ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Decades ago, civil rights activists Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey urged African-Americans to do business with each other to build wealth in their communities. The recent killings of black men by police officers and the Black Lives Matter movement have rekindled campaigns to buy and bank black. Some supporters are finding the call difficult to heed, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Two years ago, Camille H. decided to buy all her holiday gifts exclusively from black-owned shops. That proved easy. But it also seemed insufficient.
CAMILLE H: I needed to do something a little bit more. I needed to do something more long-term.
NOGUCHI: She decided to carry her financial activism forward. She bought produce from black farmer's markets but found it hard to find daily essentials at black-owned stores.
H: Stuff like bread and cheese and boxed goods and, you know, all of the things that you would normally see in the aisles in the grocery store - and not just the produce stuff. It was very difficult for me to find those items.
NOGUCHI: She drove 20 miles to the nearest black-owned gas station. She opened an account at a black-owned bank and found a black accountant. But searching for products manufactured by black companies was hard.
H: I did find a few things. I found a laundry detergent. I found toilet tissue. But then even when it came to buying these products, some stuff was only available online or really, really far away.
NOGUCHI: H, who uses the letter as her surname, lives in Los Angeles. She wanted to rent black and find black-owned utilities. It didn't work.
H: Black people just did not control enough resources at fundamental levels and in fundamental industries for me to make those types of decisions that I wanted to make.
NOGUCHI: Asian and Hispanic communities have more banking capital and create goods and services that allow them to recycle their money in their communities. Camille H. argues there needs to be an own black campaign.
H: That was one of the issues that I have with Buy Black - is that it really, really stressed the buying part and the consumerism part and not the owning and producing part.
NOGUCHI: And there are a growing number of voices rallying for the same. Rapper Killer Mike is credited with jumpstarting the Bank Black movement in July. Here he is in an interview with Atlanta's Hot 107.9.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KILLER MIKE: Let $100 million move into that. Take that $100 million and promise $15,000 to $18,000 loans for black businesses or small homes.
TERI WILLIAMS: It's had a huge impact.
NOGUCHI: Teri Williams is president of black-owned OneUnited Bank.
WILLIAMS: We used to open about 50 accounts a day across, you know, all of our branches and online. We are now opening up to a thousand accounts a day.
NOGUCHI: With the new demand, OneUnited is opening a new call center in Miami, hiring six people and looking into offering small business loans. Calls for Buy Black and Bank Black come at a time when the amount of money African-Americans are spending as a group is growing faster than non-Hispanic whites.
Their average age is younger. And they're more digitally engaged than other racial groups. That makes them increasingly important to all businesses, says Courtney Jones, vice president of multicultural growth and strategy for market research from Nielsen. But at the same time, black-owned businesses don't want to be pigeonholed as just targeting their own. They ask her...
COURTNEY JONES: How can I craft a complete marketing strategy so that I am tapping into all the opportunity that exists for me?
NOGUCHI: That's a question Alysia Sargent grapples with. Sargent, along with two other black women, co-founded dating site Go Dutch Today. She says she fights the notion that her business is just for blacks. The website's main art features a white couple. Sargent says, soon, she hopes to feature many races.
ALYSIA SARGENT: As we look at our business, it's important for us to be as diverse as possible so that we are not labeled as the black dating app because that's not our goal.
NOGUCHI: Sargent says she's been accused of hiding who she is - not true, she says. She just wants the site to have the broadest possible appeal. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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