March 1, 2017
Brian S. Feldman wrote on the decline of black business–and its relevance to American democracy–for the Washington Monthly
The decline in entrepreneurship and business ownership among black Americans also is cause for concern. One reason is that it largely reflects not the opening of new avenues of upward mobility, but rather the foreclosing of opportunity. Rates of business ownership and entrepreneurship are falling among black citizens for much the same reason they are declining among whites and Latinos. As large retailers and financial institutions comprise an ever-bigger slice of the national economy, the possibility of starting and maintaining an independent business has dropped...The role of market concentration in depressing black-owned businesses is also troubling because of the critical role that such enterprises have played in organizing and financing the struggle for civil rights in America. In the 1950s and ’60s, black Americans employed by whites, including professionals like teachers, often faced dismissal if they joined the civil rights movement, whereas those who owned their own independent business had much greater freedom to resist. This is a largely forgotten history, but one that is gaining new urgency for all Americans in the age of Donald Trump. It shows the crucial way in which advancing and protecting basic civil rights can depend not only on moral and physical courage, but also on possessing the economic independence to stand up to concentrated power.