Buying Black in Obama's America: Our Black Year

Book Review: How one black family tried to re-balance America's racially divided economy.

Our Black Year:
One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy (PublicAffairs)
Author Maggie Anderson with Ted Gregory

Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee’s 1989 fi lm about the hottest day of a Brooklyn summer, remains the most critically acclaimed thing he’s ever directed; as per Maggie Anderson, it also offers a perfect summation of one of Black America’s core economic problems. While the community that Lee portrays has its share of Hispanic, Asian and Italian-American business owners, the black characters are always the consumers. The disparity of that economic relationship is what ultimately drives the neighbourhood’s underlying racial tensions toward tragedy.

In Our Black Year, Anderson and family—well-to-do black Chicagoans who shared a church with the Obamas—committed to spend 2009 shopping only at black-owned businesses. Their plan proved difficult to execute: less than two cents of every dollar spent by blacks in the U.S. goes to black-owned businesses, and it’s hard to say what’s cause and what is eff ect. The family struggled to find places that could supply even food staples of any quality, for example. And if theirs was a very specific exercise, it’s a fascinating one, offering a case study for anybody interested in community empowerment through consumerism.