The bag might as well be made of gold.
That’s because what’s inside cost you dearly: groceries mostly, a little milk, pasta, spinach, those chocolate bars you like, and two apples. That’ll last you today.
Tomorrow, you’ll have to go get another golden bag and buy some more.
And if you’re author Maggie Anderson, you’ll drive 20 miles to shop even though there’s a grocery store around the corner. For Anderson, it’s not what she bought but where she bought it, and in her new book “Our Black Year,” you’ll see how careful purchasing might change a community.
It started with a five-star restaurant.
As Maggie Anderson and her husband were celebrating their anniversary, they started talking about how blessed they were. The Andersons were both educated, had great jobs, and lived in a better Chicago suburb. On that night, they were the only Black people at the restaurant, which spurred them to talk about “the discouraging status of Blacks in America.”
As usual, they discussed some kind of action. They knew that Black Americans have nearly $1 trillion of buying power, but that each dollar spent in an African American business circulates for only 20 minutes before it ends up outside the community. They knew that just two percent of every dollar spent by Black Americans goes to a Black-owned business.
They were always going to do something, but life got in the way. Then, five years and two daughters later, the time was right: throughout 2009, the Andersons decided they would only buy Black.
It would end up being a long year.
The name they chose for their endeavor conflicted with that of a major magazine which threatened to sue. Publicity and financial support were initially shaky. Black-owned grocery stores were scarce and black-owned clothing stores were few. Finding what the Andersons needed for their growing family often meant long drives or visits to iffy stores in bad neighborhoods. Businesses seemed to close before their eyes.
Then, a surprising thing happened: Anderson began to change some minds. Meanwhile, her experiment changed her.
Gotta be shoppin’ til you’re droppin’? Then you might want to drop a few dollars on “Our Black Year,” but there are some things you should know first…
Author Maggie Anderson is incredibly detailed in her story, so much so that she includes over 80 pages of notes at the end of this book. That’s good, but what’s not-so-good are incessant street-by-street, corner-by-corner descriptions of her search for Black-owned businesses. To know that she’s looking is important. To know exact streets, for most readers, is not.
I also wondered why Anderson felt the need to re-hash the ugliness of critics. I think most readers would easily believe there were haters; to add their comments, verbatim, detracted from the well-meaning goodness of her experiment.
And that goodness is why I ultimately recommend this book: in the end, “Our Black Year” is a (mostly) do-able, interesting challenge for African Americans everywhere. Yes, this book has its bumpiness, but I’d say bag it up soon.
“Our Black Year”
by Maggie Anderson with Ted Gregory
© 2012, PublicAffairs
$25.99 / $29.00 Canada
299 pages, include notes