This list is not limited to the Black community, nor do you have to be Black to participate in empowering the Black community. Anyone and everyone can participate in these 5 things.
1. Stop Acquiring New Debt
Debt is a leading cause of low self-esteem and so are the reasons most people go into debt. Making poor, uninformed financial decisions has been an unfortunate cycle and a big reason Black people lack empowerment. The Black community has been conditioned to think material goods are necessary to show one has value and is important or worthy of consideration. For many years, individuals have attempted to compensate for shortcomings or low self-esteem by purchasing material goods that make them appear better than how they feel inside. This is, in large part by design, but, to an extent, it is also a choice. People should be valued regardless of the kind of car they drive, clothes they wear or phone they have. As soon as the Black community stops relying on material goods to determine and or express worth and importance, people can begin to realize that simply existing is valuable enough.
Even if this is not the reason you spend, one of the most empowering things, in general, is financial freedom. Pay off current debt, but more importantly, cut your credit cards, stop updating functional cars and taking out new loans. Before you can empower a community, you must begin empowering yourself through financial freedom. Once you are free from debt, you can start empowering yourself and others on a larger scale.
2. Support Black Owned Business
Again, economic stimulation is one of the best ways to empower any marginalized community. In your everyday life, doing this can be as simple as shopping at a Black owned business for goods and services that you already purchase from big businesses or corporations. Instead of eating at a chain restaurant, go to a local restaurant that is Black owned. Instead of buying hair care products from a chain beauty supply store or any other beauty supply in your area, be sure to purchase from a Black owned business.
In some cases, this may not be convenient. It may mean you have to drive an extra mile or two. But in the long run, it’s worth it. Recycling Black dollars and overall economic stimulation is absolutely imperative for empowerment and growth both socially and politically – for any marginalized community. The Black community is no different and is in the absolute worst position in this case. Research data shows that businesses owned by African Americans tend to have lower sales, fewer employees and smaller payrolls, lower profits, and higher closure rates than any other racial/ethnic community.
Just like a popular credit card campaign advertises Small Business Saturdays, make the decision to patron Black businesses at least once a week. And hopefully, your frequency will eventually grow. If more Black businesses are successful, more Black people will have opportunities to open their own businesses and employ other Black people and other people in their communities. More employment means less crime. More money for those businesses means updated shops and curb appeal so the communities look better. The rewards and empowerment are endless. And EVERYONE benefits. Not just Black people.
3. Wear natural hairstyles and/or encourage other females to do the same
In part, this relates to #1 because it will save tons of money and is a better financial decision than expensive hair extensions and treatments such as relaxers and perms! But this empowers in a much more important way as well.
Wearing natural hairstyles supports positive images of Black beauty. Wearing a natural hairstyle says Black women do not need to conform to European standards of beauty in order to be attractive or look good. Black is beautiful. And wearing natural hairstyles not only empowers the person wearing the hairstyle, but it empowers everyone else who sees it too. Every time a Black woman goes out in public, she shows another Black woman that having a natural hairstyle is beautiful and encourages her to love herself as she naturally is. Every time she goes out in public, she helps destroy the idea that a European standard of beauty is the only attractive standard. She’s making this statement to EVERYONE, not just Black people.
Also, maintaining a natural hairstyle is much easier these days. There is currently a natural hair movement and if you are unsure and stressed about this transition, there are tons of blogs, YouTube channels and IG accounts that will walk you through it and give you some really easy tutorials on how to look cute without sew-ins and chemicals! And if you feel like you just have to “switch it up” sometimes: compromise. Wear a natural hairstyle at least half of the time.
If your hair is not of ethnic texture or you are a male, tell a woman with a natural hairstyle she looks beautiful. Empowering can be as simple as that. Help reinforce self-esteem and positive images of beauty.
4. Stop supporting negative images of Black people
Sometimes we just want to be entertained and not worry about how that entertainment will affect a community on a larger scale. I know. But you have to stop supporting media that does not depict Black people in the most attractive ways. That means stop buying rap music that is degrading and is filled with the idea of Black males as thugs, partiers and drug dealers/users. It may have a great beat, but make the sacrifice and put it down. People can’t be empowered as long as everyone listens to others tell us all Black people are thugs and bitches and hoes and we need to pop bottles and buy Bentleys if we want to be cool. As long as we buy it, someone will keep making it and someone will keep promoting it. And while you may know the difference between fantasy and reality, not everyone does. The fact is, negative images of Black people in the media negatively affect the entire community. Again, Zimmerman and Dunn.
This may even mean you don’t buy that ticket to the new Madea movie. While Tyler Perry may be a great human being, empowering the Black community means NOT supporting media that de-masculinizes Black men by portraying them in dresses or depicts them as mere caricature comedians or anything else that does not show Black people in an elevated way. This means you don’t support Black people being portrayed as dead-beat fathers, criminals, clowns, whores, drug dealers, drug addicts, fools, etc. Then, maybe we’ll get another Cosby Show and some more shows like Grey’s Anatomy, that depict Black people as intellects, doctors, leaders, great parents and responsible adults. Because that’s what Black people are and THAT’S empowering. But as long as people support the bad stuff, we won’t get the good stuff.
5. Don’t PUBLICLY criticize the Black community unless it is absolutely necessary
Most criticism of the Black community should be in private. Are there situations where some Black people really are drug dealers or whores? Yes. Just like in any other community. The Black community has its assholes and jerks just like everyone else. But talking about how Black people need to stop killing themselves before they expect others to stop or posting Facebook statuses and Tweets to the world or your followers on Father’s Day about deadbeat dads is unnecessary and contributes to the same negative images outlined in #4. Yes, the Black community needs empowerment and is not always perfect. But what community is? And publicly calling attention to all the faults and problems that the Black community inflicts upon itself only reinforces the negative perceptions others have of Black people. The media demonizes the Black community enough. No one really needs to add any fuel to the fire. We’ve seen what happens when people respond to those ideas in the cases of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn.
When not absolutely necessary, constructively criticize with the door closed. One can help through criticism, but no need to do it publicly. Do it in a private setting. And it should always come from a loving, empowering place. Unless it’s someone like Ward Connerly or Clarence Thomas. For cases like them, criticize, in public, as loudly as possible.
You may be thinking to yourself, I already do some of these things. Well, great. Try to do one more and/or do them more frequently. You may already do ALL of these things as frequently as you possibly can. Awesome. Send the article to someone who does not or spread the word somehow.
Often, people think of the problems that plague that Black community as so large and systemic that helping is out of their reach. Many mean well, but simply don’t know where to start. But the truth is, if everyone pitches in some effort and empowerment on a small scale, the ball will begin to role. And if you’ve ever ran out of gas in the middle of the street or seen someone who has, you know that the strength of one man got the car nowhere.
But you also know that a little bit of strength and effort from everyone who joined in after seeing one person struggle, got the car to the nearest gas station so the driver could be on his or her way. The Black community may be in the situation of a stalled mack truck, but a little bit of effort from a collective of people will certainly get it out of a ditch. No matter what race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or age you are. Join in and push.
Camiile H is a writer, editor, educator, lecturer and public speaker. She can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @_CamilleH