Showcasing Black and Indigenous Small Business

Trends / Realness
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Dec 14, 2022
As we navigate living with a pandemic and fluctuating economy in tandem, small businesses have been graced with increased visibility – but that doesn’t necessarily mean small business owners are being properly represented. Even as the world rethinks what small business and entrepreneurship look like, certain identities, such as those who are cisgender and/or white, and certain businesses, such as start‑ups, are overrepresented in popular visuals. Diversity in all forms is crucial for a majority of consumers right now, as our VisualGPS consumer survey reveals that 9 out of 10 Americans believe that small businesses are critical for a diverse society – and these communities deserve both the recognition and the support.
Black‑Owned Business
Currently in popular visuals, Black‑owned businesses make up 15% of popular small business imagery and tends to features younger Black people in corporate, white collar or retail roles. However, the most recent US census data reported that Black and African‑American people own the highest percentage1 of health care and social assistance businesses out of any BIPOC group. If we are to be truly inclusive of Black entrepreneurs and business owners, it's important to demonstrate authenticity by selecting imagery featuring Black‑businesses tied to health care.

Historically, it has not been easy for Black small‑business owners, and the pandemic has exacerbated these issues, as many were shut out of small business federal relief programs. In 2018, the US Small Business Administration found that Black entrepreneurs are more likely to rely on personal credit cards to fund their businesses, unlike other entrepreneurs, who start their businesses with personal or family wealth. At the beginning of the pandemic, Black‑owned businesses were shutting down at rates twice that of other businesses.2 However, today, Black‑owned businesses are making a huge comeback – now, they make up more than a quarter of all new microbusinesses, opening at a rate 15% higher than before the pandemic.3 Ongoing representation of Black‑owned businesses, including clinics or counseling centers, can reflect this new growth and success, and help keep these entrepreneurs top‑of‑mind as people of color continue to face inequity when applying for business funding.
Native‑American and Indigenous‑Owned Businesses
Though the number of Native American and Alaska Native‑owned businesses grew 15% in five years in the US, they are still underrepresented in popular imagery, making up less than 1% of popular small business visuals. For many Indigenous entrepreneurs, their businesses are their way of reclaiming and spreading appreciation  (rather than appropriation) of their culture, which has been subject to appropriation for many years. This ranges anywhere from apparel4, design5, and spiritual practices6. However, most popular visuals featuring Native or Indigenous people show them in corporate spaces with little to no cultural nuance.

Indigenous small business owner7 Lluvia Merello notes the harms of purchasing products with Indigenous roots (such as jewelry designs8 or textiles and fashion9) at bigger businesses rather than supporting Indigenous‑owned small businesses. Larger companies often cherry‑pick, then inaccurately appropriate Native American culture in their products, and consumers buy that product10, while native tribes and peoples receive nothing. Merello’s sentiments are a key example of how important Indigenous representation is, especially when it can be tied to heritage and livelihood.
Starting a Conversation
Most businesses in the US are considered small, but they matter more than you may think. From 2019 to 2020, small businesses created 1.6 million jobs in the United States, and it’s estimated that over half of Americans are employed by small businesses11. In fact, VisualGPS consumer research reveals that 93% of Americans believe that small businesses are necessary for the health of the economy, and 1 out of 3 Americans were shopping at small businesses more than they were prior to the start of the pandemic, demonstrating the newfound appreciation and support for these institutions.
1) Annual Business Survey Release Provides Data on Minority‑Owned, Veteran‑Owned and Women‑Owned Businesses (US Census)
2) After recession, a Black business boom (The Washington Post)
3) Black‑owned businesses in U.S. cities: The challenges, solutions, and opportunities for prosperity (The Brookings Institution)
4) Moccasin maker apologizes for profits from Native culture (The Hill)
5) Decolonizing Native American Design (Communication Arts)
6) Beyond smudging: Indigenous creators reclaim their influence on the wellness industry (Religious News Service)
7) Supporting local businesses owned by People of Color (KGW8 News, Tegna)
8) How To Buy Authentic Native Jewelry (New Mexico Magazine)
9) Indigenizing Fashion with Amber‑Dawn Bear Robe (The Metropolitan Museum)
10) Coachella is back. But have festivals escaped the problematic legacy of 'boho chic'? (CNN)
11) Small Business Data Dashboard (JP Morgan Chase & Co.)
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