Entreprenegros

In between writing and stressing about papers, I got hooked on watching Atlanta’s so called elite society in The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The show broke some stereotypes and reified others. One of the stereotypes that it reified was the conspicuous consumption of Atlanta’s Entreprenegros. Honestly, I don’t think these women represent Atlanta’s elite society. Most of the women didn’t seem to come from old money, but appeared nouveau riche. Most were either wives or ex-wives of NBA and NFL stars. Contrary to the stereotype, many affluent Blacks gained their wealth and status outside of the entertainment industry and sports. And you have generations of families who attended Black colleges and do well for themselves. Despite the fact that the show gives us no insight into the lives of Black elites, I think overall it made a fascinating viewing. Basically, we get to see what happens when you put five narcissistic and materialistic filthy rich women in front of camera crews.

One of my favorite characters was Lisa Wu-Hartwell, a woman with boundless energy and entreprenurial ambitions. Lisa Wu Hartwell
She’s the ex-wife of singer Keith Sweat and current wife of NBA NFL player Ed Hartwell. On her website, Wu-Hartwell includes links to her corporations, Hart to Hart Baby which features t-shirts and baby socks, Hartwell & Associates Realtors which probably isn’t doing so well in light of the real estate crash, Wugirl jewelry designs, Closet Freak which features sexy t-shirts, and Sydney’s Adventures which promises to deliver education materials for educators and parents. Ms. Wu-Hartwell’s corporate empire got me thinking about the types of businesses Black folks like to start.

This list is not scientific, but here goes:

Soul food Restaurant or Fried Chicken Shack
Brownstoner Soul Food
What else shows your love for the community than clogging their arteries, giving them high blood pressure, and making them obese? Well, killing them softly with some yum yum soul food is a sure way of giving back. I know I’m not alone when I say that I love some soul food. Usually entreprenegros in their 30s to 50s start up this enterprise. The youth don’t have the capital or even the patience to go through the start up business loan process. Sweating behind that fryer is not too glamorous, plus a lot of young woman with an entreprenegorial spirit forgot how to cook

Fashion Line aka T-shirt business
Dim Mak T-shirt
This is likely the first business you will start, either in highschool of community college. It taps into the desire of the general public to be fashionable and original, without spending lots of money. It doesn’t require a lot of capital or even understanding about fashion. Just clever quotes or noticeable art. Plus, you can always guilt your friends into dropping $25-30 on a t-shirt with the promise that you will be the next Fubu.

Beautician or Barber
Barber shop image from Jay Z tour
You already have a captive market because most folks don’t know how to do Black folks hair. It takes 9 months to 2 years of schooling, an ability to talk trash or gossip while your client is at your mercy while wearing that obnoxious looking bib. A key skill requires telling your client how much their last perm/cut/dye job sucked or how jacked up their edges/split ends are. In reality, the beauty parlor/barber shop is a social institution. It is such a figure in the Black community they’ve even made three movies about them, two of them starring Ice Cube.

Independent Record Labels
Playa Rabbit?
I’m not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, the rise of Independent Record Labels or the decline of major labels. Either way, the vast majority of hip hop is terrible. Back in the day, every MC wanted to make that big record deal but sometime in the mid- to late 90s, folks moved beyond the mix tapes to starting their own labels. We can no longer blame white capitalists exploiters for profusion of crass culture and negativity. Instead, blame the free market! The internet has definitely facilitated the plethora of entreprenegrorial activities in the music industry. Myspace and youtube has allowed for even wider distribution of music that should never ever be listened to.

Club Promotions
Ummm
Okay, tell me why would you ever want to go to this party? Well, there were a lot of fliers a lot worse, most of them entailing a nude female in a compromising pose. Club promoters are usually kind of shady. The key is to have an extra long line where people wait for at least an hour or have to beg to get in. But if you are a party person, being friends with a promoter has its benefits. No standing in those long lines or paying $20 for a disappointing night of creepy guys and ugly girls packed into a dimly lit place with a thoroughly disgusting bathroom as one of the major amenities. I frankly don’t understand club promotions. I guess it requires a location, insurance, a DJ, and really tacky fliers.

Incense and Oils
Berkeley incense and oils vendor
Just in case my Muslim entreprenegros think I’ve forgotten them: get your Egyptian Musk and Blue Nile on my brothas! Now, for many young brothas who have opted out of the capitalist system, but still desire to show that they are industrious, incense and oils street vending is the perfect solution.

So there are my runner ups:

    Print or Online Magazine
    Because we can all use another hip hop, Black, urban, or fashion magazine
    Street Book Seller
    The best ones specialize in Afro-centric or conspiracy theory books because Barnes and Nobles aren’t trying to carry those books that will guide you out of triple stage darkness!
    Hair Products or Weave Shop
    There still are a few struggling against the onslaught of better organized and better financed Korean owned beauty supply stores.
    Motivational speaker
    I could use a little right now!
    Self-published author
    You can read all about it in my book coming out next Fall!

Now, I’m not trying to make fun of the thousands of folks who show initiative and begin these businesses. A number of these enterprises are much needed services to the Black community. But there are many Black business men and women who serve a broad based clientele and are not limited to the Black community. We may not see these folks making it happen because they are busy making it happen and reinvesting in their future.

Developing a successful business requires doing your research, it probably will require taking classes or maybe even going to business school to get the requisite experience, and it will take a lot of effort. I don’t want to see anybody fail, whether you decide to open up the next 24 hour chicken shack or start your own clothing line. But we also need to think about the types of businesses we are creating and the long term effects they will have on our families and communities. I have a few ideas and prescriptives to thinking about revitalizing Black entrepreneurship. Maybe the fast and easy money from the entertainment industry and sports has blinded us from that old school entrepreneurial spirit that we used to have. Maybe some of our young ambitious college graduates need to gain a bit more experience before starting their endeavors and learn by working in corporate world. There are a lot of possibilities, from commercial clean up, construction, carpenters, inexpensive legal aid, microlending institutions, childcare facilities, academic coaching, mechanic and auto-repair, house painters, computer hardware supplies, grocery and produce stores, engineering and marketing firms… What I’m trying to encourage anybody who has a bit of entrepreneurial spirit is to use their ingenuity and think outside the box.

Black Star Extinguished

On my way to the Black Graduate Student Association meeting I learned that our campus community lost a Black Star. His loss was sudden and unexpected and I wonder how can a Black star who shined so bright with so much potential be extinguished so quickly. I can’t begin to express the loss I feel and a deep sense of the fragility of life. May God have mercy on him and grant him peace in the next life. Please make prayers for his wife, family, loved ones, and the Stanford community who will dearly miss him.

Obama and the Discourse on Race in the Muslim Community

This post is a collection of ideas that developed elsewhere on blogs and in email exchanges.

Those who have mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s election are often focused on foreign policy issues, specifically Palestine. This victory has more to do with an internal change in American society, foreign policy issues. But it has everything to do with the place Black Americans have in American society. And for Black American Muslims, this also profoundly changes the defined roles we have in American society. The most famous and recognizable Black man is an intellectual and Head of State (considering the last presidency, I think it is important to point out both). The reality is, that the public image of Black Americans, and let us not forget Africans on the continent and in Diaspora, defines our role in the American Muslim community. How so? Our public image shapes the ways in which our fellow co-religionists see us. Barack Obama’s presidency inverts a number of stereotypes that many in the Muslim community in the US and abroad have about Black Americans. In much of Muslim world outside of sub-Saharan Africa, people associate Blackness with slavery and inferiority. I recognize that this might not change the fact that when I go to the masjid in America, some immigrant Muslims will assume I am uneducated, broke, and not as valuable of an asset to the Ummah as a white convert.

While his presidency might not change all their negative associations, most people never imagined that so many white Americans would vote for a Black man as head of state. It signals that we are part of the American fabric, not just waiting for the some outside force to raise us up from our undignified and destitute state. Muslim organizations that cater to immigrant communities may begin to see that it is politically expedient to align themselves with the Black community. Elected officials have to address the Black interest groups and political and community service organizations. We have two Black American Muslim congressmen, which I think is telling in light of the fact that associating with Muslims is still a political liability. Only recently have some Muslim organizations saw the importance of working to build coalitions with the Black political establishment, like the Black Caucus, and organizations that have addressed the needs and interests of Black Americans as well as other ethnic groups.

This reminds me of an event I sent to organized by ING, where I realized how Black American Muslims were rendered invisible in the discourse on Islam which was dominated by mainstream national Muslim organizations and the media. On that day I went to an ING event where the theme was the faces of American Muslim women. Although there are so many Black Muslim professional, student, and volunteer women, not one had been invited to speak. There were Arab women, white women, South Asian women, even East Asian women, but not one Black woman. Given that we are 40% of the Muslim population, I found that extremely odd and in fact insulting. They were saying, “We are just like you, Americans!” A number of organizations have marginalized Black voices in their attempts to portray Islam as an American religion. They have highlighted and celebrated white converts over Black converts, seeing the conversion of white Americans as a symbol that Islam was accepted by a mainstream American. I believe that Obama’s presidency will help show that our more backwards thinking brothers and sisters do the Muslim community a great disservice by trying to ignore the historical contributions of Blacks in America, and Black American Muslims in the Muslim American community.

Right now, the real tensions in the American Muslim community will be between those who wish to create their ethnic enclaves in order to insulate their children from becoming American and developing new hybrid cultural identities. The real tension is between those whose interests are geared more towards issues abroad and those who are concerned with transforming America into a more egalitarian society and thereby changing our policies abroad. People are already voicing expectation of disappointment even before he has been sworn in. Yes, he made a lot of problems, some will not be able to come to fruition in light of the political machine that he is operating in. This is not the same thing, or just a Black face on political power.

Obama’s victory is what can happen if we believe we can do it and work towards our goals. This is about how WE need to change things. American Muslims should be motivated to mobilize and be part of the political process in order for us to be a force to be reckoned with. For the most part we’ve taken ourselves out of the game. So how are we going to hold anyone accountable, let alone a president? The thing about democracy is that accountability is seen in the election process. Elected officials have to appease their main constituencies, as well as the interest groups that support their campaigns. The big constituencies and most powerful interests groups win out. That may not be right, but it’s pragmatic and that’s what politics is about. What lobby group do we have? Have we created any effective civil society institutions to help counteract the abuses of government? And for those few that exist, do we have a plan to support them? How many of us are trained to be on any advisory counsel or even qualified to be tapped as major advisor for policy making?

Two things seemed like a far off dream when I was a little girl: Mandela becoming president of South Africa and a Black man becoming president. Both happened in my lifetime. That leads me to imagine what types of changes can happen in the American Muslims community and the ultimate influence we can have in this society and eventually in the world scene (and not just Middle East).We need to move from ideals to move towards real action. This is our opportunity as Muslims to own this. American Muslims are largely affluent, have global ties in family and ethnic networks, a wide range of skill sets, and a country that affords us the opportunity to make the most of our material, spiritual, and intellectual assets. In light of what we do have in this country, what should Muslim Americans be doing 1 month from now? 6 months? 1 Year? 4 Years? What about in 20 years?

That’s Deep: A Racist Africa Lover?

My brother was insulted and threatened with arrest by an elderly white lady on Stanford’s campus after he tried to rescue me from a very difficult predicament. He came to look at my loaner car which got stuck in front of a residence hall on campus. The transmission failed and wouldn’t shift into reverse. It only went forward, and since the other end of the driveway was blocked off I was unable to get out. In an effort to get the car to shift and find a way out, I inadvertently slid it down a path way and partially on to the lawn. My friend who lived at the residence tried her luck and working the gears under her uncle’s phone directives. Things weren’t working, the situation went from bad to worse. I had to run to class to meet a student and show a film on the other side of campus by 7:30. I then met my brother at 8:30 and we drove back to my stuck car. As he got out of the car and tried to see what happened, she promptly opened her window and started launching insults and threats of calling the police. He immediately returned to his car, enraged. He informed me that the elderly white lady called him a nigger, among other things. We waited for the tow company but found that he didn’t have the proper equipment. So, I had to go back this morning at 8 and waited for an hour to get the car pulled out of its quagmire. The same woman recognized me from the many African studies events. She said, “Oh, it’s you! What are you doing you IDIOT! Bikes go up and down the pathway!” I tried to explain, but she shut the window. I was able to drive the loaner car home because I didn’t need to go in reverse. I’m hoping that my own car will be fixed soon and that I don’t have to deal with this anymore. My mother told me today to not ask my brother for help if I have car problems. I live in Palo Alto, which is still a ridiculous city where Blacks are often seen as oddities or looked at with suspicion. He didn’t need the legal problems and any confrontations with police.

I see this elderly lady all the time at Africa studies related events. I am incensed that she would insult my brother and threaten him over something that was not his fault. I am especially appalled that she would use the word nigger. I want to do something to expose her for the racist, mean spirit, phoney that she is. How could someone so fascinated by Africa turn to racial epithets and insults. Considering what generation she comes from, I guess it is not so surprising. So, in your opinion should I say something at the next Africa table. Should I ask her loud and in front of other people if she called my brother a nigger and to demand an apology?

Just Another Blog Entry About Our First Black President

This is a remarkable evening. I believe we are in the beginning of a new era as Americans. I’ve cried several times over-joyed by this historic moment. Fifty years ago this was unthinkable, parts of America denied Blacks the right to vote. Forty years ago, this was still unthinkable as America’s cities exploded in riots following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Thirty years ago, this was unthinkable, as most Black Americans were still grappling with the legacies of Jim Crow and the disproportional effects of the deindustrialization of our inner cities. Twenty years ago, the idea of a Black man in the White house was a joke. It was a cruel joke about the pervasiveness of social inequality and racial prejudice in American society. Even when this campaign started, I thought it was a long shot. I was overseas when Barack Obama secured the nomination for the Democratic Party.

Obama’s victory is not just for the Black community, but all Americans. And it is clear that Americans from all walks of life believed in what he represented. But I wanted to focus on what he means for the Black community. I wanted to put his victory in the context of struggles my ancestors and the injustices experienced. I’m thinking about how Frederick Douglass, Sojourney Truth, George Washington Carvery, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Clayton Powell, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King, and so many other unnamed great Black thinkers and pioneers would feel about this moment. Without doubt, they would be overjoyed. This night would have likely seemed like a fantasy for them. I voted for Obama because he represents that legacy. I voted for him because I believed that he was the most capable of making the necessary changes within the political field. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think he is the messiah Nor do I think that the institutionalized racism that has been embedded in American society for so long will be erased due to his presidency. But rather, his presidency represents hope that we can overcome those boundaries.

We face many challenges to ensure that America makes good on her promises. Americans of all races, genders, orientations, faiths, and ages have been inspired. I believe the Black national anthem is true for all of us. If I could sing, I’d sing it celebrating the this victorious moment by singing the Black National Anthem.

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

And still we rise…