#LetsBuyBlack: Why We Should Support Blackonomy

Angelica Coleman is an account manager at CodeHS and the creator of the BuyBlack Chrome Extension.

Let’s face it: Shopping can be a real hustle sometimes. Getting the right fit, the right texture, the right size, color, the list goes on and on. As a consumer in America, you expect to be able to at least find something that fits all of your preferences, no matter how extreme they may be. After all, the consumer culture in America is such that companies are in constant production round the clock to satisfy consumers’ unquenchable thirst for new products. However, it is also very clear that many products aren’t made with certain people in mind. As a Black consumer, not all shops have things built with your skin color in mind, and most of the time you really have no choice than to settle for something that’s not exactly what you may prefer.

For Angelica Coleman and many Black women, the real hustle is when buying beauty products. It is a real shame that we still get ignored considering how much buying power we have as Black people. To change this trend, Angelica Coleman decided to create an extension which helps Black shoppers locate Black-owned businesses with products that are created specifically for them. Being a tech person, and seeing how unwelcoming the atmosphere is for Black people at many of the big tech firms, she decided to use her expertise to help our community, creating products tailored specifically for us. We can only commend the good work she’s doing to boost the Black economy. #LetsBuyBlack

blackmattersus.com
We’ve read so many stories about your extension that help shoppers locate Black-owned businesses online, but there isn’t much information about you. Could you please tell us about yourself?
Angelica Coleman
I’m Angie. I’ve been working in tech for the past 4 years and I’m mostly fascinated by how tech can be applied to social issues and communities and be used for the betterment of mankind. I’ve worked a variety of different jobs and I’ve seen tons of new products and companies come out of San Francisco for the 3 years that I’ve lived here, and I’ve not seen a lot come out of this city that is meant to help as many people as it could. A lot of the products and services that are being made are really only being made for a select few individuals. So I was really inspired to find solutions for my community and if I couldn’t find one that existed, I took it upon myself to just build them. I figured that by putting something out there in the world, people will hopefully be inspired by it, see that they can do they same thing and I hope that I can find other people who are interested in what I’m doing and maybe want to collaborate and help make this better.
blackmattersus.com
So do you think that Black people should create the Black economy or like they say “blackonomy”, Black-owned businesses for Black shoppers, Black banks for Black customers, Black universities and the like for ourselves?
Angelica Coleman
I don’t think isolating ourselves is the solution, but it’s not a very clear answer just yet. In some ways I think it’s very important for Black individuals to support one another. The buying power right now for Black Americans is a few trillion dollars and almost all of that money goes to other economies, not the Black one, so none of us are really supporting each other. And so I think that is what is important, for us to be creating solutions for ourselves and for us to be supporting ourselves if no one else is going to do it. On the flip-side, I think if there are companies and other people out there who aren’t part of the Black community but are creating services and products and solutions that can be applied to our community or supporting us, I think we should absolutely be supporting those people as well.
blackmattersus.com
How many Black-owned businesses are in your application now? How do you add them?
Angelica Coleman
Right now I’ve been manually adding them, users can send additional businesses on the website, and what I’ve been doing is just going through, making sure that the business is like a real business, making sure that it’s not a spam submission and if it looks good and it checks out, I’ll add it to the extension. We try to do updates roughly once a week, once every other week. Right now it’s just myself maintaining it, and I’ll be putting a call out for volunteers because I do want to make a version 2 and I know I’ll need some help with that, and then I’m also working on a submission tool so that people can add directly to the app or maybe customize their own so that way they can save their favorites.
blackmattersus.com
What about competition? How do you think these Black-owned businesses can compete with the big corporations founded by white people?
Angelica Coleman
I think the most important thing for Black-owned businesses is to remember who we are competing with. I think we need to remember that what we have as individuals is something our community is begging for right now. There’s a quote and a song that I really like which says, “Right now, there are millions of Black girls just waiting to see somebody like them in the world.” And it hits me really hard when I think about it because it’s very true. There are billions of Black people waiting for someone to say that I see you, and I made this with you in mind. If Black businesses could tell that story and really craft their product so it is tailored to the Black community, and they make that known, I think Black individuals will come and support them because we are all really just looking for something that is applicable to our lives, and a lot of the existing products, tech, solutions, that are out there, they don’t think of us when they are creating them. I use beauty as an example often because everyone worries about what they look like. There’s this really popular website called Beautylish that allows you to check out different beauty tutorials, how it suits and filter based on what kind of eye make-up you want, what kind of lip color, things like that, but you can’t filter on skin type. So if you’re a Black person looking to find a tutorial, there’s no way for you to click, “I want to see Black skin because that’s the skin I have and I want to see what’s going to look good on me.” And almost everyone who submits tutorials is white. So I sat there and thought about it, and I was like, “Why wouldn’t you have this? This is make-up. Of course, you need different skin tones, that’s the first thing you do with make-up, you show different skin tones.” And then my friend said to me, “Not if you’re white you don’t, if you’re white you just pick what’s out there.” I was like, “What? They didn’t even think that there were other people like them that would be using it.” And she was like, “No, they didn’t, they made this for themselves.” Just thinking of that I was sad, because why wouldn’t you make something with other people in mind? So I figured that if they can do that for all their products then why can’t we make stuff for ourselves?
blackmattersus.com
How are people reacting to the app? Are they ready to support their Black brothers and sisters in this economic fight?
Angelica Coleman
I think they are. I think this is something that people have been talking about a lot and there hasn’t been a lot of action. And I think now especially with the last few years this nation has had, and the last few summers that we have gone through, it seems like the Black community is constantly going through these cycles of being OK, and then immense tragedy and a lot of rallying together and asking what can we do? I’ve seen it close and I think right now is that point, we’re probably going to look back in history and be like, “This was the period that changed the Black community, that lit a fire under them and reminded them that there is no equality in this country right now.” And we really need to support one another if we want to continue to exist with each other out here. It’s too sad and disheartening to think about the number of incredibly talented children who are out there in the world right now who probably will never go to college because they can’t afford it. There are places where the nearest grocery store is like 5-6 miles away and there’s no fresh food anywhere around. It’s incredibly saddening to know that this is how our community has been treated and regarded in society and I really think people are seeing it now and saying this isn’t OK. Like the residents in Flint, you can’t give us dirty water, you need to fix this, our kids are getting sick. And you see the response that we’re getting from police, from SWAT teams, from health organizations, people aren’t really taking care of us, and I think people are tired. I think at the end of the day if I ask any of my Black friends, we all do say the same thing, “I’m just so tired of facing these issues, why can’t we do something?” A lot of us are just kind of at a point where we’re like, “No let’s do something. I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t support me, so I’m going to figure out a way to support myself and support other people that look like me so nobody else has to feel this way.”
blackmattersus.com
If you’ve noticed, Buy Black is becoming a trend. Recently, we had the chance to talk to Elliot Williams who’s created a web app called Greenwood Ave, that helps people locate Black-owned businesses in the community. Do you have any connections with other activists who work on this Let’s Buy Black trend?
Angelica Coleman
I’m starting to do outreach right now. I recently got connected with one of the founders of webuyblack.com and I know they’ve been raising money through Kickstarter to add more businesses and services. So we connected and I’m hoping we can chat again and talk about how we can maybe work together. I have a few friends who’ve connected me with a few other organizations and people and I’m also kind of inspired by building this extension and hosting the Hackathon. I’m currently in the process of launching my own non-profit that is going to be focused solely on creating these  spaces to build tech-based solutions for Black communities and then continue to support these programs and products that come out so that they can be used and we can create revenue from them, and the revenue is going to go back and fund small research projects in very dense Black populated areas to basically see and find out what happens when we start supporting Black economies, when we make education available to these people, when we make it so that they can be able to access fresh fruits and vegetables, really take a look at what’s been neglected mostly and see how we can fix this because there’s a solution.
blackmattersus.com
Let’s talk about economic efficiency. Do you think that businesses being built on this current trend of Let’s Buy Black will last long, because this is just a trend now? Are they going to be there in the long term?
Angelica Coleman
I wonder about that too. I think it will last for a certain amount of time, but I think the ultimate solution is to find a way to stop having so many different companies that do the same thing and really find a way to come together so that we can support everyone. Whether that means one umbrella company with many works that support different communities, or it’s just collaborating. Somebody that I just recently got connected with, Rohan Gilkes, he just launched Innclusive, which is like the Black Airbnb, and it’s a crazy idea, it’s amazing. It’s already getting tons of traction, people are really excited to know that they can rent places from other Black people who aren’t going to judge them and be bias towards them and deny them. And now Airbnb is scrambling, Airbnb is scared. They’re like, “This guy just created the Black Airbnb, we’re going to lose so many users, why didn’t we think of this first? Let’s hire a really Black power Black person to come in and help our diversity efforts, let’s launch a program so we can get more minorities come and work for us. We want their business back.” They don’t really want us, but they want all of our money. Once people find out how much money Black people actually have and are spending, that’s when they decide to become interested. So whether or not these companies that come out of the buy Black movement survive, I think they are going to show people that we are not to be ignored and that if you want your business to be successful, you’re going to have to include us when you start thinking and planning, and if you don’t, this will serve as a reminder that we can at any time make a replica of what you’ve made and make it for us, people will buy it, and even ask for more. I think it will force companies to be a little smarter, to make conscious hires, really think about who their users are and really market and tailor it towards them.
blackmattersus.com
You’ve talked so much about the hiring of Black people in companies in Silicon Valley being a problem. What really is the problem with hiring Black people?
Angelica Coleman
The problem is that they don’t want to. It’s not that we’re not here, or there aren’t any. There are 46 million Black people in the U.S alone, I think a few 100,000 or so graduate with CS degrees every year. It’s not that they can’t find any of us, it’s just that, one, their marketing and culture turns Black people away. A lot of times San Francisco loves to just talk about how much money they have, how much money they spend carelessly, how they spent $100,000 on a stupid panda statue but they can’t hire full-time cleaners because they don’t want to give them benefits. Their actions speak louder than the words they’re saying, and it is very apparent that most people in Silicon Valley do not actually want to support anyone other than themselves. I just think that is one of the big problems. The second thing is that they don’t give us a chance. I think this last hiring round – I’ve worked at Dropbox, I’ve worked at Zendesk, I’ve been a CEO before – nobody would hire me. I was unemployed for 6 months after I quit my last job. Everyone just told me I wasn’t qualified enough, and the common thing most Black people hear is that you’re actually too qualified for this job and you will be bored. I heard that out of like 9 out of 10 jobs that I applied for. That’s a lie, I’m just as qualified as all of the other people around me, they just don’t want to pay me like what I’m worth. It’s really sad, and once you do get into a company you really have to fight because nobody’s really looking out for you. Maybe the other people of color, but at the end of the day everyone wants to keep their jobs so people stay pretty quiet.
blackmattersus.com
Do you think this Let’s Buy Black trend is going to work on businesses and is going to affect employment for Black people as well?
Angelica Coleman
I hope so. If anything, if we can get people to buy Black products, that’s going to make those businesses do a lot better, which means those businesses will maybe have the potential to expand, to grow, to hire more people and hopefully, they can make conscious hires and hire inside of the Black communities which will then provide jobs for people who are looking. Ideally, we could create an entirely self-sustaining workforce with just buying Black, creating Black, and expanding Black. I don’t know if that’s the solution, I don’t know if that’s cutting us off too much, I’m a big proponent of having diverse work forces because that is how you get the best results, by having multiple ideas and viewpoints, but at the same time you do have to focus. At the end of the day, I want to be happy. I want to know that I can go into a store and buy clothes that are made for my body type, that I can get make-up that is made for my skin type, that I can go and buy food that I’m used to eating. I just think that these things have to be done and I we think can start the economy off and make some cool stuff happen.
blackmattersus.com
Have you been in contact with any of these Black movements who support our economic independence? Has any of them shown support for your ideas?
Angelica Coleman
A few people have reached out but I haven’t connected specifically with anyone, it is something I’m hoping to do, and I’m hoping that ideally all the work that I’m doing right now to build up the non-profit hopefully will be done in the next 3-6 months, and that’s when I really want to dedicate my time full-time to doing this. I’m looking to making more connections.
blackmattersus.com
I came across your post on Facebook about reparations and the government not wanting to pay for hundreds of years of unpaid labor of Black people so we should start supporting each other. This kind of stuff has been talked about for many years now, so why are you talking about this in recent times?
Angelica Coleman
I studied history in college, it was one of my favorite subjects. One of the things I studied a lot of is just tracing what happened before, during and after the civil war, what happened during reconstruction, what happened to education, and there are just so many things that link back to slavery as the cause of all of it. When you dehumanize entire classes of people and you treat them no differently than you would a cow or a horse or a pig, it changes the dynamics of how you interact with those people for years to come. It’s not something that’ll just change by passing a law, it is something that you have to do consciously every single day to remove those biases and it’s not something we’ve done well. Had people been able to just integrate efficiently, not everybody is equal, if we didn’t have to deal with greedy business developers who would just kick Black people out of their homes, if we didn’t have to deal with shoddy school systems with Black resources, tools, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in today. It very much frustrates me that modern Americans chalk it up to Black people being lazy, stupid, dumb and unmotivated, and really what it is, is Black people grow up their entire life worrying about how they were treated “like sh*t” and how they will continue to be that way forever. Even successful Black people that you see today get attacked every single day, Gabby Douglas got attacked for not putting her hand over her heart, yet all of the white shot putters did the exact same thing and no one said a single word. Colin Kaepernick right now and the 49ers getting yelled at for sitting during the national anthem and yet there have been so many players who have done that before and never gotten called out. It just shows that no matter what you do as a Black person, you are watched and scrutinized, people expect you and want you to fail. There are so many things going on and its just like the solution would be to funnel funds into the economy and into the education system, into healthcare and food and make it so that everyone does have equal access to the same things.
blackmattersus.com
Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Angelica Coleman
If there’s something you want in this world, you really just have to go out and make it yourself and make it happen. Do it smartly, responsibly and most importantly, just go do it. I would really like the Black community to just know that. I believe in them, and there are so many people that do, and I think it’s time we just do it. 

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