“The peculiar position of Negroes in America offers an opportunity. … With the use of their political power, their power as consumers, and their brainpower … Negroes can develop in the United States an economic nation within a nation …”
“An economic nation within a nation”—those words were a part of the powerful speech given by W.E.B. Dubois’ on June 26, 1934 as his resignation from the NAACP. Though he spoke of black people as a whole then, when I read those words today I first think of black women. Why: Because we are indeed a nation within a nation.
As black women navigate the western world many of us have struggled to find our place within society. But more often than not, black women have made a decision to create our own world within a nation that hasn’t particularly catered to our needs. We’ve literally been pushed to become a nation within a nation when it comes to political activism and our power as consumers and business minds. When you think of the beauty industry this is especially true. When cosmetic companies don’t create products to enhance our melanin-induced skin, we create our own; when we decide we want to wear our hair in its naturally kinky state, we’re able to turn to products hand made and bottled up by other black women; when we don’t see ourselves reflected in mainstream media, we create our own media. Ade Hassan, our first feature subject this week and creator of Nubian Skin, a popular brand of nude lingerie and hosiery tailored to brown skin, is a perfect example of this sort of ingenuity.
Need proof of just how powerful our nation building skills are? A recent study titled, “2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report” commissioned by American Express Open and sourced by Fortune Magazine, finds that black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. Since 1997 the number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322%.
As women now own 30% of all businesses in the U.S., black women anchor 14% of these companies, which is an estimated 1.3 million businesses. This accounts for more than the total number of businesses owned by all minority women in 1997.
This phenomenon reminds me of the incredible power people in developing nations have. For example, Nigeria is the only place where I can say I personally know multiple black self-made millionaires—young and old. Though the country struggles with a host of political and economic woes, many have been able to take advantage of that fact. The nation is in need of so much, so the people create it. The same is the case for black women in America, though many are doing what is necessary to take care of the needs of other black women.
Believe me, I know things aren’t perfect—the bulk of the country’s wealth doesn’t dwell in our community, and one of the main hurdles minority business owners face is capitol to grow their businesses. But we’re doing our best to build on what we have. We’re working towards making our future brighter and we’re doing so on our own terms.