Recently I watched a video titled “The Secret of Selling to the Negro.” Originally released in the 1950s, the title says it all: businesses are told how to sell their products to African-Americans. Basically, black people like to buy nice things, and they care what other people think about them.
I’ve seen comments calling the video racist and proclaiming that the strategies mentioned, are why black people today blow their money on Jordans and Gucci handbags. The common belief is that advertisers closely monitor the buying habits of black people to make billions of dollars, while keeping the black community in poverty.
I felt mixed emotions after watching the video. It’s certainly unnerving to watch a white man describe black people’s behaviors as if he’s commentating on a horse race. Hearing the word “negro” repeated multiple times doesn’t help either. A 20-minute video explaining why black people buy what they buy seems odd. Was it that hard to simply strike up a conversation with a black person to get this information? However, the habits that define black people’s consumerism don’t seem terrible to me. Neither do they seem like qualities that solely contribute to the stagnant state of finances in the black community. These are some of the spending habits of black people mentioned in the video.
We want to be sold on quality, not price
This is one of the traits in “The Secret” video that drives black consumers’ buying decisions. I for one, don’t think purchasing quality items should be frowned upon. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been told that I have “expensive taste.” I allowed my mother to drag me into Rainbow a handful of times, but I cringed at the feel of the cheap fabrics. Sure, you can get 5 shirts for $20, but 4 out of the 5 will fall apart within two months. Once I got a job, I set my sights on buying clothes that I knew would last. My go-to store was Bebe; they cost more than a 17-year-old should have been spending on clothes, but they outlasted Rainbow apparel by years. Full disclosure: I still own a pair of yoga pants from Bebe that I bought back then.
We buy brands we recognize
Black people buy items from names that they’re familiar with. That revelation alone doesn’t seem too earth shattering, but it’s one that has prompted the many comments on unnecessary Jordan purchases. If I had a dollar for every self-righteous meme that I’ve seen mocking those who buy Jordans rather than invest in Nike stock, I’d have a bomb-ass Nike portfolio. The fact that it’s usually black people posting and/or co-signing the memes is disheartening, and also inaccurate. A quick Google search will show that there are more significant factors impacting the lack of wealth in the black community than our choice of footwear. I have never purchased a pair of Jordans, and I’m certainly not more financially well-off than those who do. Am I saying it’s ok to buy a pair of Jordans instead of paying rent? Of course not, but the assumption that everyone who buys name brand shoes is financially irresponsible is just that—an assumption. And we all know what happens when you make one of those.
We buy items for the approval of others
There’s that good ole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality again. Once again, the assumption is that buying things just to impress others is exclusive to black people. I don’t need to look any further than my own newsfeed to know this one is false. I’m in several Facebook groups with people paying off debt for houses and cars they can’t afford…and they are white.
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s just Facebook.” For the skeptics, here is the data showing that white people carried the highest amount of credit card debt in 2017. With that said, I think we can all agree that buying to impress friends and family isn’t just a black people problem.
The video on black consumerism may seem racist. More than anything, I think it puts an unnecessary microscope on black consumer behaviors. Most of the spending habits that I’ve mentioned aren’t abnormal. All they prove is that we’re human, and we buy based on emotions some (or most) of the time. The sooner we realize and accept that, the sooner we can start building wealth on our own terms.