There’s been an explosion of hashtags and online tools aimed at helping black consumers identify which products are produced and sold by black-owned businesses. But hashtags like #BuyBlack, #BlackDollarsMatter and websites like Shoppeblack.us aren’t simply about making a profit, they also contain a message about empowerment: African-Americans should create and support black businesses that build wealth for the black community, employ black workers, and address inequality.
Curious citizen and freelance reporter Kim Bellware saw signs on Chicago’s South Side with phrases like “support black business,” and she wondered about these kinds of marketing messages. So, she asked Curious City:
What’s the history and significance of signs promoting that this is a black-owned business?
Kim’s asking about an idea that’s been around for 150 years. We trace that history, and its legacy today, in the video below:
More about our questioner
Kim Bellware is a freelance reporter covering criminal justice and culture in Chicago. She says her curiosity about the use of “support black businesses” signs comes from her interest in the history of how marginalized communities in the United States have been able to build wealth.
“I think something that has been so consistent throughout the history of American capitalism is that when it comes to the black community, everyone seems to profit off of it except for the black community,” Bellware says.
“The Kylie Jenners of the world are able to appropriate aspects of the culture like the aesthetics and get rich off of it,” she says. “What would happen if Kylie Jenner were a black girl from Chicago?”
Bellware says she finds herself reckoning with this idea and wants to further examine how perceived tensions between African-Americans and Asian-Americans in the retail space reflect economic inequalities across Chicago. Bellware says she’s curious about how these groups continue to work together to use business as a means of rising from the muck of racism, and she wonders why “sometimes they have good relationships and sometimes they have bad ones.”
Gabrielle Wright Collins is a digital producer at WBEZ. You can follow her @GabiAWright.