Paris is quickly becoming my favorite city. It is clean, vibrant and the people are so professional and friendly. Things can be expensive due to the current weak U.S. dollar value but once you understand where the bargains and best deals are you can get by in comfort.
Blacks are everywhere! The diversity of all ethnicities resembles that of a typical city in the United States. We are indeed represented. However, power and representation of Blacks in France versus the United States is night and day.
We have political power. Black mayors, state representatives, congressional officials, county and city elected officials are in the United States to the point that each segment has a national association replete with active committees and meetings.
France, on the other hand, has just begun, and it will be a great while before they can resemble what we have done in the United States. The biggest problem is that they do not perform a national census based on race. It is forbidden in their constitution to denote race in demographics. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to detect disparity and/or discrimination even though every bottom rung of the economic ladder will find Blacks there being left out of the mainstream. France is going to have to change this and find ways to accurately account for their Black population and to determine what is considered equality and what is not.
There is another nasty problem festering within French society. There appears to be a mild divide within the Black population. People with roots from the Caribbean want to think of themselves as being different than Blacks with direct links to Africa. They proclaim that they are the descendents of slaves and their African counterparts are the descendents of the slave traders. Thus, they create an unnecessary friction. In my speeches and interviews, I made it clear that this situation was completely unnecessary and counter productive. I actually had to check a few persons who claimed that is how it is in the United States.
I also made it clear that we will support their new Black chamber of commerce and it will be for all descendents of Africa, direct or indirect. If the Caribbeans dare to not accept it then that's all right. Just don't get in our way or you will find yourselves being pushed aside or stepped on. We are serious!
Despite the word entrepreneur being a French word, rarely do you see small business activity in the nation. Black business is almost nil. This is where we have great opportunity in demonstrating best practices that have been proven here in the United States.
I told the press that when the National Black Chamber of Commerce started in 1993 there were, according to the U.S. Census, 300,000 Black-owned businesses in the United States doing about $33 billion in sales. Today, there are over 1.2 million Black owned businesses doing over $100 billion in sales. That's progress. We have something to show Blacks in France and can help jumpstart there business infrastructure. You cannot have an adequate number of jobs for your people or begin to build wealth, individually and collectively, without a foundation of business ownership. It is the key to our complete freedom and quality of life as a people. Blacks in France will have to establish economic equity before political power which is the opposite of what we are doing. As long as both become a reality there is success regardless as to which comes first.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.