“One of the most striking indications of the unreality of the social world which the black bourgeoisie created is its faith in the importance of ‘Negro business’…” E. Franklin Frazier
America is a country with a capitalist economy, so it is no surprise that Americans of all stripes view entrepreneurship as the road to freedom. What is left out of the conversation, however, are the limits of capitalism. Although most mainstream scholars don’t touch on this issue for fear of being labeled radical or socialist, E. Franklin Frazier wasn’t
afraid to attest to what he called the “social myth” of Negro business.
In his book Black Bourgeoisie, Frazier offers a scathing critique of the black upper class reliance on business:
One of the most striking indications of the unreality of the social world which the black bourgeoisie created is its faith in the importance of “Negro business,” i.e., the business enterprises owned by Negroes and catering to Negro customers. Although these enterprises have little significance either from the standpoint of the American economy or the economic life of the Negro, a social myth has created that they provide a solution to the Negro’s economic problems.
Frazier continued, adding that this myth was partly buttressed by low self esteem among Negroes and that “desires for recognition and status in the white world that regards them with contempt” and leads to this “make-believe” thinking.
By accepting business as the answer to the ills suffered by Negroes, Frazier said that Negroes had accepted the “values of the white bourgeois world.”
Frazier was in no way admonishing people for wanting to own businesses, but he was calling into question those who viewed Negro entrepreneurship as a savior. He also says that belief in Negro business has been encouraged by whites who want blacks to believe that they can fix their own problems, which conveniently doesn’t take into account white racism.
The myth of the Negro business, according to Frazier, was propagated by upper class blacks:
The myth of Negro business is fed by the false notions and values that are current in the isolated social world of the Negro, a world dominated by the views and mental outlook of the black bourgeoisie. The extent to which these false notions influence the outlook of Negroes cannot be better illustrated than by the case of a Negro Pullman porter who owned his home and four shares of stock, valued at about eighty dollars, in a large American corporation. He declared that he was against the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal because they taxed men of property like himself to assist lazy working men.
Frazier’s book is a phenomenal read which flies in the face of canned notions of black entrepreneurship that we hear even today.