National Post (Latest Edition)
Favouritism not the best way to fight racism
NONE OF US HAS BENEFITED FROM LOAN PROGRAMS. — CHRIS KEMP-JACKSON
THE PROGRAM IS DIVISIVE AND WILL BE PERCEIVED AS SUCH.
The Liberal government has announced plans for a Black Entrepreneurship Program that will work with banks and other lending agencies to provide loans and other support for Black businesspeople. The program is supposed to address serious obstacles encountered by Black entrepreneurs in attempting to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, grow their businesses and start new ones. These obstacles include lack of access to capital, networks and mentoring. The reason Black entrepreneurs face these challenges more so than other businesspeople is supposed to be due to “systemic racism.” The government’s proposed solution: a special program targeting these entrepreneurs alone. As a Black businessman I should probably be thrilled by this. However, I am not. In fact, I oppose this and any other race-based preferential systems to address the challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs.
The purpose of this article is not to question the rationale for the program nor to doubt the good intentions of the government. What concerns me is that a race-based program like this, whether successful or not, is unlikely to garner long- term public support because it is divisive and will be seen as the government playing favourites. I feel this especially acutely because this sort of program would not go over well in my extended family. In fact, I could see it being a threat to my family’s cohesion and happiness. No doubt this may sound strange but let me explain how my family could be negatively affected by such a program.
When my extended family gets together for major holidays like Passover or Thanksgiving, we are a microcosm of 21st- century Canada: Black, White, Chinese, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and atheist, immigrant and native- born. As I said, when we sit around the dinner table we look like Canada. I was born in Jamaica; my wife, who is Jewish, was born in Canada, and both our kids were born in Taiwan. In fact, our oldest son is ethnically Chinese and was adopted in Taiwan. I have a small business, as did my fatherin-law, and as do a couple of my brothers- in- law. None of us has benefited from special government loan programs. If my younger son, who has a small business, was able to get a loan and other government support simply because he looks Black, the rest of the family would be happy for him, but they would have questions. I could see my Chinese sister- in- law pointing out that while it is great that he can get a loan it is not fair that his brother, who looks Chinese, cannot benefit from such a program. My wife’s oldest brother, who was also adopted, looks South Asian. He has a business and has never benefited from special government programs. He would also congratulate my son, but he would wonder why neither he nor his kids could get preferential treatment based on their race. And then there are my son’s White cousins. They also would be left out of any consideration for special government programs simply based on their race. And I have no doubt that someone would point out that while everyone around the table pays taxes to support a program like this, only I and my younger son could benefit from it.
The result of the government’s good intentions would be to leave my family with a strong sense of the unfairness of this particular solution to the problems encountered by Black entrepreneurs.
If a nation is an extended family, then any programs initiated by the government should unite the family, not divide it. I do not doubt that some Black entrepreneurs have had problems accessing capital, but can anyone prove that a specific Black loan applicant was refused solely because of his or her race? That is illegal, and if it does happen and can be proven, then the loan officer and his institution should be held accountable. However, if the problems that Black entrepreneurs have in getting capital for their businesses are problems that are shared with non-black entrepreneurs, then government solutions should be open to all Canadians, not just a single racial minority. A government committed to fighting systemic racism should not be establishing racial preferences or racially divisive programs.