Killer Mike tries living off only Black-owned businesses but it’s damn near impossible
The Salamander Resort and Spa, located on a sprawling 340-acre slice of land in Middleburg Virginia, is the only Black-owned five-star hotel in the US. Essence describes this luxury spot as the “perfect place for your grown woman bachelorette party.”
Instead of embarking on the typical wild bachelorette weekend, The Salamander offers guests a more sophisticated experience: complimentary service to nearby wineries, a spa (replete with two fire pits, with S’mores Kits costing a hefty $40 apiece), and fine dining.
But beneath the opulence, and the ad featuring a white girl stroking a horse, the fact that The Salamander is only Black-owned five-star hotel in America is deeply troubling.
Looking at broader businesses stats, there are over 2.6 million Black-owned companies in the U.S., with a 34.5% jump between the years of 2007-2012. But the 2.6 million doesn’t tell the whole story: in a survey, 46% of Black business owners said their business was “just me”; 41% answered they employed 2-5 people.
Additionally, according to ProjectDiane, only 0.2% of venture capital went to startups run by Black women in 2016. As a result, many Black business owners must raise capital themselves to start their businesses or receive funding from their friends and family.
Run the Jewels’ M.C. Killer Mike dives into the scarcity of Black-owned businesses in his home state of Georgia. On his Netflix show Trigger Warning With Killer Mike, released earlier this year, the Grammy-winning rapper and activist decides to conduct a social experiment, and “live Black” for three days.
By this, he means that he will only purchase and consume Black-owned products, sleep in Black-owned establishments, and take Black-owned transportation. He provides historical background for this experiment, discussing the Black community’s economic self-sustainability– out of necessity– during segregation.
He describes conversations he had with his grandfather, who told him that before desegregation, Black people “had to deal with each other.” If you were Black, you went to a Black dentist, a Black doctor, a Black-owned super-market.
Additionally, during the episode’s breezy 25-minute run time, Mike asks Mrs. Ethel, an 83-year-old Black woman, and proprietor of a farm and owner of Soul Food With a Twist, if she’s old enough to remember a time when Black people grew their own food. Not only was she old enough to remember it, Mrs. Ethel responds, she was “right there.”
But today, Mike notes that Black people do not keep their dollars in the community. He compares the stats with Asian, Jewish and white communities: Asian people can keep their dollar for 28 days before releasing it; white people 23 and Jewish people 21. The Black community can hold onto their dollar for six hours.
Unsurprisingly, “living Black” soon becomes a problem for Mike.
His fridge, dubbed the “whitest fridge I’ve ever seen” by his director Vikram Gandhi, is off-limits for the 72 hours. In one moment, the morning after going to a Black-owned strip club — hilariously, Mike declines to tip an Asian stripper — he picks up a Poland Spring water bottle from the fridge, and sadly places it back down.
He can’t watch TV or listen to music; he gets a new phone, from the Black-owned “Figgers Company” (named after founder Freddie Figgers, and not, as Mike assumes, a play on the n-word) from Shareef Abdul Malik, founder of We Buy Black. He has to buy a bike to get around, since there are no Black-owned car companies, and take a church bus from Atlanta to Athens.
Throughout the episode, Mike must also consider the chain of supply when considering consuming products he assumes are Black-owned.
Though one of his weed dealers is Black (the other is a white woman with a Black husband), Mike’s director reminds him that the product, from Northern California, is most likely from a white-owned business. (Unable to find any Jamaican suppliers, and unwilling to smoke “Mexican weed,” Mike complains that he’s the most sober he’s been in his adult life.)
At one of the few Black-owned restaurants in Athens, a starving Mike is about to chow down on some BBQ before he realizes that the food isn’t Black produce.
In perhaps the most dispiriting moment of the episode, Mike, unable to find a Black-owned hotel in Athens, is forced to sleep on a park bench, with the can of beans he bought from a Black-owned supermarket as a pillow.
At the end of the episode, he speaks to allies and says that while Instagram posts and tweets are nice (the camera flashes to a bland Justin Bieber post promising to “shine a light on racism”), they should “put their money where their tweets are” and support Black local businesses.
And he encourages his viewers to make their Fridays “Black Friday” — not meaning, he quips, the “bullshit” one where you wait on-line at Walmart at 5 a.m. to save $50 off an iPad.