Prominent black conservative political activist Ali Akbar couldn’t contain his right-side-of-things glee. Just moments after a random reporter’s tweet described Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s dismay at the loss of more than 200 “minority-owned” local businesses in the Baltimore unrest, Akbar grabbed the Twitter mic in a May 3 burst of awkward black outreach.
“So terrible. Thank you for speaking out and standing with black-owned businesses,@LarryHogan.”
The problem, though, is that Hogan wasn’t talking about black-owned businesses.
Not only has this stirred slight confusion in Charm City, but it also raises key questions about which businesses were destroyed or damaged, and whether those receiving help truly represent the interests and complexion of the folks who live in Baltimore.
Multiple news reports highlighted the quickness with which corner-store conglomerate CVS is rebuilding two gutted West Baltimore locations, as if the spots were already dynamic oases of economic prosperity. Sure, that’s great: for CVS. But few ask why these neighborhoods appear dangerously reliant on big, corporate convenience stores in the first place, as both primary grocery source and job hub. There are no questions as to the lack of black-owned businesses beyond barbershops, hair salons and churches. And no aggressive action on what’s being done to empower and finally revive a Baltimore corridor that once flourished during back-in-the-segregated-day black economic booms between the 1940s and 1960s.
Such questions also drape a dark cloud of mystery over the highly abused term “minority-owned.” Local, state and federal politicians have long used the phrase as a misleading characterization of their outreach efforts in economically mangled and mostly urban black communities.
But a “minority-owned business” is not what it seems—the term rarely means “black-owned business,” even though embarrassed government officials and companies escaping regulatory ire have long reached for it like comfort food when race issues explode. In the case of West Baltimore,it’s not entirely clear that when the Maryland governor’s office and the federal Small Business Administration announced disaster-relief assistance to unrest-rattled businesses, that they also meant they’d be lending a helping hand to black businesses.
As it stands, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland and the federal government can’t or won’t give a straight answer as to how many black businesses are being helped. No one is actively tracking the number of black businesses in that part of town or elsewhere. Multiple calls and emails to the Baltimore mayor’s office went unanswered. When The Root turned to the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce for some expert insight, it was told by GBBCC’s call service that the phone number was disconnected. The GBBCC had not responded to an email inquiry by the time this story was filed.
Source: The Root | CHARLES D. ELLISON