Maggie Anderson on Writing Our Black Year

Maggie Anderson on Writing Our Black Year

10613403-largeRecently, Fine Living Lancaster had the opportunity to speak with Maggie Anderson, author of the eye-opening book Our Black Year. In it, Anderson talks about her family’s experiences spending one whole year consuming only goods from Black-owned businesses. (The Andersons would go on to call this the Empowerment Experiment.) The current issue features an in-depth look into Anderson’s experiences. For now, here’s a little preview—Anderson’s thoughts on writing Our Black Year.

On the anniversary inspiration that began the Empowerment Experiment.

MA: It never occurred to us, as much as we loved our people, as smart as we were, as much as we had been talking about how far behind we are economically, it just never occurred to us to find a Black-owned restaurant to commemorate our anniversary. And there are a couple five-stars in Chicago that are Black-owned… we just never bothered looking for them. We felt the hypocrisy of that when we paid the bill. It just all hit us at once. That night, we made a promise to start supporting our businesses.

On why it matters.

MA: Only 2 – 6% of the money Black people earn and spend—the now $1 trillion in Black buying power—comes back to the Black community. If just a little bit more of that buying power would come back to the community, through its businesses, we could build these dilapidated places up, keep the streets safe and clean, and fund the schools. Two more facts. Black businesses are by FAR the greatest employer of Black people and Black unemployment is at an alarming rate. These are the facts – not rhetoric or racism – that justify the need for more tools and resources to find and support Black-owned businesses. Facts. Not coincidences.

Maggie Anderson

Maggie Anderson

On why the conversation about the lack of Black-owned businesses is one that needs to happen.

MA: Looking at what we’ve been able to accomplish in terms of getting the conversation and education going, I think we can get to point, very soon, where we can get enough people to understand that all consumers, not just Black consumers, need to support Black businesses to a greater degree than they do now if we want America to be better. We all need to be making a little extra effort to identify and patronize businesses that reflect our nation’s diversity and are most likely to create jobs in the most under-employed communities and provide role models for more of the most under-served, at-risk youth.

On reminding Americans about the history of earlier self-help economics in the Black community.

MA: I also use this platform to educate ignorant racists about how wonderfully the Black community fared when African Americans practiced self-help economics in the early 1900s through the 1940s. Unemployment was lower than that of Whites. There was hardly any Black on Black crime. There were successful Black businesses representing every aspect of business (hotels, department stores, manufacturing, transportation, groceries, hospitals, hardware stores, schools…). Black people had amassed great business power. There was intergenerational wealth and businesses passed down. Young people could see and believe in the American Dream. Communities were clean and safe. Facts. Business ownership and the support the businesses received from the community created social advancement.

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