Hood Politics: The Foreign Business Takeover

by Zettler Clay

Darren walks into the American Deli on Random Rd. in Atlanta, Ga. Orders the usual Chicken Philly and Wings special. The waitress  – Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese, who knows – takes his order, shouts back to the cook in an indecipherable dialect and takes the next person’s order.

10 minutes elapses and the waitress shouts, “89!” Darren looks down at his receipt. One more order away.

“Number 90!” Darren steps to the counter, grabs his order, looks in the bag and asks for more blue cheese.

“It’s gonna to be fifty cents extra,” the waitress says.

“It was just thirty cents last week,” he responds.

The waitress, with a bewildered grin on her face, gives a half shrug. Darren pays the extra fifty cents, grabs the blue cheese and walks out the store. As he opens his car door, he turns around to notice the Korean Beauty Supply store and the Discount Store on the same strip as the American Deli. Across the street is a nail shop, ran by Vietnamese business owners (he knows that much).

Shaking his head, he dips into his car and cranks it up. Pausing for a second, he ingests the situation of it all. The movies. The looks of perceived condescension. The lack of Black business owners in the hood.

With the blare of Nas and Damian Marley through the speakers, he drives off.


We’ve seen this narrative before.

Like Darren, going for a bite to eat in the ‘hood can be a crash course in Economic Diversity 201. Most of the employees are Black, except for a few spots. These businesses are typically beauty enhancing spots, liquor/convenient stores and restaurants. We grow up seeing this and think nothing of it until we become acquainted with the finer points of macroeconomics:

Import means to spend money to get a good/service from another country. Export means to receive money from another country for a good/service produced in this country. There has to be a balance of the two for a viable long-term economy. This same principle works on the micro-level. If a demographic of a neighborhood is 80 percent Black, but the business owners are 15 percent black, there’s a clear imbalance.

A lack of economic savvy from the consumers of the community – - as well as a presence of savvy from merchants – turns this relationship sour, resulting in strained relations on both sides. The foreign business owners look at people coming into the restaurant as dollars and cents (easy prey). The customers look at the businesses as exploitive, monosyllabic and can’t understand why so many of “them” have to set up shop in their community.

Robin Harris’ character in Do The Right Thing displayed animosity toward the foreign business owners in his community. Menace to Society’s first scene showdown between O-Dogg and the Korean merchants met in a fatal ending for the latter, establishing a street ethos that would make up the movie. But this scene was also a subtle reminder that an imbalanced relationship between foreign business owners and Black consumers is a microcosm of a out-of-sync, or dysfunctional, neighborhood.

If immigrants can come here, then why can’t there be more African American business owners? Such thinking dominates the interactions between the two groups on a daily basis. Take the relationship between Korean business owners and African-American community, for example.

Korean businesses expanded in America after World War II and rapidly in the 1970s. Immigrants have a different outlook on America as African Americans, and with Koreans, it was no different. To an outsider, America has a meritocratic appeal: Anybody can succeed as high as one’s talents and abilities allow.  African Americans don’t share that rosy outlook of America. Cultural differences lead to the following misunderstanding between Koreans and Blacks.

From Blacks:

“They are disrespectful.”

“They don’t know how to interact with customers.”

“They throw change at us instead of placing it in our hands.”

“They eye us all around the store.”

From Koreans:

“They’re loud.”

“They steal.”

“They don’t show proper respect. To us or themselves.”

But the problem is deeper than immigrants. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to prove they are the problem. There is a disparity in the incentive levels of entrepreneurship between the cultures. Integration has de-emphasized the need for Black business ownership within the Black community, whereas first-generation immigrants are almost forced to become self-employed in the Black community because:

  • They generally aren’t fluent in English
  • Companies exercise discrimination practices
  • They aren’t educated in American colleges and universities, therefore many companies don’t recognize their educational or training credentials
  • Land and business permits are easier to acquire in blighted areas (because white folks don’t generally want to deal with the customers and environs)

Add an entrenched work ethic (after all, you don’t move halfway across the world if you’re not motivated) and delayed gratification, plus the use of family members as cheap or unpaid labor…and you have conditions necessary for sustained business ownership.

Many Black people feel these businesses should invest in the community where they make their living. But is forcing businesses to give back the proverbial “wiping your nose to cure a cold” syndrome? If American Deli has to donate a certain percent of their income to the ‘hood, how would that enhance the economic and educational understanding among the people in that ‘hood?

Boycotting businesses aren’t the answer. Yet. Neither is forcing businesses to give back. Progress has to come from the bottom-up and a renewed focus on entrepreneurship in the Black community. Moving from a consumer-oriented focus to a producer-oriented focus means shedding the “blacks don’t support black-owned businesses” stereotype.

If Darren organized a boycott against American Deli or [fill in the blank of any *Korean-owned business], and that business leaves, can the community survive economically with majority Black ownership? A boycott would be effective only when that answer is a resounding yes. At this moment, the answer may not be pleasant.

*Though there are many other immigrants who start businesses in predominantly black communities, Asian-Americans, statistically, are the most likely (foreign) ethnic group to start their own business. Koreans are the highest business owners (percentage-wise) among Asian-Americans, according to 2000 Census numbers.
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gabrielle-Clark/1482810008 Gabrielle Clark

    Don’t forget the fact that newly naturalized citizens get tax credits to start their businesses; a bonus that puts them way ahead of the native sons and daughters who don’t have enough economic leverage to borrow money from the big banks to start a business in the first place.

  • http://www.citizette.com Lizzy

    “The waitress – Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese, who knows”

    You almost lost me there with that comment, it was bordering on being prejudicial and oh-so politically incorrect. After reading the entire piece, I’m assuming that this statement was not the view of the author but simply he/she noting that this is the general attitude of many people. Either way, a great mini doc that was produced was Aron Ranen’s “Black Hair” exposing the unfair practices of Korean beauty supply chains/store owners. It can be viewed on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p96aaTSdrAE

  • lilkunta(@ horizon)

    I wasnt aware of that,
    BUt when Koreans come here they arent instantly naturalised, yet still they have all these businesses in our commnity.

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  • http://www.clutchmagazine.com Clutch

    Hi Lizzie – check our article about The Haircare Industry here: http://clutchmagonline.com/beauty/taking-back-the-black-hair-care-industry/

  • cecee

    Then stop giving them your money…why pay and support their business to treat you bad?

  • Patricia G.

    Thank you for this article. I am faced with this reality everyday when I walk to my neighborhood shopping areas. I’m so tired of being disrespected or disregarded in general by these shop owners and I shouldn’t have to leave my area to be respected. It’s a frustrating and scary existence. As a culture, we need change NOW! But change starts with the man in the mirror.

  • Kay

    This is why I’m working on opening my own business.

  • Dee

    Don’t forget the banks. You need a loan to start up a business and they are far less likely to grant one to Blacks without a substantial amount of collateral.

  • Kasandra

    This article is sooo true! I used to work(about the 11th grade) at a Korean owned Beauty Supply store & she use to make me watch the customers(mainly are African American) as they walked around the store! It annoyed me on so many levels and then she made a comment saying how black people have “nappy hiar, and white people have very long beautiful hair”. After that foolishneess I found my self a new job. Another story, my cousin’s best friend is a Chinese girl whose parents own the Chinese restaurant. They are pullling their daughter out of the school and moving her because “she is becoming ghetto like the black children in her school”! Some of these Asian people don’t respect us, but for damn sure want us to buy what they are selling! the only group of Asians that I have met(personally) that weren’t disrespectful towards blacks were Phillipino’s!

    but I said all that to say, that Us blacks have dug ourselves in a serious hole! Giving these people our money, when they gove nothing back to our community and our quick to discriminate against us.

    ps. (not all Asian AMericans are like this, just an observation. Yet some of these type of people seem to be the older generation, not the youth)

  • lilkunta

    @kassandra: I too noticed Phillipinos are very friendly to AfrAms. Perhaos bc there are alot of Afro-Filipinos?

  • Anonymous

    I’m an immigration lawyer and that is not true. The same tax credits for small businesses are available to everyone regardless of immigration status. Access to capital, however, is a real issue. Unfortunately, immigrants tend to have much higher savings rates that native born Americans regardless of race. Also, immigrants rely on their particular immigrant community to help finance new businesses. I think we need to stop blaming the other, take responsibility for our own finances, and maybe even learn a thing or two from these immigrant businesspeople.

  • EmpressDivine

    I don’t think that Asian Americans are necessarily the enemy in this situation. We have to remember that they are being bombarded with the same Western media propaganda that promotes anti-black prejudice that we consume. Western media is very pervasive in developing countries especially in the Asian continent. They are taught to believe in white superiority in their own countries and there is a strong undercurrent of self hatred in most communities of color. If you combine that with the fact that most Asian Americans (2nd gen immigrant onward) are more likely to live around whites who will gladly pass on the “don’t trust those Negroes” philosophy, the desire to assimilate and achieve the so-called “American Dream,” and living under the stereotype threat of performing as the model minority, I think that their behavior is more of a result of miseducation rather than sincere hatred. In other words I blame the major stakeholders who desire to maintain the status quo of capitalist imperialism: wealthy western corporations

  • Akai*

    Article” “…people feel these businesses should invest in the community where they make their living.”

    I’m a granddaughter of an immigrant that started out as a small business owner and went on to bigger and better and I say bull sheeeit to this statement! Business is business (not a charity) so how ’bout people invest in their own communities instead of, once again, having that hand out.

    If an individual feels a certain establishment or it’s owner or employees are disrespectful and over-priced…they should exercise their personal power and not patronize or give them a cent of their money. Simple as that! I mean…does somebody really need some nasty-ass pork fried rice or plastic hair that damn bad?

    Are some of these immigrant owners/employees “rude” etc.? No doubt as are many AA employees in certain joints! Are some of their patrons “thieves” and “disrespectful?” Hell yes and I think quite a bit of it is culturally misunderstandings.

    Instead of continuing anger and resentment, I agree entrepreneurship and a move away from being consumers is key. AAs have been in this country for 400 years and have $1 trillion in buying power, so personal responsibility (and less finger-pointing) seems to be in order.

    What about studying the ‘competition’, figuring out why some immigrants manage to come to the US, take advantage of the opportunities that are there, sacrifice and open businesses…then compete! Heck, some of them don’t spend frivolously, live 5+ to a residence, pool their resources, borrow from each other etc.

  • Isis

    Personally, I believe blacks shouldn’t support non-black owned businesses in black neighborhoods. Let them go in their own neighborhoods and make money off of each other while we do the same. I believe we should focus on opening, running and supporting black owned businesses in our neighborhoods. Will it be hard to do? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes.

  • http://thehappygoluckybachelor.blogspot.com clnmike

    I doubt the absence of foreign owned businesses in the black community will mark the demise of the economy of the community, the money made is not being reinvested into the community enough to make a difference. The fault ultimaately lies with the community, they have to make the effort to open up businesses and support them, while keeping their money away from those that show anything other then respect for their consumers.

  • lostsage

    I always wondered how so many middle eastern and koreans, etc started up their shops. Now I see its a combination of things that I still dont fully understand.
    But what I really dont understand is why there are about 6 liquor stores in a two block radius of my house. I guess as long as they all have chips, alcohol for cheap, and fresh swishers, they’ll make business right?

    I cant be mad at those stores not being black owned though cause that’ll be stupid for any black person to do I think. I’m more irritated with our horrible use of money in general.

  • http://www.essenceofsilk.com KarenC

    This was a very good article. I really enjoyed it because there are some points I never thought about. Also Koreans are really hard on eachother but when the going gets tough, or when it’s about money they always stick together. Most people who come from other FARAWAY countries didn’t get here by lottery or accident they really hustled to get here & come here with more than most people are born with in this country. But diversity & different cultures & the best of the best of people & motivation are something that help make America still a very admirable & desired place to be & to live in by many in this world.

  • de

    We would be so far in advance if we stuck together. Hurt them in their pocket if you don’t want them around. It is as simple as that!

  • Meg

    AA communities most often lack resources and are generally populated by those without resources. Resources become the issue and the mental/emotional framework of the community sets the foundation. The article hit it on the head about the realities immigrants face. Most people are not moving halfway around the world in search of greener pastures in order to sit on their ass. A person is typically already entrepreneurial and self-sufficient when they uproot themselves and their family to become a first generation immigrant anywhere, whether in America or otherwise I would suspect. The paradigm in which immigrants operate is completely different, even the paradigm of African immigrants compared to AA’s.

    There is a sense of identity, solidarity, nationalism, security, and self assuredness that comes with being born in a nation-state filled with people that look like you. Where people that look like you are not just the majority, but are land owners, business owners, politicians, and generally people with influence, education, and stature. Everyone around you becomes your role model because you identify with them and with their success because they look like you, they speak your language, they represent you culturally, ideally, and otherwise. That reality is impossible for African Americans in this country.

    Entrepreneurism (or the lack thereof) is a direct function of the lack of education in our community: Education about finance, business, and general self sufficiency. This doesn’t just come from out of no where. If you aren’t getting it from your parents you typically won’t get it. And usually it has to be a part of your parent’s value system for you to receive it, which means more than likely they are already entrepreneurial (i.e. a head start and possibly one of the few business owners in the community). Needless, to say it starts with education and it has to be formalized otherwise it’s a vicious endless cycle. Taking back our communities starts with taking back the family, instilling proper values centered around education, and getting the appropriate education into the home.

    I actually applaud immigrants for keeping entrepreneurism in their families as part of their value system and usually maintaining the companies they work hard to build because I work in the ethnic hair products industry. This industry was built by countless companies that were started by AA’s and many of them were sold to white companies. And the owners of these AA companies had children that worked in the companies and also helped to build them but many times the company was sold by the parent right out from under their own children who too were personally and professionally invested in the business. So what does that say about greed and the fact that even if we do get something, we don’t have enough care or loyalty to our own to keep iconic brands in the community, to keep us employed, to keep black dollars filtering through black hands. It’s the paradigm of the African American in this country, I believe anyway.

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  • Optimus

    I don’t think Akai* read the article. The article clearly states that requiring business to “give back” to the communities in which they have stores is not the answer.

  • Akai*

    I read the article in entirety in addition to having comprehended it fully.

    My comment was in disagreement with “people” who felt as the author mentioned — and this was indicated by my specific and exact quote of:

    “…people feel these businesses should invest in the community where they make their living.”

  • Bella

    Small businesses are an asset to any and every community, regardless of who owns them. Simply by being in business ALL small business owners “give back” to the community in several important ways: 1. Paying Taxes 2.Paying the rent/mortgage associated with their space 3. Preventing the space from being used by a giant corporation, or worse, being abandoned 4. Creating jobs 5. Providing a good or a service

    If a customer feels that they are treated unfairly or that a business practice is wrong, the best things to do immediately are to speak to a manager or supervisor, or the owner, to voice a complaint clearly and respectfully. Owners want customers! And if that doesn’t work, make an effort to take your wallet elsewhere- make your money do the work!

    For businesses that have questionable practices- don’t hesitate to call the consumer affairs or better business bureau associated with the businesses neighborhood. No one wants a citation.

  • Leesa

    When black people go to college and become sucessful, they leave the area. Instead of moving to a “good” neighborhood, why not stay and help change things? Or if you do feel the need to move to a “better” place, you can still help your community by opening a business in the old neighborhood, hire local people, give back.

  • Isis

    I totally agree with your assessment, especially the first line in paragraph 2. I believe that was the reason Marcus Garvey pushed so hard for the “Back to Africa” movement. He knew it would be damn near impossible for blacks to have the things you described in paragraph 2 , line 1 in this country. Funny, how his beliefs are still being confirmed today.

  • Sepiastar

    Great assessment but I have a question for anyone: What is the process of a small business owner after the 5 yr no taxation period? In other words, one of the things I was verbally advised by a small business owner was once the newly naturalized business owners reaches the five year point, to prevent tax payments, they transfer the business to another immigrant family member and start the process back over again, therefore, their dollars are not supporting the communities in which their businesses reside.

    Also, I have a AA friend that owned a beauty supply store and he advised of the ill treatment he received from the asian distribution companies and how he consistently had to pay more for the products than his competitors (and his AA customers would view his inventory and prices and complain because of the price difference although it was only a marginal amount but they did not recognize that he had to pay more for the same products). He eventually had to close his doors.

    ** Asian business owners receive the highest number of sba loans for minorities and the sba rationale was their high repayment percentage and the family support system for the business was instrumental in the business success.

    Now, what other factors should we be examining in the success of immigrant businesses in urban neighborhoods and how can we compile the information and disseminate it to prospective small business owners (finance strategies, credit worthiness, preparation for lender assessments, commercial land lease/negotiation/purchases, credit improvement tactics, business marketing, etc). Why aren’t we taking their strengths and improving upon their weaknesses and using it to our advantage?

    Maybe it’s time to devise solutions because we all know the story and technically, many of them will NOT thrive in America without the financial support of the AA community. We are their primary customers, therefore, we should demand more.

  • http://www.speakfemme.blogspot.com Dari

    I don’t know your cousin’s best friend, but I want to make an observation about my community as of late.

    In the past five or six years, there has been a definite increase in the black population since Oprah named Conyers, GA one of the best places to live apparently.

    I didn’t think there was anything immediately wrong with that at first. I loved seeing black people in my community after feeling like one of the few. But things did change and it was evident in our educational system.

    I’m only going to speak of the middle and high schools I went to. When I was in about 10th or 11th grade, there were increasing discipline and achievement problems in the middle school I had come from. There was even a bomb and gun threat. Many fights. Things unheard of in this middle school.
    In 12th grade and to now, I’ve noticed that there is a lack of motivation among many of the students in the middle and high school. No eagerness to learn or succeed. These kids are only interested in getting drunk and getting high. It’s disappointing. My high school used to be one of the best in the county and produced many top students in the state of Georgia. Now it’s just in a tragic state. My brother thinks he’s a rapper. There’s too many suburban thugs walking around.

    I don’t want to say it’s more..ghetto. But there’s this attitude…and it’s not condusive to academic success.

    And I don’t want to blame this on the increased black population. But have any of you experienced this? I want to understand it more and not just blame it on blackness.

  • Marcy Webb

    For me, the most important aspect of the article is the following:

    “Boycotting businesses aren’t the answer. Yet. Neither is forcing businesses to give back. Progress has to come from the bottom-up and a renewed focus on entrepreneurship in the Black community. Moving from a consumer-oriented focus to a producer-oriented focus means shedding the “blacks don’t support black-owned businesses” stereotype.”

  • http://www.beautyhealthzoneblog.com/ Happiness

    Interesting comments.

    To be frank, I am just tired of excuses from black people and complaining about people opening shops in the general neighbourhood. Why can’t we open our own for a change?

    I see some black people opening up businesses and the first thing they do is run out and buy a Mercedes or a Jeep or similar top of the range fast car once they have made a bit of money, while the other races will settle for an old banger until money starts coming in more steadily. You have no money to eat but you will run out and buy a Lexus. We, as black people need to get real.

    Asians in general help each other out. They will put money together and set up one business, then after that they will collect money and put together for another person in the group to go out into the world and start their own enterprise. They don’t necessarily wait for banks to borrow money to them with high interest, eating into the profits. Besides, in business, sometimes it’s good to start small and then expand as your business grows and gains momentum.

    There was a girl in my class ay University who was Asian, I think from Pakistan or Bangladesh, her parents bought both her and her sister ready made businesses. The parents already had an off-licence and decided to buy two businesses for their two daughters. This girl was about four or five years younger than I was and her parents had already invested in her future. However, saying that, this girl never used to come to class and was always bunking off University, because she was running the business most of the time. She had a number of employees working for her as well.

  • Akai*

    I agree, Happiness!

    It’s like this thing where somebody drives a fully loaded 2010 Lexus GX that is parked in front of a raggedy duplex or home they rent and do not own at night. Priorities are shot all to hell and they’re way too concerned with flossing, appearances, impressing others and trying to show off – instead of increasing their assets and net worth in the beginning – to ever become successful and financially secure.

    One upfront sacrifice and investment that is usually made is in education (children are often sent to private and/or parochial schools), but other things you’ll notice about successful immigrant small business owners that are just starting out (whether from Africa, Asia or the Caribbean) is the sacrifice. Generally, there is an eschewing of wasteful/frivolous spending on items that depreciate in value, delaying gratification to reap future benefits, saving and re-investing profits into growing the business, also:

    - driving hoopties or 2nd hand cars that are paid off instead of wasting money on finance charges and monthly expense of purchasing a new car

    - buying reasonably priced clothing or nice pieces from consignment or 2nd hand stores as opposed to over-priced “names” or name brand

    - there are expenditures for vacations, entertainment etc. but things like eating out are kept to a minimum and money saved by preparing home-cooked (healthy) family meals

    - utilizing family members as employees keeps the costs of labor in check, and also cuts childcare costs since family is always there to watch the children

    - renovating then leasing any available spaces to bring in additional income

    - rooms on another floor or adjacent space can be converted into comfortable living spaces so there is no rent expense and the money saved towards buying a home in the future (when the company is stable and profitable) or re-invested

    - living quarters are shared between two families or several family members which, again, saves on housing costs


  • http://www.beautyhealthzoneblog.com/ Happiness

    Good ideas and good points, Akai.

    Do you have a blog? I think you should write one if you are not already doing so.

    I used to go to an award winning hair salon, one day I arrive at the place the shop is all locked up. The owners were owing £5000. All their stock and equipment was locked up in the shop and the owner had not paid their rent, fees and so on. Their business went bust because of £5000 and they were ou tof the country at the time, left the business with someone else to manage. Travelling around living the high life while all their hard work went down the drain.

    The thing about Asians is that they will keep a beady eye on their business as well. They don’t joke with their money. They come to the black neighbourhoods, study what is going on and cash in. In the meantime, while us black people are talking about it, they are already doing it and running with it. I know it sounds bad, but that is what happens and is happening.

  • Optimus


  • dan

    how about non black businesses in black communities?

    What i mean is it seem to me that if you go thru a black neighborhood you will various non black owned or run entrepreneurial business (mom and pop stores, clothing stores, shoes store, restaurants etc) run by greeks, hispanics, asians, indians (dot) jews, what have you.

    But ride thru THOSE neighborhoods (indian, asian, jewish, hispanic etc) and you almost never if EVER see a black owned or operated business.

    I have never been in a all white neighborhood, walked into a store and saw nothing but black people running the place.

    Does anyone know if they did a study on that?

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