By Michael Coard
This column is part 14 in my ongoing and periodic series entitled “Philly’s Jim Crow,” which started on Sept. 10, 2016 and focuses on racist employment and business practices primarily in and around the city but also references such racism across the country.
This particular column addresses Black History Month. And there is no better way to celebrate Black history than by promoting Black power.
And there is no better way to promote Black power than by patronizing Black businesses. Why? It’s because the patronizing of Black businesses produces green power- which is an absolutely essential ingredient in valid (as opposed to vacuous) Black power.
In other words, if you’re only talking the Back power talk, then that’s all you’re doing- talking. But if you’re walking the Black power walk- which means religiously patronizing Black businesses by utilizing your green power- then you’re celebrating Black history, Black present, and Black future.
Everybody who knows me knows that I’m the self-described “Angriest Black Man in America” (which is based on James Baldwin’s powerful assertion that “To be Black and conscious in American is to be in a constant state of rage”).
But they don’t know that I’m often angry with my own people because, far too often, they are instruments of their own economic destruction. Stated differently, they far too often finance their own oppression by paying white businesses to disrespect them. They patronize white-owned stores that won’t hire them or that won’t promote them. They actually pay cash to be discriminated against. If that’s not the definition of monetary insanity, nothing is.
Let’s get our minds right. Stop supporting white-owned businesses that don’t support us. If they don’t hire and promote Black employees and don’t advertise on Black radio and in Black newspapers, we must stop patronizing them.
Before getting our minds right financially, we must get our minds right culturally. And we can do that by understanding what Black History Month is really about. Here’s a hint: It’s not about each February every year. Instead, it’s about each minute every hour.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Precisely 95 years ago in February 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), of which he was a co-founder, first celebrated Negro History Week that had been publicly announced a year earlier. It was renamed Black History Week in 1972 and eventually became Black History Month in 1976.
Woodson- the preeminent “Father of Black History”- in 1912 became the first person with formerly enslaved parents to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University. While a student at that elite Ivy League institution and attending a lecture there, he was told by one of his professors that Africans and African-Americans “had no history.” Instead of getting depressed, Woodson got even and did so by meticulously researching and widely organizing.
It must be pointed out that, as made clear by ASNLH (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History- ASALH), Woodson “never viewed Black history as a one week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. It was in this sense that Blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary.” Also, he “believed that Black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.”
Because of his and ASALH’s meticulous research, as well as the meticulous research of African-centered scholars like him, including authors such as Marimba Ani, Molefi Asante, Henry E. Baker, Charles Blockson, Michael Bradley, Jacob Caruthers, Cheikh Anta Diop, Asa Hilliard, Yosef Ben Jochannan, Edward Robinson, J. A. Rogers, Ivan Van Sertima, Frances Cress Welsing, Chancellor Williams, and many others, we now know that Africans and African-Americans not only have history but also have the oldest history on the planet and are responsible for some of the greatest discoveries in world history and some of the greatest inventions and innovations in American history.
You want proof? Here’s documented proof of just some of those many discoveries, inventions, and innovations:
• The First: Africans were the first humans on this planet beginning 200,000 years ago in the Nile Valley region of East Africa. It was not until about 170,000 years later- which was only 30,000 ago- that the first white human being came into existence.
• Agriculture: Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba region of Egypt (accurately known as Kemet) 9500 BC
• Air Conditioning Unit Design: Frederick Jones 1942
• Algebra: Egypt/Kemet by Ahmes, circa 1500 BC
• Calculus: Egypt/Kemet by Tishome, circa 1500 BC
• Coffee: Ethiopia 1600 AD
• Cotton: Eastern Sudan 5000 BC
• Dry Cleaning Process: Thomas Jennings 1821 (The first Black person to receive a U.S. patent for an invention)
• Elevator (Modern): Alexander Miles 1887
• Global Positioning System/GPS (Development): Gladys West, pre-1973
• Geometry: Egypt/Kemet by Tacokoma, circa 1500 BC
• Home Heating Ventilation System: Alice Parker 1919
• Home Security Alarm Video System: Marie Brown 1969
• Ice Cream: Augustus Jackson 1832
• Light Bulb (Modern): Lewis Latimer 1881
• Lock (Modern): Washington Martin 1889
• Potato Chip: George Crum (aka George Speck), circa early 1850s
• Refrigeration (Frozen Food) Transport System: Frederick Jones 1949
• Remote Control/TV Programmable: Joseph N. Jackson 1978
• Telephone Blueprint: Lewis Latimer 1878
• Thermostat Temperature Control System: Frederick Jones 1960
• Traffic Signal (Traffic Light Forerunner): Garrett Morgan 1923
• Trolley/Electric Railway: Elbert Robinson 1893
In the very same way that we were ingenious enough to discover, invent, and innovate all of the aforementioned and more, we are ingenious enough to create impressive businesses to provide for all of our needs and wants. In fact, we have already done so.
For example, did you know the following?
• There are 43 Black-owned banks and credit unions across America with $6.76 billion in assets as documented by Investopedia, a finance and investing firm founded 22 years ago in New York City.
• Black Enterprise’s “Top 100” Black-owned businesses report notes that “from technology and manufacturing to food services and media, these companies represent the revenue and employment leaders of Black business as well as its greatest innovators. [These] ‘Top 100’ companies have also demonstrated economic impact by producing more than $25 billion in revenues and employed more than 70,000 workers.”
• Some of the world’s greatest high fashion designers are Black- including Sergio Hudson who hooked up First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2021 presidential inauguration with a perfectly tailored jaw-dropping runway model-styled plum turtleneck and flare plum trousers accessorized with a gold oversized belt. As you surely saw, you don’t have to rush to Italian and French designers.
You can patronize Sergio and other award-winning high-end (as well as some affordably priced) Black designers including, but not limited to, Armando Cabral, Andrea Iyamah, Ashya, Brother Vellies, Cushnie, Fe Noel, Fear of God, FUBU, Hanifa, Hideoki Bespoke, LaQuan Smith, Lemlem, Mifland, Ozwald Boateng, Pyer Moss, Romeo Hunte, T-Michael, Tsemaye Binite, Undra Celeste, Wales Bonner, Waraire Boswell, and ZAAF.
By the way, if you’re in Philly and want to support local Black-owned businesses, you can locate many of them by googling “Black-Owned Shops” at visitphilly.com and “Philadelphia Black Biz Directory” at beechinterplex.com.
Respect yourself by celebrating Black history every day, by patronizing Black businesses every day, and by no longer supporting white businesses that don’t support us any day.
Michael Coard, an attorney and radio talk show host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this column first appeared.