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There is a Black history of thought and innovation that shows Afr-I-Can

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I found as a fresher that ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’

Dr. Patricia Bath was the mind behind laser cataract treatment

These same individuals, women that are smart and innovative are told by authority figures, including academics, that they are lazy and don’t apply themselves – are running businesses out of their halls. Black women sent white male astronauts into space in 1969; Black women also invented CCTV and laser cataract treatment. Knowing this, in the face of a double-figure Black awarding gap at UK universities (Barradale, 2020), I was not surprised to see they were running businesses out of their halls, with online shops – cake businesses, clothing alterations, and the big one – wigs and weave, and hair products.

Currently, I know a good many Black women turning lemons into lemonade. Through the Coronavirus pandemic there are Black entrepreneurs, like their white counterparts, trying to make a living, make money and get ahead. Yet, their white colleagues won’t be judged for it. However, the “motivation to create a business can spring from the most interesting of places, and for a variety of reasons” (Uviebinené, 2019: 157).

Photo by Rochelle Nicole on Unsplash

For the women I met when I was an undergraduate student and then as a member of university staff, it was a way to escape the colonising imperatives of whiteness within the institutional frameworks of Britain. Moreover, that despite historic stereotypes of laziness still being on the ascent for Black people, Black women “are achieving additional qualifications and gaining work experience” (ibid). The students I knew were driven and inspiring, graduating and then going on to run businesses, using Instagram and social media as a tool for economic prosperity.  

Seeing many Black women in business it looks incredibly strenusous, as systemic misogynoir permeates all of society – a form of discrimination specific to Black women where race and gender both play roles of bias (Bailey, 2010).

The concept of Black successes of both women and men in a society that is institutionally racist is an achievement of monumental proportions, as neoliberalism runs rampant. Bhopal (2019) argues that “within a neoliberal context, policy making has failed in its attempts to champion inclusion and social justice, and in doing so has further marginalised the positions of black and minority ethnic groups.” She discusses that policy making in its current form affirms the position of white people at the expense of those from various Black and Brown backgrounds, in a society where individuals are privileged for being white over those who are not.

White privilege exists and the fact there are successful Black female businesspeople shows the system designed to subjugate the Black race’s success and humanity has failed. In these still very white spaces, do the Black entrepreneurs that break the glass ceiling allow people up behind them, or do they rescind the ladder?

Do they put their money where their mouth is to help their people? Stormzy heads publishing house #MerkyBooks, priding itself on platforming Black authors. Additionally, he funds Black students to go to Cambridge every year. Do those “allowed” to enter Buckingham Palace to be named Member of the British Empire [MBE] see themselves as Black, or does the “acceptance” of the establishment allow them to forget where they came from? I wonder if money and fortune give some Black business-owners a blinkered mindset to concepts like community and togetherness.  

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Modern questions of success and business aside, let’s take a step back and reflect on the past. Black success in business or any other industry is not a new concept. Simply, it is treated as a new phenomenon within the colonial gaze of the white western world:  

“When early European – let’s be generous (always stay gracious) – ‘adventurers’ arrived in West Africa they were astounded by the wealth, abundance and beauty of the land and the people. We know by 1300 AD the Yoruba people had built walled cities surrounded with farms. They had developed extensive trade and exchange networks … They bartered cloth and kola nuts for the goods they needed and desired. There was a lively exchange of ideas, arts and technology, with institutions such as the Islamic University in Timbuktu. By the fifteenth century, the Yoruba people had established the Oyo Empire, located in what is today western and north-central Nigeria.”

(Dabiri, 2019: 65)

Whilst the students I met as an undergrad and then as a staff member were anomalies in accordance to Eurocentric stereotypes of Africans, when you look into the depths of African history one will find that people of the continent are smart and hardworking and innovative and gracious and protective, and so much more, and always have been. In this history, we will begin to understand how Black British people today relate to themselves. This first begins with gaining “a clearer understanding” of other cultures “that is not warped through the biases of colonial documentation” (Dabiri, 2019: 36).

As seemingly corporations want to diversify their workforce and more Black and Brown people seek to go into business, this means having conversations of race and culture away from the proximity of whiteness. When businesses take an anti-racist approach to their everyday, including culture and history, they will see their income increased tenfold.  


Referencing  

Bailey, M. (2010). They aren’t talking about me… — the crunk feminist collection. Available from: http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2010/03/14/they-arent-talking-about-me/ 

Barradale, G. (2020). Revealed: New stats show how wide the black attainment gap is at your uni. Available from: https://thetab.com/uk/2020/06/17/revealed-new-stats-show-how-wide-the-black-attainment-gap-is-at-your-uni-162142 

Bhopal, K. (2018) White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society. Bristol: Policy Press. 

Dabiri, E (2019). Don’t Touch My Hair. London: Allen Lane.  

Uviebinené, E and Adegoke, Y (2019). Slay in Your Lane. London: 4th Estate 


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