Doing Business While Black

Originally I was going to write a series of blog post about my trip to the NBBQA Conference and in a way this post is a result of that trip but it’s not about the people I met or the experiences I had. It’s about something that struck me when I got home. I told Neil about it and I got the “oh Lord” comment and head shake as he walked away. You already pretty much know why and if not you soon will. And so you don’t go off on a tangent before I do, let me give my disclaimer, that everything is based on my personal experience and not on generalizations or perception of the population at hand.

Quite a few of the conference attendees were competitors or soon to be on some level. For those of you who think competition barbecue is not a business then you don’t know enough about the sport. Yeah I said sport, now shut up so I can get to my point.

Okay one more thing. Don’t confuse competition barbecue with the plethora of barbecue joints spread across America and beyond. The general business of barbecue is prepared in various ways by various ethnicities. Nevertheless, the business of competition barbecue, as I’ve experienced it, is predominantly white male. Okay, with that said, I can get to my point.

The epiphany is not that I am black or female. However, being a BLACK FEMALE entrepreneur has never been more obvious to me than in the world of competition barbecue. I thought I could give a fat rat’s ass about who I dealt with on a business level as far as race is concern. That is still true for the most part. What I have realized, however, is that certain things are always in the back of your mind when your role changes from employee to entrepreneur. Moreover, if you were raised in a fashion similar to mine, then this is a completely new set of mind drama.

The sins of my aforementioned mind set have come back to bite me in the ass. I was one of the black folx that was of the mind you can’t do business with black folx because they don’t act right or do right. That’s not to say I didn’t or don’t patronize blacks (note the word was above), but whenever something would go wrong I would blame it on the criteria of blackness. To me it wasn’t about their skill set or an unfortunate circumstance. I don’t know when my paradigm shift occurred (maybe when I learned the meaning of paradigm) but it was well before we went into business for ourselves, but the shamefulness of my previous way of thinking didn’t hit me until the business.

Due to my earlier blatant stereotype of black people as a whole, I now find myself trying to live down real or imaginary perceptions that I once cast upon others on a conscience and sometimes constant basis. If it’s a time issue, I try to be early because I don’t want to be accused of operating on CP time (colored peoples time). Sometimes, not always, I try to go the extra mile because I don’t want to be accused of being lazy. I try to hire black because I don’t want to be accused of not supporting my people. I knew all these things were a part of my makeup and upbringing but again it didn’t come to the forefront of my conscience until I became an employer and not an employee.

While my mindset and attitude have changed on the matter, I do understand the old way of thinking. I know I might get a whole lot of hate for this but from my personal experience I have found black people to be the most unsupportive ethnic group I’ve come across. We are a people raised on self-preservation. Even after we’ve ‘made it’; we pass our prejudices on to the next generation whether it’s real or imagined. It surprises me to this day that some black folx still think the white man is trying to keep them down. They don’t stop to think 'well what am I doing to lift myself up'.

Now I find myself on the flip side of my own criticisms and prejudices and hope people see beyond the color of my skin. Yes, it’s a slap in the face when a black person comments, “You wouldn’t… if I were white.” I would hope that I would even if you were plaid.

I also recognize that blacks intentionally don’t patronize us because we are a black owned business. Add to that we’re loud black people. Due to the loud factor, the bourgsie (sp.) black folx stay away. Then you look at the fact that our lines our predominantly non-black, the black folx at the other end of the spectrum don’t patronize us because they figure of food is not black enough or they don’t want to be part of the stereotype of black folx and barbecue (or soul food). On more than one occasion we’ve gotten “you guys feed white folx, they don’t know nothing about food” or point to themselves indicating their skin color is why they know better. Again, this knowledge is based on firsthand knowledge and experience.

A little off topic but still applicable to the topic of black folx and business are conversations among blacks about people of Latin/Hispanic descent sticking together and empowering each other. In the same vein of conversation, they are cursed for taking a job you didn’t want in the first place. And even still you get pissed that someone won’t offer you a job you’re not qualified for or pay you more than whoever based on ”hook a brotha/sista up.” Moreover, these same people have done nothing to support your business prior to asking for a hook-up. You get “ah man, you know how it is.” Yes I do, so step.

Backtracking a bit to the conference, when we went to hear the main speaker at the conference I asked Diva Q was I the only ‘sprinkle’ in the room. Not only is Diva white but she’s Canadian. I had to explain to her what I meant. She found this extremely hilarious but also realized it was true. We later got on this conversation again when we were in a different group setting and now I consider her a half sprinkle and Melissa Cookston of Yazoo Delta Q and the only FEMALE World Champion Pitmaster, is Vanilla sprinkle. In our little click that developed, we became known as Bitches in Smoke. Okay, okay I’m getting back on topic.

I read an article way back when about how quickly a dollar leaves a community. I believe the article was Where is the Black Dollar going?, and it’s still true today if not more so. Even more depressing to me is that I am hard pressed to find a black community in Los Angeles where black dollars CAN be circulated. Again, my opinion, experience and this article shows the decline of the black community. Black communities have been torn down because they feel they are entitled to WHATEVER just because someone else was able to obtain it. Forget the struggle and sacrifice they may have endured (I’m speaking of legitimate endeavors) to obtain the riches they have. We as black people are like the proverbial crabs in a bucket, bite off your nose to spite your face and any other applicable cliché. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen friends and family members do dirt to each other because they wanted something the easy way. They don’t ask themselves did they earn it or deserve it.

This lack of support is even more prevalent when it comes to black people supporting black businesses. When you do well and succeed as a black business owner you are accused of acting white or kissing up to the white man. When you fail then you failed because you’re black. There is just no happy medium. The ones that really get me are pissed because you won’t let them ride your coattail of hard work and success. You’re labeled a sellout. Whatever man.

In my personal and business life, Neil and my cousin Ernae get on me for calling everyone Sweetie. That’s because everyone starts the same with me. If also diffuses some of the bad attitude you may have gotten with a somber “May I help you.” Now catch me on the flip side of that sweetheart and I can get a completely new set of names for you. Nevertheless, I don’t resort to that level unless I just let myself be caught unaware and swept up in the moment.

Doing business is just that, doing business. Respect others to get respect. Don’t fall into the trap others set for you. That just gives them the ammunition to say, “See, I told you” because s/he’s black. I do my best to own up to my mistakes I make, not because I don’t want people to see the flaws in my blackness but because I want to be thought of as a professional, ethical business woman.

Like is said in the beginning a lot of this from firsthand experience. Heck, it was ME and how I viewed the world. So don't let my opinions and experiences upset you. They are like noses, everybody has one (gotcha).

I know there is more I can say on this subject but I’m gonna hush up now.

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