A Problem with Black Economics

Intersection of structural inequalities and financial illiteracy

By Vistra Greenaway-Harvey - 1st February 2017

It’s no secret that Black people are incredibly industrious; today’s Black Britons are aspirational. 68% aspire to start their own businesses and generate economic success (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2013). However only 4% of Black people in the UK actually go on to start businesses (Cameron, 2010), and when they do, they fail frequently and miserably (Ekanem, 2012). Now, in some ways failure is an inevitability of business – some 50% of all start-ups fail in their first five years (Anderson, 2014). However, the manner and frequency in which Black businesses fail to speak to a wider endemic problem. A defeat in pursuit of an elusive Black economy – i.e. a system of producing, consuming and transferring wealth to and within the Black community but never seems to benefit the Black community.

The solution is as well known as the problem. In the acclaimed words of Marcus Garvey: be Black, buy Black and think Black and all will take care of itself. However today, prospects of a Black economy are bleak, especially where Black people are continually overrepresented in poverty, unemployment, and social housing statistics. Perhaps the failure of the Black Star Line and Garvey’s other ventures are excellent examples of how untrue this simple formula is. Garvey’s businesses did not fail because individuals failed to be, buy and think Black; they primarily failed because of Hoover’s determination to decimate Garvey’s legacy. In other words, institutionalised and structural racism caused Garvey’s ventures to fail; and for an innumerable number of budding Black entrepreneurs, financial exclusion and discriminatory lending practices continue to cause and/or contribute to the failure of Black commerce. The cumulative effects of which seem to persist in undermining Black economics in a number of explicit and discrete ways.

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Vistra Greenaway-Harvey

Vistra Greenaway-Harvey is an academic copywriter and legal researcher. As well as African commentary, she drafts consultations and legal submissions for local councils and Fortune 500 companies.

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