Recently I was in a certain city preaching. The host pastor decided to take me to a newly opened black-owned vegan restaurant. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the aesthetic of the building had great character; it was clean and you could tell much of the work had been done by the owners. They greeted us in a courteous way when we entered, but there were some obvious flaws in their system.
Their process for receiving orders lacked structure, so there were a couple of us who received the wrong order. And though the food was good, the wait was longer than one would expect. Overall it was a good experience, and I would patronize the establishment again. However, I overheard a group of young adults in the booth behind us, lamenting the long wait time and the fact that their orders were wrong. They went into a lengthy dialogue about how inferior black businesses can be run. Their conclusion: they would never return there again.
Sure, they should expect excellent service. My contention with them is the assumption that the flaws in service were the result of the restaurant being black-owned.
The flaws were not because the owners of the restaurant were black, but rather because the owners of the restaurant were new to the business. The irony is that I didn’t hear any of the white customers draw such a harsh conclusion.
You Got One Chance
I believe that one of the lingering effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and our struggle for identity is a self-loathing within the African-American community. The assumption in many cases is that “white” automatically means excellent, organized, or better. Because we expect mistreatment and subpar service in their establishments, we are actually more willing to forgive it.
However, the flaws in a black-owned business are met with the highest level of critique. We only give each other one shot. We enter one another’s establishments examining things through skeptical and critical lenses, expecting the worst, and we hold one another to a standard that we do not hold the majority to.
How often has the food order been incorrect at your local Chick-fil-A or IHOP? How frequently have you been followed or watched like a hawk because of the color of your skin in some high-end clothing establishment? How frequently have you been treated rudely at a dry cleaners or gas station run by a white person, or someone from an immigrant community? How frequently have you walked into a white-owned establishment and been overlooked or treated as invisible? And yet, somehow we continue to patronize their businesses. We overlook their personnel or system flaws, while functioning as repeat customers.
Heed the Head Start
There is a psychological barrier that must be overcome. We distrust one another. We lack value for what our community produces. We overlook the flaws of everyone else, and consistently call out our own.
The flaws we often assess to black businesses are the flaws that are frequent in new businesses. New businesses take a while to perfect certain systems. This is a science that many of our people are still learning. There is a science to customer service. There is a science to handling disputes. There is a science to record keeping. There is a science to organizational management. There is an institutional knowledge that has been passed down for generations in certain long-term, Caucasian-run establishments. Institutionally, they have a head start. In many ways, we have just joined the race in the last 40 years.
We hold one another to a standard that we do not hold the majority to.
The larger motif is this: We cannot expect justice to come from those outside of our community if we practice inequity toward one another. It is unjust to hold your brother to a higher standard than you hold a stranger. It is unjust to call out the flaws of our own community, while accepting the flaws of the majority culture. We must continue to show support for one another as that institutional knowledge filters slowly into our community.
If two men are in a race, and one man has a 50-yard head start in an 80-yard race, you would expect him to get to the finish line first. It does not mean he is faster or superior. It just means he had a head start. When it comes down to business and management, other cultures have had a head start. It doesn’t mean they’re faster or better, it just means they’ve been running the race a little longer.
Debleaire Snell is the Speaker/Director of Breath of Life, and the senior pastor of the Oakwood University Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.
All scriptural texts are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
This article is part of our 2023 January/February Issue