Posted on June 05 2020
10 minute read
Nothing we say can change the lives that have already been lost. We also have to preface that we can’t write this without discussing race, and we can only give the perspective of our own experiences.
This is a blog post that we hope will resonate with other minority businesses and entrepreneurs as Harmony shares suggestions and antidotes with the primary focus being on the Black Lives Matter Uprising. Many of these points will still be applicable to our White community as well.
There is a unique dichotomy occurring for me as a small business owner who also happens to be a female minority and facing an uncertain future. I have certainly benefited from being white adjacent but the pain of my own experience in America can’t be ignored either. I grew up in conditions that should not have allowed me to be where I am right now. I should not have been able to go to an expensive art school and arguably any college for that matter. Nevertheless, I was able to make a bold decision to throw myself into debt and pursue a degree in Fashion because somehow deep in my mind, I must have known that I would fall into the category of model minority.
That means, I was able to apply to one college and be accepted. I could apply to one internship and be accepted. I could drive a car across the country with my sister and never be afraid of being killed. I was certainly afraid of being harassed or hearing degrading racist comments, but never of being killed. Today, I am an ethnically mixed entrepreneur with an Indian American business partner, and we are both children of immigrants trying to make better lives for ourselves.
I recognize that Black oppression does not take away from our immigrant story. As should anyone reading this. So, how do I share a piece of the pie when I don’t feel like I have anything to give?
Below are 6 essential ways that we can support our Black brothers and sisters
There are choices that we can make on a regular basis to make long lasting change. They don’t require being a millionaire or “making it” to make a difference.
1. Vote For Change
I traditionally would insert this topic further down the list as the thing to do after working on ourselves and our community, however, voting is happening now.
PART 1: Policies to End Police Brutality
We need to vote for policy reform. If you had asked me 6 months ago how I felt about police reform and restructure, I frankly would not have had a formed opinion. I have no excuse for it. Point Blank.
Police brutality and implicit bias toward Black Americans is not new, and it's been happening for centuries. Yet somehow, I was uninformed and can’t look away now.
Here are some useful sites that are dedicated to defending the Bill of Rights for citizens:
I had naively started writing this article believing that extensive implicit bias training may be an effective use of redistributing police funding. After doing some research it seems the most significant changes have only happened when strong policies are in place. I plan to write further about this in another article as there are many points to break down. In the meantime, [here] is a disturbing but useful set of visuals about nationwide police statistics.
Here are some articles that discuss the differences between defunding and abolishing the police.
Part II: Education Reform
We need to pressure our policy makers to even out the educational system. Black children in low income families are more likely to score lower on their tests and that impacts their future. Do you see the never-ending loop of oppression and poverty here? If a child grows up in a household where the whole community does not make above a certain income, then there is less money to go toward their public school education. This means they will not have access to the same resources as children in wealthier school districts and they will struggle to further their education. This is part of systemic racism. Learn more [here]
2. Know When To Use the Term POC (people of color)
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, stop using a blanketed term like POC (persons of color). It flattens the experience of an entire community and erases their pain with a buzzy acronym. An appropriate time to use the term POC would be when it’s leading up to further explanation of who is involved in a particular project or event or intentionally includes a diverse group of people without singling anyone out. In my humble opinion, this is acceptable when it’s more than two groups of marginalized communities being referred to. See examples below:
- All POC are marginalized in some way while living in America. The _________ are subject to daily micro aggressions, and the __________ are victims to implicit bias of immigration status. Meanwhile the ______________ face numerous disparities due to a complex history of systemic racism.
- I love this POC small business in downtown LA. It's owned by 3 ladies who are Japanese, African American, and Peruvian.
*note* if you were able to easily fill in the blanks on the first example above. Please ask yourself why that might be.
3. Have the difficult conversations with family
I have had repeated conversations with family members when they say something racist. In light of recent events though, it's not enough to call them out. We (the Asian community) need to say something now and continue the conversation until there’s an understanding. We cannot be complicit.
Our community has this complex relationship with race identity as a by-product of colonialism in our respective countries. We’ve been taught to idealize lighter skin tone over darker skin tone. That is wrong. Sorry but it needs to be said.
I remember my mom pinching my nose every day so I’d have more of a bridge and rubbing a cotton ball of hydrogen peroxide on my face to lighten my skin. She was concerned I was too dark. I don’t hold anything against her for this, I actually think of it fondly as a ritual we had together. Regardless, this just showcases how our standards of beauty are deeply ingrained.
When I spoke to my mom this weekend and asked her if she heard about what happened to George Floyd, she replied with an immediate “Yes, it’s so terrible. That is wrong.” She didn’t need to watch the video to know what happened was unjust. Last week was the first time I started to understand that her aversion to darker skin tone isn't tied to a person or ethnicity. It's associated with the Asian working class. If someone had darker skin, they were perceived as someone who worked outside for a living (think hard labor like farming rice fields). So if her child was darker in complexion, it could appear to others that she wasn't able to provide. Now since marriage in Asia was previously seen more as a business agreement to build accumulative wealth, I would be considered less than ideal. Add the western standard of beauty on top of everything, and my mom is left feeling like she's failed me.
Understanding all of this has made it lightyears easier to have the hard conversations with her.
4. Use your privilege to have difficult conversations with everyone else
Be the intermediary with your White and non-white friends. If you have the time and energy, be the go-to person for having hard conversations. As people who have benefited from being white adjacent, we can field the harder conversations for our Black family. I think of this as emotional triage.
Things to think about:
- The majority of our nation’s policies have been established by white men.
- Most of our founding fathers owned slaves. [see here] They had economic interests in preserving slavery.
- Police in the US were initially created to protect economic interests of the White male, this includes catching and returning slaves to southern plantation owners. [read more]
This brings me to my next point. Sistership can run deep and be multicultural. Perhaps it’s the idealistic entrepreneur inside of me, but I truly believe that if we unite as women and take action to solve this across communities, then we can change the system. I will expand on this further at the end.
5. Support and Buy From a Black Owned Business
Choose to purchase items from Black businesses to give back economic power. It doesn’t need to be always, but it should be consistent. I choose to actively support any small business run by a female or Person of Color, specifically small businesses owned by Asians (East and South) or Pacific Islanders.
This takes me back to the point made at the beginning. The decision of sharing the pie. I found myself torn about choosing to buy groceries from a small Black owned business instead of Auntie ____’s mini grocery store. Then, I realized the majority of my books are from Amazon. F*** Amazon. As a small business owner, I can and should do better. It won’t kill me (literally) to eat out less and buy books that support the Black community. This is what works for me right now. I’m still thinking of other ways I can move forward to lift up our brothers and sisters, and I know from personal experience that the cycles of poverty can feel like a boulder on your shoulders.
When you don’t have money, the sacrifice always comes from somewhere.
In the case of our Black community, the sacrifice was centuries of oppression that someone else decided for them.There's a great video that breaks down systemic racism on Instagram and you can see it [here].
6. Read more about the history of racism
When lists of books started to be released and targeted as “Dear White People”, I honestly had FOMO (fear of missing out). I was thrown into a category that’s considered to have benefited from white privilage and also ignored from the solution. Don’t get me wrong. I know and understand why. The complexities are clear and that’s why I’m addressing them to my own community.
We can learn so much about the history of racism beyond our own experience. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, or religion, has been in at least one situation where they’ve felt left out or forgotten. Reading about American history can be a baseline for helping us understand the complex justice and educational systems.
You can also read memoirs, fiction, really anything to get you started and excited for change. The books I’ve decided to start with are to increase my personal understanding of Asians in America.
Here are just a few:
- Oxford Handbook of Asian American History
- The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee
- The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority
- Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
- On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen (recommended for children of immigrants)
- American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
- Priya in Heels by Ayesha Patel
- The Joyluck Club by Amy Tan
In Relation to our Black & Brown Brothers & Sisters
- Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton
- The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for The Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs
- Resounding Afro-Asia
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
*this list has been further expanded with the help of the community. 🙏
For my non-Asians reading this, I encourage you to research and find what works for you. There are loads of articles online dedicated to book lists. Here are some to get you started:
I also did some research on female owned Black bookstores and there are a few on the East Coast.
Semicolon – obsessed with their online selection and customer service. This is where I ended up purchasing all of the books listed previously.
Sisters Uptown – a great New York based bookstore and one of the oldest! Also super responsive to emails and social media.
Café Con Libros – conveniently located store in Brooklyn and a great website. I haven’t had the chance to reach out yet but this will likely be my store for perusing in person when things open up again.
Fun Facts and Conclusion
Our business is entirely run by myself and Shilpa. We don’t have any other employees so there is limited opportunity for hiring. Especially after our own financial loss during the pandemic. Did you know we take every single photo on our website and social media (reposts excluded)? We move everything into the aisles of inventory and use 4-8 feet of space to photograph twice a year. The model is usually Shilpa, and I direct the poses. People have celebrated our use of a brown girl, which we love, but in reality it’s just us. Did you know we’ve been shipping everything out ourselves for the past 5 years? All of our inventory is processed and organized as a team. We don’t hire outside assistants because we want our budget to go toward making shoes ethically and paying for other entrepreneurs (PR, simple photo editing, etc) to help us along the way. Did you know we make our own website? Shilpa builds out a new look every season.
My point behind all of this is that we don’t have the ability to donate 10k toward the cause and an effective marketing campaign about it. What we can do though is continue to be genuine. We’ve always been equal opportunity employers when there is income to do so. Over seventy-five percent of our part time assistants and paid interns were minorities.
As individuals, we are committed to helping change happen and will vote for change, push for more diversity, and have the difficult conversations.
Now to our sisters, boss babes, and friends reading this... we have a collective duty to push for equality, otherwise we can't call ourselves feminists. Black women are marginalized by both gender and race. Their burden should be on all of us.
We’re open to be part of the conversation and if you’d like to join in, please don’t hesitate to email us: firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on Instagram: @alterreny
We’ll also be updating this blog with a few more articles exploring topics like racism, small business ethics, and where to find resources for change.
P.S. If you made it to the end of this article, thank you. We love you and appreciate you for listening, reading, and learning with us.
** Updates** Since writing this article we have learned about the term BIPOC which acknowledges that our Black and Indigenous communities have uniquely different struggles and forms of oppression in America.