Back in 2015, serial entrepreneur/Hip-Hop mogul Dame Dash sat down with the Breakfast Club and encouraged Black people to take ownership over their work. Instead of being stuck in the same job for 25 years, Dash challenged anybody who heard the interview to fight for their worth. “I’m not going to fight for something I don’t own,” he said. It seems as if Black America took his words to heart.
According to the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, there are almost 2.6 million African-American-owned businesses in the United States as of 2018. That’s an impressive feat, given the fact that the United States has always embraced racism over economic growth.
Due to discriminatory financing practices and a bias towards companies primarily operated by white males, America is losing out on over 1.1 million minority-owned businesses. The end result of that is foregoing over 9 million potential jobs and $300 billion in collective national income.
Despite the bleak circumstances facing Black entrepreneurs in America, African American businesses are flourishing: “African-American businesses have grown at an exponential rate in the 21st century,” reports the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce.
These businesses — and the Black people who own them — are finally starting to gain access to platforms, programs, initiatives, and conferences that were not previously available to them. Those resources, combined with the upward mobility that business-ownership can provide, offer a powerful tool to help close one of the most devastating lingering effects of systematic racism in the U.S.: the wealth gap. Research has proven that the wealth gap decreases between African-American and white adults from a multiplier of 13 to 3 when the wealth of business owners are compared by race.
The United States has always been a society that mythologizes “bootstrapping,” suggesting that hard work alone is enough to raise oneself out of poverty or economic hardship. Of course, this “bootstrap mentality” ignored the truth that many African Americans have to deal with compounded, systemic racism that hinders their ability to pursue and achieve the “American Dream.” However, within the past few years, opportunities that were once reserved for mostly White entrepreneurs are slowly opening their doors to businesses and brands run by Black Americans. One of which is Harlem Capital; a venture capital firm based out of Harlem, New York. The goal of Harlem Capital is to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.
Over the same period of time, the startup industry has continued to excel, in no small part thanks to investments by venture capitalists. But Black people make up a tiny percentage of the venture capital market. Nevertheless, Black entrepreneurs are finding ways to combat the lack of venture capital available to them by doing what Black people have always done: being creative, innovative, and resourceful. African American entrepreneurs have turned to community-based funding, like crowdsourcing websites like Gofundme, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo to help meet the financial needs of their businesses.
Evidence of the growing influence of Black-owned business development in the American economy can be found in conferences like the BYOB Retreat and Afrotech, which focus on the ways Black-owned businesses are fighting the stigma of being minority-owned in the United States.
Since this nation’s founding, African Americans have had to struggle to get a place at the same table that White Americans were granted by the accident of their birth. But once a seat was granted to African-Americans, we have thrived, despite every hurdle and discouragement placed in front of us. In that sense, then, it’s no surprise that Black entrepreneurs are making an impact in their communities, and in the U.S. as a whole.