I’m proud of my people who want to “buy back the block” and promote black ownership. It’s sad that a tragedy like Nipsey Hussle’s murder had to be the spark that pushed this movement into the mainstream. I’m seeing more people who otherwise felt helpless as their neighborhoods were gentrified rising to the occasion to do more. Even the bloods and crips suddenly came together for the bigger “for us, by us” picture. There was, is hope that we’ll see Black Wall Streets rebuilt across the nation.
With all that optimism aside, facts still remain that may stall the buy black movement. First, as always is CAPITAL. Nipsey, pan-Africanism and black power personified, summarized our conundrum the best:
“Black people in America, people from the struggle, immigrants, it’s no generational wealth that we are attached to, so we are tasked to create — in one generation — closing the gap. That’s why we so Doomsday about getting to the check: ’cause it’s life or death for real.”
I mean, the whole continent of Africa is our native land and we’re still getting priced out of it (neocolonialism plays a huge role in this, but we won’t get into that here). African-Americans are usually one hospital bill, layoff, death of a spouse or toxic work environment away from having enough money to survive. So it requires a much larger pool of resources put together by way more people to get to a fraction of what most white nuclear families have in one household. That alone would still keep us in constant anxiety as we try to keep up with rising property values and taxes that affect our businesses.
Black wealth is at the mercy of both paychecks and MINDSETS. Statistically, African American shoppers outnumber the consumers of other races/ethnic groups in several brand categories (according to 2018 Nielsen report). Also, we’re more likely to engage brands on social media than any other demographic audience(same Nielsen report data).
And yet, we’re dealing with a crisis of mind over matter. Nearly half of us (black folk) who are between 18–35 years old believe in buying only from brands that promote social causes (same Nielsen report). Yet we can point to several examples of us bypassing our social outrage when it comes to a brand we think gives us clout (see: Gucci debacle). Dapper Dan, known for incorporating high-fashion labels into his unique “urban” designs, basically alluded to the fact that black people see each other (and de facto their brands) as pedestrian — something they shouldn’t aspire to have compared to what majority groups (read: affluent, white shoppers) seek after.
I don’t have the stats to back it (working on this) but I’ve heard several black business owners complain that their community would rather buy from well-known brands, or complain that their service is seen as too unreliable or expensive. We know that last part IS A LIE because again, African Americans clearly outspend their other counterparts in several markets.
So the real question is: are black people being stingy towards each other? And how is that going to impact us buying the block back?
Certain circles are now talking about investments in intellectual property (IP). Very wise because (a) it cost relatively less upfront to create, (b) returns endless dividends if done right, and (c)it can come at no cost to the consumer while revenue comes in via strategic partnerships/sponsors. The African diaspora community needs to make IP work for them, but there’s a larger conversation we should have before we get in too deep.
That’s the conversation on what already exists and how (or whether) we’re supporting it. The most ubiquitous and easy-to-create IP right now is media content. YouTube is the Walmart of media content, where we shop for entertainment the most.
Globally, YouTube has more viewers between the ages of 18–49 than any traditional media platform. Nearly 75% of Americans alone watch YouTube, and the ratio of black millennials to any other group watching YouTube is way high.
What are we watching, though? Because only the top 1 percent of YouTube content creators earn a livable wage. And none of the most popular YouTube stars on this list are black or African.
It seems a perpetual cycle for us to say F.U.B.U. then buy Tommy Hilfiger. Even when the product is cheap (or FREE) we still don’t support our own. Why are we the most engaged on social media with brands, and yet apparently we’re the least engaged with content creators who look like and create work specifically for us?
YouTube monetization has its issues in general. But outside of revenue from AdSense, there’s significant potential to promote black wealth by simply watching more black YouTubers. With an average ad rate of $1 per 1,000 views and minimum of 2.2 million views per month, a YouTuber could earn a $264,000 gross annual salary.
There are 43,840,436 of us black folk living in America alone. I’m just saying, the math could work in our favor.
A lot of assumptions would have to come to pass for this to happen. To make this a group effort we all benefit from, we have to know where our share of the pie comes in. It’s not enough to enrich those who established their platforms on YouTube already. We also need to train and hire those who could work behind the scenes editing, producing, writing, hell sweeping the production studios where we produce our content. When we have our (black) skin in the game, we’re more likely to see what’s on the line if we don’t promote our own content.
We’d also have to assume advertisers see the value in what we produce. It’s a Catch-22: we have to grow the audience and be the audience to prove there’s an audience to monetize. Brands already look to black people to move the needle on culture. So this, in theory, isn’t impossible to achieve.
This is where training and critical thought comes in. We need those who’ve cracked the code to pass that knowledge down, to pay it forward. Teach others brand strategy and how to gather audience research that informs the development of quality, ad-worthy work. If we build with a strong foundation, they will come.
The last assumption is whether we as a community see content creation as “real work”. I’ve talked on and on about the African immigrant mentality that looks down on the arts. My Nigerian parents were hellbent on making me a lawyer. Meanwhile, all my friends in Nollywood and the Afrobeat scene already paid off their student loans.
It’s fair to say that content creation is general a crapshoot, even when you don’t use much to create it. But as “poor” as some of us are, we still help so many get rich from it by simply clicking on their links. That could be us. We could be — should be — clicking on each other’s links, forcing the data to show we’re here and support the work made by our skinfolk.
We’re in a moment where our median income is 0.0625% of the average seed funding round. We’re also in a moment where black billionaires exist with the capital and willingness to invest. So let’s not allow numbers to intimidate us about where and when to begin. I’m willing to bet on us, and the more of us with hands in the better our odds.