Black History Month: COVID-19 and Anti-Black Racism, a Double-edged sword for Black Entrepreneurs
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods. It has shed a spotlight on all inequities and exacerbated the already longstanding systemic barriers through the glare of systemic racism and in particular, Anti-Black Racism and related inequities in employment, resources and wealth that have further compounded socioeconomic inequities. The extreme experiences of Anti-Black Racism have brought to the fore, the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the world calling out Anti-Black Racism, raising heightened awareness about the rights of Black people and Black communities. This February, as we honor Black History Month, reflecting on the profound traumas of Black History and honoring the remarkable contributions and struggles of Black Canadians, it is a watershed moment to acknowledge the tremendous work still needed to address Anti-Black Racism. It is also an opportunity to discuss the challenges caused by the pandemic unique to Black entrepreneurs, who, over the years, have strengthened the Canadian economy and labour market.
Research has shown that the Black Canadian population across Canada has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Canadians face higher rates of unemployment and are over-represented in the industries like food and accommodation services that are most affected by the pandemic. They are also over-represented in precarious employment in jobs that are at the greatest risk in the work of the future. Research has also shown that Black people are pursuing self-employment and entrepreneurship due to the negative experiences in the workplace caused by explicit racism, discrimination and microaggressions, and exclusion from employment.
The pandemic has been a harsh blow to Black entrepreneurs adversely affecting the scale and revenue of their businesses. Black entrepreneurs have faced financial losses and challenges, the urgent need to invest in digitization to balance their stalled offline and physically based business activities with online business, the lack of a stable customer-base exacerbated by the physical distancing norms and series of lockdowns causing many businesses to shut down. Many Black entrepreneurs have also faced financial exclusion due to biases at financial institutions making accessible financing a major hurdle for their businesses. In sum, Black entrepreneurs have been sidelined by the systemic discrimination embedded in the institutions in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, ranging from education, finance, business support, incubators and accelerators, and government funding. Moreover, there is also a lack of support in the ecosystem in the form of encouragement, mentorship, sponsorship, and access to networks and information.
With the pandemic paralyzing Black-owned businesses, this has taken a mental health toll on Black entrepreneurs. Black women entrepreneurs have been hardest hit faced with more disruptions in their businesses, picking up more of the childcare and household responsibilities. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020, it gave visibility to some Black-owned businesses through the Buy Black-owned campaigns but many continue to struggle to stay afloat. These unique struggles of Black entrepreneurs have led to the federal government extending aid to qualifying Black entrepreneurs. Questions still arise: is this enough? What polices should be put in place to deconstruct systems that help perpetuate Anti-Black Racism? Can more loans truly help businesses already experiencing financial constraints?
As Canada gears up for a reset, key discussions should be on how to build a more equitable future for Black entrepreneurs and providing for the right business ecosystems that can mitigate or negate the effects of structural obstacles to business building for Black business owners. The economic recovery policies should also take on board provisions to support Black-owned businesses and empower Black entrepreneurs to become more resilient and equipped to offset entrepreneurial challenges.
Join us on February 23 to discuss challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the existing Anti-Black Racism and its magnified impact on Black-owned businesses and the economy. The session will highlight how Black entrepreneurs are tackling the unique challenges to keep businesses afloat and explore ways to create sustainable change and a lasting legacy for Black entrepreneurs to succeed and thrive. The session will bring together business leaders, innovators and changemakers to discuss solutions and policies to support Black-owned businesses and create an equitable ecosystem. It will also call for concerted efforts by public-, private-, and social-sector organizations to address Anti-Black Racism and the racial inequality and social injustice it spews and how to close that gap.