As I’ve written in the past, the Black leadership discussions of politics or economics in North Carolina remained debatable issues until politics gained supremacy at some indefinite time in the early 1980’s. As Black political power grew so did efforts of Black politicians to help Black businesses gain a fair share of public spending on contracts for goods and services. Today our political needs demand that political leaders pay greater attention to and get more involved in the business needs of people of color.
Not surprisingly, the efforts of Black elected officials we’re viewed as affirmative action and attacked as such by the dominant white business and political community. The white business community gained its biggest victory opposing affirmative action in public spending when the Supreme Court issued its Decision in City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co. on January 23, 1989. The Croson Decision dealt Black businesses seeking public opportunities a defeat that we’ve never recovered from. (See link No. 1 below).
Croson held that in order for public bodies to engage in race-based contracting for goods and services, they are required to prove a history of racial discrimination. Such proof often require long, ongoing and costly “disparity studies.” Many public bodies can’t afford them, many don’t want them and many studies fail in their objective of paving the way to business opportunities for people of color. Hello disparity study industry, goodbye Black business.
Minority/Women Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) advocates are usually supported by public or private employers and are designated to take care of the affirmative action issues of their public or private entity. Their best efforts aren’t nearly enough to deliver fair share to Black businesses in the politically charged environment of anti-affirmative action. I don’t have an answer to this devastating dilemma but I do have a few observations for consideration.
My first observation is that political leaders have enormous influence and control over public spending that is outside the dictates of Croson and disparity requirements. M/WBE advocates need help from elected officials for a broader approach to securing opportunities for Black businesses. Much support for non-disparity controlled spending can be gained through support from political allies and at considerably lower cost than disparity studies.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a developing initiative designed to get elected officials and candidates to support hiring or agreeing to hire an M/WBE consultant by their entity, to review the spending policies of their public body, or the one that they aspire to, in order to determine if there is racial equity in their hiring and spending policies. That is, to determine if people of color are receiving their “fair share.”
I guess that it would be of no surprise to anyone that the responses that I’ve received from candidates and elected officials have been quite supportive. I should also point out that many larger political entities already have in-house M/WBE support and contract for outside help where needed. However, the overwhelming majority of public entities have no written plans to ensure ethnic fairness in hiring and spending. Sometimes a discussion of an issue leads to ideas and solutions to resolve it. It is the responsibility of voters of color to raise this issue with politicians and candidates in an ongoing dialogue until it is fairly resolved.
Black elected officials and M/WBEs need unique support in getting opportunities to Black businesses and Black voters may be the sole source of that support. Historically, outreach has been made to get Black entrepreneurs more involved in politics. Their level of involvement could be greatly increased to the benefit of Black communities, if they were invited to help develop strategies that would lead to greater business opportunities.
I’m continuously looking for signs and developments of ideas and relationships that speak to a political and economic union.
Also, I’m in ongoing discussions with minority business owners and aspirants that are looking for opportunities to grow their businesses and believe that equitable spending by public entities would boost their bottom line.
There is a longstanding, critical need for economic opportunity and development in communities of color. None of the various ideas or initiatives that I’m aware of are sufficient to address our needs alone.
However, making economic opportunity for people of color a political priority and adding it to party and campaign platforms could only help with the intractable problems of poverty and lack of opportunity in communities of color.
Candidates and party leaders depending upon increased Black voter participation to win in November would be well advised to embrace economic opportunity as a step in that direction. People of color deserve their fair share of public opportunities. To that end I’ve prepared a political survey that I encourage voters of color to use at political forums and to present to elected officials and candidates seeking their votes. (See link No. 2 below).
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