Recently a good friend of mine made a Facebook post stating that there were only three black-owned grocery stores in the entire United States. Immediately I met his post with skepticism and thought “here we go, posting without facts.” I instantly decided to research the validity of his post and to my dismay, he was wrong: there weren’t three black-owned grocery stores, there were only two.
Earlier this month, I debated with an acquaintance about the importance of buying from black owners and supporting the black community. My friend, who is not black, felt it was prejudice only to support black businesses. She felt that we should support all small businesses collectively as Americans. Although her heart was in the right place, I argued that it was important for me to support black businesses to keep the black community afloat. When I spend money in Whole Foods, whose community am I helping? How can I not feel a sense of guilt when I spend my dollars with companies owned by millionaires who prosper and drive home to their mansions while the communities that I’m from are in shambles?
Too many times have I driven through areas in cities like Baltimore and Washington, DC and have witnessed the amount of rundown, abandoned buildings. Storefronts closed due to lack of community support. Over the summer, I visited Baltimore and was shocked to see the amount of dilapidated homes scattered throughout the city. I know very well what happens when stores and homes are left vacant. Neighborhoods that once thrived with people of color are bought at low cost by developers. The remaining citizens of that community are either bought out or forced out of their homes. High rise condos and new homes that are more expensive than the average citizen can afford are then built, increasing property value, rent, and property taxes. Low-income and middle-class families that cannot afford the increased prices are forced out of the community, never to return. This action is called gentrification.
Many shine up gentrification as this great wave that saves minority communities as if people of color should be thankful for it. On the popular website Slate.com, writer John Butin attempted to discredit the negatives of gentrification. One of the top comments on John Butin’s article read “whites moving out of black communities = white flight (racism), whites moving into black communities = gentrification (racism).” The sarcasm in the comment displays the commenters lack of understanding towards what is truly happening in these communities. When whites left communities during integration, they moved because they were worried that their property value would decrease. Additionally, they did not want to live near African Americans and the perceived problems we would bring. The influx of whites moving back to these communities is not because they want to rub shoulders with African Americans, but because they see an opportunity to make a profit. What happens to the blacks of that community once prices increase? Are the wealthy showing concern for the displaced minorities?
John Butin also expressed gentrification as a myth. Tell that to the low-income families of Washington, DC’s Barry Farms, Lincoln Heights, and the other 40,000 Black residents that have left the District of Columbia in the past decade. Clearly he has never seen the film “Southwest Remembered” or heard of the demolition of Temple Courts apartments. The demolition of Temple Courts is a key indicator that gentrification is very real.
Temple Courts apartments were low-income homes that were affected by urban renewal in 2008. Developers demolished the complex promising to build a new and improved “mixed-income” development. Developers promised displaced families that they could return to the community once construction was complete. The construction of the “mixed-income” development never happened. What was built were luxury apartments where 70 percent of the units are sold at market rate while only 59 units were actual replacements for the original Temple Courts residents. What became of the rest of those displaced families?
The same happened to Arthur Capper housing. In 2001, 707 households were displaced when the city demolished the development. A senior building housing 162 units has been constructed since the demolition, but the rest of the 545 displaced families have been waiting well over a decade for the promised redevelopment.
So how will the support of black-owned businesses help? For one, many of the stores in the black communities will prosper from the patronage. The families that own these stores live in the community as well. When the stores lack business, they are forced to close. The forced closures impact the owner’s ability to make ends meet. Jobs that were provided by these local stores will become nonexistent. Additionally, residents that would normally shop at these stores must find alternate ways to receive their goods. As a result, the money flowing within the community will now be spent elsewhere. If we can keep money in our communities, we can prevent the closure of black-owned businesses and ensure that our communities continue to thrive. Instead of giving developers the small window of opportunity they need to take over our communities for profit.
Society tells blacks that we are needed to support the struggle of others, but when our communities are in need, everyone else remains silent. Our neighborhoods are suffering and being destroyed while we are being forced out of the places we once called home. It’s imperative that we support each other and take care of our neighborhoods. Supporting black-owned businesses is simply one solution. No matter how successful I become as an individual, I will not feel comfortable until I can witness the success of my people as a whole. Once the black community is strengthened, we can discuss our inclusion in America.