In January, Good Work Network was approached to contemplate a provocative partnership with Chef Tunde Wey using food to highlight the racial wealth gap in New Orleans. It was a natural fit for us because at Good Work Network, we help women and minority entrepreneurs start, grow and sustain small businesses. We also operate Roux Carré – a food incubator supporting the development of culinary entrepreneurs. So Wey’s experiment over the past month served the dual function of helping to grow his business while also raising awareness of the stark racial inequities within the small business community of New Orleans.
You may have heard the buzz surrounding the project, but here’s the backstory: In New Orleans, the average white-owned business has a value of $487,748 while the average black-owned business has a value of $35,237. And although minorities own roughly a third of all small businesses in greater New Orleans, they earn only 2% of all business receipts. Two. Percent.
This gap isn’t because white entrepreneurs start business at a higher rate. They don’t. It’s not because white business owners have better ideas or work harder. It is because study upon study has shown that banks lend less to small business owned by minorities, that procurement professionals overwhelming issue bid opportunities and contracts to firms they are familiar with – which are overwhelmingly owned by white males, and that information is not equally shared across networks that would facilitate small business growth.
We saw that Chef Wey’s experiment had the potential to bring these facts to life in a way the average New Orleanian could relate to and spark an illuminating conversation as a result. The positive reception the idea received was both unexpected and encouraging – from Food & Wine to the Washington Post and Times-Picayune – the concept resonated: in order to address inequity, people must first experience it directly and understand how it gets perpetuated.
There was also the predictable, reflective racist rhetoric from bowels of social media comments sections from people who didn’t bother to come experience the pop-up or talk with chef Wey, much less educate themselves on the disparities. As President John F. Kennedy said in 1962, “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears…We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
Challenging systems and beliefs is discomforting for people. The reality of inequity should make us all uncomfortable. Suggesting that in order to achieve equity, some people will have to give up something – often something they never earned in the first place – is often upsetting. And yet, it is far more upsetting to be denied a privilege solely due to the circumstances of your birth.
At Good Work Network, we don’t believe the color of someone’s skin should determine their access to resources, opportunity, and networks to create successful small businesses. We also don’t believe white men have cornered the market on innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, we are called to dismantle systems that perpetuate that thinking. We will continue to support the growth of women and minority small business owners and advocate on their behalf for economic inclusion in southeast Louisiana.
If you’d like to join us in this work to grow a stronger New Orleans and Louisiana by building our economy in an equitable way, here are a few ways you can: Question underwriting practices at your financial institutions. Ask why so few minority-owned firms are invited to bid on projects at your company. Get curious about why the same businesses year in and year out are providing the goods and services to your company. Question whether or not you are missing out on innovation, efficiency, and cost savings by closing your eyes to inclusion. Support organizations like Good Work Network with expertise, financial support, and your voice as an advocate to demand equity. Join me, chef Wey and others on March 15 to have a dialogue about inequity. Follow Prosperity Now and PolicyLink on social media. Read the Kauffman Foundation’s latest State of Entrepreneurship. Review the City of New Orleans draft Disparity Study. Engage in the discomfort of thought.