Two women pushing for Blackout Day to be recognised in Barbados are insisting the initiative is not racist.
Marcia Weekes and Lisa Niles see Bajan Blackout as a way to not only encourage people to patronize black businesses, but as a means to encourage economic empowerment within the black community.
Blackout Day, which takes place tomorrow and is being celebrated internationally, has been designated as a day shoppers are encouraged to buy from black-owned businesses only.
The initiative comes in the wake of protests against police brutality in the United States and renewed attention to the decades-long racial wealth gap.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Weekes and Niles said the aim was mainly to empower black people and black businesses. They pointed out that even though blacks accounted for more than 90 per cent of Barbados’ population, the majority of established businesses on the island were white-owned.
Niles said while Blackout Day was conceptualized in the US, she felt a “tailor-made” initiative could be held in Barbados.
“I thought that it was important that as a community, as a black community, that we do something to uplift ourselves. We have tailor-made what we are doing in terms of the Bajan Blackout and our objectives are to uplift the black community in Barbados and to use economic power to fight racial injustice and economic disparity,” said Weekes, the principal of Caribbean School of Arts and the artistic director of Praise Academy of Dance Barbados.
“We are encouraging economic strength in the community and we are moving towards a black wealth creation strategy and raising the level of efficiency and effectiveness of black-owned businesses.”
Weekes maintained that the initiative was in no way meant to be racist.
“I don’t see anything about racism in those objectives, which is sometimes the way people view something, depending on the lenses they are looking through. But based on the objectives, there is nothing racist in wanting to love yourself and wanting to uplift your family and uplift your community,” she contended.
“It’s very difficult in Barbados for black businesses to even get loans and to survive and if we don’t come together as a community to help each other, who is going to help us?”
Niles, a qualified economist and educator, said she believed the initiative was particularly relevant to Barbados.
“It makes socio-economic sense that the black community be empowered, that the black community be given a broader and more meaningful participation in the financial and economic spectrum of Barbados,” she contended.
However, Niles acknowledged that one of the areas in black businesses which needed to be improved was customer service.
She said that, in many instances, more training was needed for workers.
“One of the first things we talk about when we talk about supporting black-owned businesses is that the level of service, both in goods and services, the quality is not excellent and that is another objective that we have. We want to educate and enable our business people to improve the quality of service that they provide,” Niles said.
She said there were also plans to facilitate financing for black-owned businesses so they could improve their operations.
The duo has created a registry for black businesses which can be accessed through the Facebook page ‘Black Businesses in Barbados’.