Note from BW of Brazil: In reality, the title of this article basically says it all. In recent years we’ve seen a surge in what has been called afroempreendedorismo, meaning Afro-entrepreneurialism; Afro-Brazilians entering the world of business with a focus on specializing in, targeting and selling to a public that defines itself according to its African ancestry. It goes without saying that it is a wonderful concept. In a world in which countless ethnic groups and communities unify themselves to empower themselves, it is the only viable option for Afro-Brazilians to approach their situation from a position of power. This type of thinking is LONG overdue and applies equally to African descendant populations across the globe.
But for me, it’s not enough to simply create opportunities for individual blacks to become millionaires and billionaires. Without commitment, long term goals and unity as a community, individual black wealth means nothing. It can only go beyond the individual when regular people decide to pool their resources together, support the growth of black business and when the richer people of the group dedicate themselves to helping others in their group reach the same success and then those most successful investing in the empowerment of the community.
But let’s not fool ourselves. There are several obstacles that I see in reaching such a grandiose idea. A few of those obstacles, in no particular order are: 1) Afro-Brazilians don’t act as a community. And by community I don’t simply mean the proximity of living in the same neighborhood and sharing the same culture. As Dr. Claud Anderson explains so well, “a community signifies commitment and the potential for power”. And when the vast majority of Afro-Brazilians spend their money with non-Afro-Brazilians and those who receive this money don’t re-invest back into the Afro-Brazilian community, the fact that the black Brazilian population moves around R$800 billion per year means nothing! It is money being spent that will not benefit Afro-Brazilians as a whole.
Another obstacle in any talk of ‘black money’ and ‘black community’ is the fact that most physical neighborhoods in Brazil are not overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian. And this fact becomes even more challenging when we consider that a large percentage of those who are counted as part of the more than 100 million Afro-Brazilians (pretos e pardos or black and browns) don’t consider themselves black and thus most likely will have nothing to do with any sort of ‘black money’ project. And along those lines, we find another obstacle which is a lack of unity. Afro-Brazilians, as a whole, have never been taught the concept of unity and acting with group interest to empower themselves as a community. Whenever an Afro-Brazilian earns an education and a salary that ensures a middle class lifestyle but doesn’t share and pass on that success and knowledge with/to people who have a similar outlook and dedication, within a generation or two it would be as if that success never happened for that individual Afro-Brazilian.
And perhaps the biggest obstacle to any talk of ‘black money’/’black community’ that applies to any black population is the belief in the fundamentals of integration. Whether we speak of the experience of O negro no mundo dos brancos (the black in the world of whites), the famous book by Brazilian sociologist Florestan Fernandes or Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, the solution for or focus on the ‘black problem’ has always been the integration of blacks into the white world. But again, both in the United States and Brazil, the power structures are dominated by persons with white skin and as such, in the end, integration under a system of white supremacy simply leads to black exploitation.
With these obstacles in mind, I conclude that this discussion of ‘black money’ DOES need to happen but without a blueprint, educating and re-organizing over a period of several decades, the concept will never advance beyond anything but a dream. But let the discussion begin…
We need to talk about “Black Money”
By Fernanda Ribeiro
According to a survey made by the Sebrae, based on data from the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (Pnad or National Research by Household Sampling), blacks account for the majority of entrepreneurs in the country. I confess that I never I saw all the beauty in this data and when I detailed the research, the disappointment was even greater. Yes, we are the majority among entrepreneurs in Brazil and yet our income corresponds to half of the empresário branco (white businessman). Unfortunately blacks undertake in sectors of lower profitability and often unplanned, it’s the famous “entrepreneur by necessity.” This number also brings another aspect, if blacks are undertaking this by necessity, it is often because they have lost their formal jobs and need to survive.
Gradually these numbers tend to improve, considering that many young blacks see entrepreneurship as a tool of social change and are following this path with more technical preparation. And I start to think about the strategies we are using to keep the circulation of this money within our community and empowering ourselves economically, this movement is popularly known as “black money”. Whenever we think about this subject, quickly there is an association with the American black community and its decision-making power.
I understand that the post-slavery process in the United States was totally different from ours, but one question doesn’t leave my mind: Why don’t have a “banco negro” (black bank) in Brazil? African-Americans have several options of banks founded and chaired by black entrepreneurs. The OneUnited Bank is the largest and was created precisely in order to measure the purchasing power of the African-American population and channels it to create jobs, build businesses and increase wealth.
Even with all the possible questions, there they use economic power as a protest tool. Recently after the constant deaths of black American youth, a movement called BankBlackChallange was created. The action aims to generate economic migrations, ie, blacks move their investments from “bancos brancos” (white banks) to the “bancos negros” (black banks).
This movement was joined by famous blacks such as singers Usher and Solange Knowles and rapper Killer Mike. Another example was the increase in the sale of football player Colin Kaepernick in NFL stores. The athlete became known worldwide after he refused to stand to sing the national anthem in protest to the oppression of blacks. And I always ask myself, why not do the same here where we are the numerical majority of the population?
Today we work with a model that I call Black Money à brasileira (Brazilian Black Money), which works based on two grounds: “Se não me vejo, não compro (sem boicotes pesados” (If I don’t see myself, I don’t buy) (without heavy boycotts)” and “Compro de afroempreendedores para fortalecer os seus negócios” (I buy from afroempreendedores – entrepreneurs of African descent – to strengthen their business). I am an adept to the movement, but I believe we can go further. According to Etnus consultancy, specializing in the study of the black consumer profile, every year the black population moves something around 800 billion reais. Are we really empowering ourselves economically speaking?
For years, I worked in a multinational company that had a list of 7 “commandments”, I highlight here one that always called my attention, “He doesn’t have the intelligence to create has to have courage to copy.” No, I didn’t bring this reference in order to underestimate our intelligence, but I confess that as a community we could “hack” some strategies of economic empowerment existing around the world.
Particularly I really like the story of Muhammad Yunus, an Indian economist and Nobel Peace Prize (proving that capitalism is not always a bogeyman). Yunus founded the Grameen Bank and other 50 companies in Bangladesh, most of them as social businesses. His business started with microloans for poor people without the same requirements and guarantees imposed by local financial institutions. Seven years later, it became an official bank, mainly serving women in rural Bangladesh and disburses more than $1.5 billion per year.
We are going through a time where we question our real role in society, especially from the point of view of consumption, where we are also living in a time of transition and learning how to demand from the market a more committed posture. Considering these factors, emerging in Brazil is a new type of enterprise, more responsible and interested in the positive impact on society, the so-called negócios sociais (social businesses).
According to Artemisia, pioneering organization in the dissemination and promotion of social businesses in Brazil, today there are approximately 5,000 companies working with this concept. Here comes another question, could it be that most are managed or founded by blacks? I have attended some events with this theme and I find very few and ask myself, are we losing our voice even when we are the object of business?
We have to overcome some indisposition and we need to learn to talk about money, yes. Without judgments, accusations, submissions and guilt. We need to thicken our voice, occupy all the spaces and think of strategies to stop thinking of Black Money in such a distant and utopian way. I believe that at this time there are still successful recipes for us to solve the financial issues of our community, but I believe that following the paths of social business is a good option, considering the economic movement and the impact to be generated as a whole.
* Fernanda Ribeiro is one of the founders and vice president of the Associação Afrobusiness Brasil (Afrobusiness Brazil Association). She has a degree in tourism and is a post-graduate in the area of corporate communications. She worked in multinational companies in the air segment in the areas of quality, customer experience, training and internal communications. She also dedicated herself to the development of actions and programs to promote diversity, economic and social inclusion related to the gender and ethnic-racial themes.