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Time for change: action not words’, which, if you ask me, makes a lot of sense. In the past few years, people from non-racially marginalised backgrounds have started to engage with the issues of interpersonal, structural and systemic racism in ways that didn’t seem possible before the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and recognition in 2020.
As a result, over the last two years we’ve seen think pieces springing up in every major publication, panel talks being scheduled, and workplace diversity and inclusion surveys landing in our inboxes. While those things might seem like positive change, a lot of it has left me feeling a little nonplussed. Because while we’ve started a conversation, and we’ve seen the potential to make change, what we haven’t seen enough of (at least yet) is real action and commitment to long-term change-making.
Real action – using your voice, using your power, making a stand and actively pushing for things to change for the better – is much harder than filling in a survey, or sitting through a virtual lunch and learn, listening to someone like me giving advice while you eat a sandwich or browse ASOS. It’s bigger than knowing you should do something, but stopping short of figuring out precisely what, and putting a plan into action.
And so, for Black History Month and beyond, I invite you to join me in taking action, and making one change to your day-to-day habits that can have a positive, long-term impact and make some real change in marginalised communities. And that change is supporting and buying from Black-owned businesses. Or as I like to phrase it: being an economic ally.
Operating through Covid during recent years has been hard for all businesses, and we’ve seen behemoths such as Topshop and Debenhams fail. But of the 17,500 high-street storefronts that closed in the UK during the pandemic, small businesses have struggled the most to survive.
It’s not surprising to learn that Black-owned businesses, particularly Black female-owned businesses, are usually
(due to systemic structural racism) positioned firmly within the ‘small business’ category. In part, this is because when Black-owned businesses are starting out, they are twice as likely to be rejected for the start-up loans that new businesses rely on, stunting their growth potential before they’ve even begun.
For many entrepreneurs who can’t access start-up loans, venture capital backing is an alternative route to funding. In 2018 in America (where most of the available data is from, since much of that collected in the UK looks at either Blackness, or womanness, and an intersectional view is vanishingly hard to find), $85 billion was invested into businesses by venture capitalists. Of that, only 2.2% went to female founders, and less than 1% went to female founders ‘of colour’ (a tiny percentage that shrinks even further when we look at high-profit industries, like tech).
Supporting Black-owned businesses, buying Black, being an economic ally, is a really simple, tangible and impactful way that we can all literally put our money where our mouths are, by giving a direct cash injection to underfunded and marginalised communities. Giving back the power and resources to those who need it the most.
Even though we rarely think about it, every time we make a purchase, click on an ad or share a link with a friend we are supporting one business in favour of another. And our purchasing is powerful – where we spend our money can have far-reaching consequences both for the businesses we support and the ones we overlook; so it’s up to us to support the brands that we want to thrive and to move away from those we don’t believe in.
Switching to Black-owned businesses doesn’t have to be a big change, but it does require some effort, and maybe even a little inconvenience. But it’s worth it, long-term, to know you’re supporting and investing in the types of business you want to see more of in the world.
Do the stories about how staff are treated in warehouses make you feel uncomfortable? Then next time you’re ordering a book use a Black-owned bookshop (Afrori is the internet’s best-loved). If your favourite candle is burning low, you could check out LIHA Beauty – its Queen Idia Candle is the scent of my autumnal dreams. If you’re short on inspiration or time, follow accounts such as @BlackOwnedEverything on Instagram, which have done the hard work for you.
Whatever you do, whichever brands you choose to support, you are making a choice. This Black History Month presents the perfect opportunity to look at your choices and make sure they represent the type of consumer you want to be and the world you want to live in.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is...
Black Pound Day (@bpdofficial; blackpoundday.uk) is a great directory of some of the best Black-owned businesses and products in the UK. Usefully split into categories such as Hair and Beauty, and even Plumbing and Heating and Legal Services, they’re a great first stop.
March Muses, a Black female-owned decoration business, ‘celebrates diversity by diversifying celebrations’. Its range of Christmas decorations, such as Black angel tree toppers, has now expanded to include cards, wrapping paper and wedding cake toppersof Black couples. Find them in Selfridges or at marchmuses.co.uk.
Instagram recently released a tool to allow businesses to add a ‘Black-Owned Business’ label to their profiles, meaning it’s easy to see which of your favourite brands and new discoveries fit the brief.