African American shoppers turn out in large numbers on Black Friday, but Neilson study shows African Americans are big spenders year round PHOTO Associated Press
As a group, African Americans spend at one of the highest levels across the globe
Once upon a time in America, the Black community supported and sustained itself economically by the virtue of businesses that were fueled by Black consumers. That time seems like a distant memory now. While Black consumerism today accounts for a trillion dollars annually, less than ten percent of that figure is spent with Black businesses.
A trillion dollars a year undeniably has the power to strengthen communities – expanding businesses, creating jobs, even empowering schools – that buying power has infinite potential, if focused.
However such capital influence, lacks a direct destination to Black businesses.
Since the mid ‘60s, the number of Black owned businesses nationwide has seen a sharp and steady decline.
Integration, as it were, was in many ways a double-edged sword for the African American community according to Maggie Anderson, author of “Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy.”
“Our Black Year” focuses on Maggie and her husband, John Anderson’s social experiment in 2009, which gained national attention. The Andersons spent twelve months buying exclusively from Black owned businesses hoping to ignite a movement.
Anderson describes the effects of integration as somewhat crippling to the African American community, stating that Black businesses before integration had a built in customer base because Black consumers had a lack of options. With integration came a strong desire for Blacks to spend money with the white businesses they were previously barred from in a quest to “prove their dollars were as green as everyone else’s,” according to Anderson. In addition to dollars, those same companies took much of the “talent” of the Black community, recruiting would-be business entrepreneurs, who were excited for the opportunity to work for the big companies they were previously kept out of.
In 2012, The National Newspaper Publishers Association commissioned The Nielsen Company to conduct a study entitled “African-American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing.” What the study found was that the growth of African American consumers outpaces other communities. The study projected $1.3 trillion in spending power in the African American community by 2017, that would represent a steady increase from the $850 billion that was spent by African Americans in 2009.
This unmatched growth, the study determined, is largely result of a steady increase in the number of African Americans attending college and a continual growth in annual income among African Americans despite common misconceptions.
The fact is, African Americans wield tremendous spending power and unfortunately that power is not being directed to restoring the large number of impoverished African American communities.
Taking that trillion dollar figure, The Washington Informer analogized the significance of Black consumerism, reporting that “if Black America counted as an independent country, its wealth would rank 11th in the world.”
Considering this tangible power that the African American community holds, the obvious question is will we ever take command of it?
Journalist, A. Peter Bailey, author of “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X: The Master Teacher,” former Editor of Ebony Magazine, and Washington D.C. resident, thinks it’s possible.
“No one is going to do anything for us. However, we can flex our economic power, but we have to stop being selfish and pool our resources in order to do so,” Bailey told The Washington Informer. He also suggested in that interview that the African American community consider the example of the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example of the power of uniting.
While some like the Andersons, decided to do what they could in their own lives to support the focus of Black consumerism, and others such as Bailey propose movements, the question this Black History Month remains: what will we as a community do with our ever increasing power in spending?