Kwanzaa for Allies, Day 2: Supporting POC economic self-determination
Committing to smartly directing financial resources is an important but under-discussed aspect of allyship.
Though Kwanzaa is talked about as a time of celebration and reflection for people from the African Diaspora, the fact that it is grounded in universal principles means that it provides a good framework for anyone doing some year-end reflection, especially for those concerned with social change. In this year of some degree of racial reckoning, anti-racism allies would be well served by using the themes of Kwanzaa as prompts to think about one or more of four key questions that aspiring anti-racism allies need to keep in mind.
How are my thoughts and actions helping me:
1. sustain my anti-racism ally work?
2. support from people from racially oppressed communities?
3. move racism skeptics to an increased understanding of racism against people of color?
4. support and grow the community of other anti-racism allies?
The theme of Day 2 of Kwanzaa is kujichagulia, which means self-determination. There are many ways of thinking about this of course, but one that white allies should not ignore is the way that racism has undermined the economic self-determination of communities of color (question 2 above). For centuries, government policies and informal practices have attempted to suppress entrepreneurship and business development in minority communities, and this in turn has made it more difficult for these communities to create the economic success that fosters community self-sufficiency. While the most egregious of the institutional impediments have waned somewhat, businesses owned by people of color still face undue obstacles, such as racial discrimination in markets for capital and for credit.
As part of their social change work, anti-racist allies can take actions specifically designed to support the goal of economic self-determination of communities of color. To do that, they should spend some extra energy purposely supporting the success of minority owned business.
What might this look like? First, it means taking advantage of the fact that, thanks to the internet, finding businesses owned by people of color is much easier than it used to be. For example, in many cities and counties, you can find a minority business directory. Often, these listings are maintained by the traditional Chambers of Commerce or by Minority Chambers of Commerce or other Black and/or Latino business associations. In many cities, a search for “Minority Owned Business in (your area)” will produce listings compiled by news organizations, or even Top Ten lists on Yelp.
After you purchase products or services from the business, unless you are egregiously unsatisfied, try to behave like a concerned supporter of the business, instead of just one of a transaction-focused customers who merely comes and goes. With care to not be be presumptuous, invasive, or entitled, try to make a personal connection with the owner. It’s okay to let them know that you are intentionally engaging them out of your commitment to racial justice. Most likely, the business owner will appreciate this support.
In addition, consider modifying your customer behavior from what you might normally do. For example, if a specific transaction leaves you unsatisfied enough to make you ponder taking them off your list of venders, consider giving the business feedback about your experience, and perhaps a second chance. Equally important, if you are satisfied with the vendor, energetically recommend the business to people in your circle. As you do this, make conscious choices about how you communicate your recommendation. You might frame the referral one way for your colleagues who are fellow anti-racism skeptics (perhaps highlighting your racial equity goals in engaging the company), and differently for your contacts who are racism skeptics (perhaps just emphasizing the quality of the business).
Without doubt, actions like the above require extra energy. If you think about it, all actions that are consciously intended to demonstrate anti-racist allyship take extra work; additional effort is what you are taking on if you choose the path of the ally. But remember, it took decades of white folks purposely suppressing minority business development to create the racial disparities we have now. If white folks are to play their part in undo these disparities and do their bit to help communities of color achieve their full potential for economic success, allies will need to engage in some extra effort.
Dr. David Campt is a nationally renown coach of anti-racism allies, and principal of the White Ally Toolkit. This is the second in the series of guides for allies framed around Kwanzaa. Day 1 was here.