"We don't support our own. That's why we can't get ahead." For my entire life, I have been hearing that black folks don't support each other. Of course we do, right?
As the owner of a business, I can personally attest to how difficult it is to be a business owner. It involves passion, sleepless nights, constant stress, worrying, sacrificing, planning, negotiating, networking, praying and begging. Since I launched oursistacircle.com, my social networking site for lesbians of color, in 2009, I have witnessed many black-lesbian-owned businesses fail or struggle to survive because of the lack of support in our own community. In order for our businesses to survive, there has to be support from our community, either word of mouth or financial support. And they won't become successful without the backing of the community.
Go to any lesbian bar or nightclub and you'll see us there. Attend any pride march or party and you'll see thousands of us. Log on to Facebook or any LGBT dating site and you'll find that we clearly exist. So why do we disappear when it comes to support for our own businesses?
We always support parties in our community. We come out in droves at the mention of strippers. We will spend money all night when it comes to having a good time. But what about the more important agendas that need our attention in the black lesbian community? What about those organizations that are not considered fun or romantic, like political organizations? Legal businesses? Health organizations? Arts organizations? Senior LGBT organizations? Should we have to add a free lap dance for every donation in order to convince some black lesbians to be interested in or support something other than shaking what their mama gave them?
Is it because black lesbians are not as financially secure as white lesbians? I doubt it. I have corresponded with many black lesbians who have advanced degrees, own their own homes, purchased numerous vehicles and/or have two-income households. Do they not have much disposable income? Again, highly unlikely. I correspond with black lesbians who openly talk about purchasing $200 sneakers, $400 hair weaves, $200 gaming systems and other luxury items, so why the huge disparity?
We have no problem patronizing businesses that hate us. We continue to purchase products from companies that have made their anti-gay stance extremely clear. One of the explanations I've heard for why we don't support our own is that customer service is usually shoddy. Another excuse -- yes, excuse -- is that the products and/or services are not up to par. These excuses are lame. There are shootouts, fights and other crazy behavior at lesbian clubs, and yet you still attend, right? You still give them your money every Friday and Saturday night. There are cellphone companies with subpar service, dropped calls, unreliable phones and unhelpful customer service representatives, and yet you remain a loyal customer. You constantly complain about Facebook changes, being locked out of your account or having lost messages, but you remain a member. But let a black-lesbian-owned company make one mistake, one, and most of us write them off entirely, or, worse, tell anyone and everyone how horrible the business is, based on just one mistake. It's almost like we look for an excuse not to support each other. It's that historical crabs-in-a-barrel mentality.
Granted, we should not support black-lesbian-owned businesses simply because they are owned by black lesbians. We should expect and demand quality. I get it. But if you are willing to stay with a company that has mistakenly charged you twice for service, consistently offers horrible products or has just been horrible, period, then why can't you give that same second chance to black-lesbian-owned businesses?
How do we solve this age-old issue? Should we agree to pay it forward? (In other words, once one of us becomes successful, we agree to help the next new, struggling business.) Should we regularly tithe a percentage of our profits to other black-lesbian-owned businesses like we support black churches? How about sacrificing one drink at the club once a month so that you can donate $5 or $10 to support a black lesbian's Web series, website, clothing line or legal organization, or to help pay the medical bills of a black lesbian who was the victim of a hate crime? Are we afraid of how powerful we can become if we begin to recycle money in our own community? Isn't is obvious that we can all succeed if we help each other? I just wonder when we will realize that.
"Imagine being more afraid of freedom than slavery."