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
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.

6 thoughts on “Entreprenegros

  1. Growing up I saw many blacks start construction trade companies; i.e., Plumbing, HVAC, Masonry, etc.

    Before car washes started becoming more corporate I saw a lot start “hand car wash” or detail shops as well.

    Then, for women, other than becoming a beautician, the next most common I saw was to sell Mary Kay products. Recently I have seen a few black women start catering businesses.

    For some reason I don’t see a lot of blacks owning gas stations and “corner stores”

    I do agree with you that we should step outside of the box and begin to look at other venues besides what you named above


  2. Asalamu Alaykom,

    I really enjoyed reading your take on this. I am not in the group, but as an observer I find it fascinating. There is SO much energy zooming around the African-American demographic. It’s like an electricity. It can either helpfully light a town or, if misused, kill a community. With all that energy and drive, I really hope that the future is brighter for more African-Americans who start businesses inshahallah.


  3. Assalaamualaikum-
    Interesting, funny and very true post. Kind of reminds me of the episose of The Dave Chapelle show when reparations were finally given. Remember all the record labels?

    Maybe it is because I’ve been in school forever but I really believe in some type of credential building or professionalization. Not because you have to be like someone else but because you need to know how to run a business and how to act. As far as Muslims, the sad fact is that many Muslim entrepreneurs have bad raps for shady crap.I recently had an “independent contractor” from my masjid do work.

    After some confusion around the first job basically he got offended when I told him we need to write up a contract for the second one. I mean he was outraged as if I was trying to act like the “white folks.” Let’s just say we’re not working together anymore.

    Putting things in writing is Islamically sound. So not only do we have alot of people balking at putting in the time to get that fashion marketing or culinary arts degree that will give them a better foundation for their ambitions they refuse to even practice basic Islamic principles on contracts and business.


  4. Salams,

    You’re right about the housewives coming off as nouveaux-riche.

    Tariq also makes an interesting point about how you don’t see many black gas station owners.

    Even in places like Chester, PA – where the ghettos are not simply black, but have a strong black-Muslim presence, it’s sad how the owners/vendors of pizza & Philly cheese steaks are Pakistani/Arab/etc.

    When you’re at the bottom of the barrel and have a crack at upward mobility, most of us get greedy.

    The fact that we (as **beneficiaries** of this upward mobility) can find shows like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” so fascinating (to quote Aziza, above) is telling.

    Despite our intellectual realizations of the problems at hand, what stops us from vegetating on the couch, to watch those beautiful women live their materialistic, vapid lives on TV? As a man, I’m having a hard time controlling my gaze on the picture of Lisa Wu-Harwell!

    Not afraid to admit it – but seeking refuge from Shaytan nonetheless. Allah make us wiser..


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