Last week saw a big step in Black British culture, as the campaign for the first ‘Black British Pound Day’ began. Started by Swiss of So Solid and ‘Cry’ fame, the declaration that June 27 2020 was now a day dedicated to supporting black businesses and the value of black spending power, trended on Twitter. It also saw official recognition from Haringey Council, but also media attention from zeze millz, Metro, BBC and Sky News.
But what were the motivations behind it, is it as racist as it’s accusers say? And will it have any impact?
What is this all about?
In an interview with Sky News, Swiss explained that he wanted to turn the Black Lives Matter movement from protest into ‘economic support, so we can redress some of the socio-economic inequalities that we face as black people in this country’.
We live in a country that has some serious dysfunctions and it always seems to be that black people bear the brunt of it. The poverty that afflicts one of the richest countries in the world disproportionately impacts people of colour, with a staggering 35.7% of us living in poverty - more than double the rate for white people. The unemployment rate too - more than double the rate for white people.
And then even when you get a job, there is a 50% chance of workplace racism and a shocking racial pay gap: Black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average than White workers, and Black people who leave school with A-levels typically get paid 14.3% less than their White peers.
From housing to the UK’s prison system, to policing and even with coronavirus, a disease that is only half a year old, Black people are always most likely to get what is, putting it lightly, the short end of the stick.
In the past month we’ve seen several moves made to address the problems we face - Blacking out social media, protesting, reforming the national curriculum and tearing down statues just or a start. We’ve seen millions in charitable donations from influencers and corporations alike. Black Pound Day is a campaign that says that the economic empowerment of Black Britons is where our attention should be, and that requires self investment.
The Black Pound
Campaigns such as Black Pound Day have the potential to make a real impact. While people of colour are of course more inclined to have smaller incomes than white people, collectively, they hold a lot more influence than you’d expect. The BAME community accounts for 12% of the UK population and holds a purchasing power of £300bn per year and rising.
This money, if reinvested into black businesses could be really effective. The idea that reducing taxes and letting wealth “trickle down from the top” has been pretty much discredited at this point. butWhat has been proven to be effective is supporting local businesses (who that make up 60% of the economy).
More than that, the Preston Model proved that if money stops leaking out of communities, that community ends up better off - and this is much easier with local businesses than with larger ones. It’s been reported that for every £1 spent locally, 63p stays in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
Spending with black businesses promotes black ownership, something that has it’s obvious advantages. Fashion is an example of an industry that needs this - black culture has had an incredible influence on fashion and yet has very little representation. The biggest CEO in the incredibly profitable industry is Kanye West, whose Yeezy brand (a company that he only shares ownership in with his wife) single handedly boosted GAPs stock prices by 42%, saw Virgil Abloh move from bootlegging to Louis Vuitton and just recently, hired Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi. Surely we should support J Hus’ attempts to do the same with his label The Ugliest, instead of putting Dr Umar Johnson memes in his comments?
And if we take it back to music, it’s not a reach to say that the £300bn spending power has definitely made people like Stormzy, Skepta and Dave millionaires off the back of black music. And yet black representation in the music industry is mostly limited to artists and junior roles, with only 3 black presidents of the 27 record labels. We need more Merky Records’, we need more Disturbing Londons’, and since they let me put this long article on their website, we need more Finesse Forevas.
Will it have an impact?
It's not a far reach to say that more black employers would lead to less discrimination of black people. If black people could lift themselves out of poor living standards and depend on ourselves the long term benefits could be countless; the narrative could truly be changed and stereotypes could be dismantled. The idea is that Black wealth capital will come with social and cultural capital too. A great example of cultural capital is Oprah Winfrey, the richest black woman in the world. Her platform’s endorsement of Barack Obama was said to be a decisive factor in getting him into Office.
The domino effect could be huge, with speculation that increasing wealth in the black community could increase academic achievement, with education in turn being a pillar of what contributes to crime rates.
These ideas aren’t new either - their roots run all the way to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are often reduced to a spectrum of violence versus non-violence, but both of them spoke on economic empowerment. Malcolm X once said ‘not only do we lose by taking our money someplace else and spending it, when we try and spend it in our own community we’re trapped because we haven’t had sense enough to set up stores and control the businesses of our community.’ Martin Luther King called for an ‘Economic Bill of Rights’.
W.E.B Dubois spoke on the same issue in depth, calling for a racial democratisation of capitalism but also firmly arguing that ‘economic self-reliance’, and the idea that we can pull ourselves out of the position is a myth. Initiatives like this will only do half the job, and if we want to make an accessible economy, real government intervention is needed.
This government intervention has many forms. In the US reparations have reentered the national debate. In the UK, there have also been calls for Britain to pay reparations, and in the political debate, both parties have called for commissions to be launched.
Labour’s last manifesto went a little further, calling for a review of the Empire in the curriculums, as well as plans to set up a board that would review the racial impact of economic policy.
South Africa has gone the furthest. Black Economic Empowerment Initiatives exist ‘to bridge the gap between formal and substantive equality to ensure that all people in South Africa fully enjoy the right to equality.’ Black people must be represented in industries to get support, and businesses are graded based on black ownership, management, and employment. Take the mining industry (the most profitable industry in the world); in the terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002, a company must have 26% Black ownership in order to even be issued with the right to mine.
what do the critics think?
However, when the solutions to racial inequality are claimed to lie in racial economics, there is often some sharp backlash. Affirmative action policies were called reverse racism; Poet Saul Williams denounced Jay-Z’s mantras of black ownership as ‘lacking vision’, saying that "we know that it is not simply a question of money being used against us, rather it is the ideology that negates our worth as human beings”. is it right to focus on building business when people are experiencing violent racism?
There’s some validity to that argument. Even if you can get up and fight for yourself that doesn’t necessarily heal the cultural divide and shatter the perceptions of Black Britons as lesser than. For all the talk of Atlanta there are other examples of economically empowered black communities - Cuba’s monopoly on sugar nearly destroyed it. The Tulsa race riots saw white mobs violently destroy the wealthiest black community in America. Racist stereotypes can evolve into antisemitic ones real quick.
Some people say it’s not even doing enough; when you consider that at it’s peak, slavery contributed 11% to the Britain’s GDP (worth £6 billion today), as well as that as late as 2015, former slave owners were being reimbursed for their slaves with taxpayer money, reparations should definitely be on the table.
And it wouldn't be fair if some attention wasn’t given to the argument that Black Pound Day is in itself racist and discriminatory. It’s a consistent argument that wants to erase race from the equation - black lives don’t matter, all lives matter. Black pounds aren’t important, all pounds are important. ‘What would happen if there was a White Entertainment Television?’ It’s all the same idea.
Black British Pound Day brought spending and finance into the conversation and that’s a great thing. A lot of people saw their businesses get some support and it’s yet another step forward that’s been taken in the past few weeks. I think if we’re talking about economic empowerment of black people, this campaign is a great start, but one that has to extend to employment, procurement, ownership, spending, and politics to take it to the next level. Finally, I couldn’t have written this without a lot of research so you can read more on the topics brought up in this article below.