This week, my local chamber of commerce hosted an entrepreneurial mixer for the area’s business owners.  New comers were encouraged to showcase their offerings in designated booths with hopes of networking and attracting clientele. In the weeks prior, as we prepared for the evening’s showcase, a member of the committee suggested we have someone white represent our group. Another, candidly suggested that I not readily offer my post as CEO, but instead, give the impression that we were merely there as representatives of the company. The rationale was to appease possible Caucasian clients and gain their business.  The general consensus of the committee was that it was a splendid idea, and that given the undoubtedly light hue of the city commission’s members, it was a wise decision to proceed with this plan. A minority in my thinking, I decided to go along with this decision for some time. I observed as committee members shared ideas on who would be a great Caucasian fit and pen important scripts they would ensure the person is equipped to regurgitate. They tossed out names just as soon as they withdrew them. “She’s too young, they won’t think she can run a business.” Isn’t she Hispanic though?” “Maybe we should use one of the guys?” “She has the right feel but she’s not very sociable.” It was completely disheartening to hear otherwise confident and highly intelligent women,  unknowingly demean their worth.

As I came to my wit’s end and shared my disregard for this so-called plan, I was met with perceptions of my naiveté. The young entrepreneur strikes again! Unknowing of how the world really works, unprepared for the realities of a harsh and prejudiced world.This was not the first time an idea like this had come up in my exchanges. On other occasions, when change was introduced (that was in some way deemed to benefit “the” group), the idea that if “Becky” said it, then it would be better received, was not altogether uncommon. On each occasion, including this recent instance, there was an impression that “we” would come out on top anyway, so who cares.

One could argue that as long as the checks are coming in, the company will no doubt have the last laugh. One could say, it’s all a matter of getting your foot in the door. Perhaps, once the product is allowed to speak for itself, then most customers won’t care who’s behind the brand. They may further suggest that you have to do ugly things in order to arrive at a destination that places you in a position to enact true change. That may all be true. After all, I have yet to hear anyone correlate clinging to ones dignity and/or pride with becoming hugely  successful.

The Formula

In life, One should be just as concerned about the journey as they are about the destination.

Our company is owned and operated by black females. Those are things of which I am very proud.  It is a Caribbean entity, which is- as far as I am concerned- also another jewel in our crown. It is a great injustice to one’s self and those they represent to racially, culturally or gender-specifically dumb themselves down in order to get ahead. Many will and have said, ” you have to do what you have to do before you can do what you want to do.” Others have advised to, “fake it until you make it.”  Both are true in many instances and most may have even resulted in success. One could easily argue that it doesn’t matter how you get people through the door, as long as they spend their money with you. But is it you they are spending it with? Is green the only color that matters in business?

Despite any one entity’s intent to serve persons of every creed, orientation and/or color equally, one cannot mold business practices on an attempt to capture everyone that comes through their doors. An entrepreneur and friend of mine, once asked, “how do I know when I’m being greedy as opposed to just broadening my aim?” While I am still seeking the answer to that question, this experience proved insightful in that sense. In my opinion, it is greed, a lack of patience,  and wavering principles that justify the kind of thinking that allows a group of individuals to whiten their company in attempts to gain a wider audience. It is also a sad perpetuation of a “lesser-than” kind of thinking.

As is common among all intellectuals, conversations that challenge our comforts are often explored. In this instance, I asked several persons of color, “Are there black American entrepreneurs who are consciously making Caucasians the familiar faces of their businesses?” Is it merely adaptable marketing? Are we hiding in the kitchens to strengthen the numbers out front?

What are your thoughts on the idea of Black business owners marketing their companies in this light? Should you fake it until you make it? Or is it just plain selling out?

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