How to Do Business in the African American Community

African American consumers and businesspeople aren't all the same. You can differentiate the African American community with which your business interacts by factors such as economic status:

  • Common greeting: Shaking hands for both men and women is commonly practiced. Be formal at the beginning and never call an African American by his or her first name unless the person invites you to do so because this could be extremely insulting.

    Show respect by saying something like, “It’s really good to meet you.”

  • Personal space: Closer and less formal than other Americans may be used to at 1 to 1 1/2 feet, but you must establish trust before assuming familiarity or closeness.

  • Eye contact: Can be very direct, especially when speaking or may be somewhat indirect when listening.

  • Approach to time: Punctual.

  • Language: English.

  • Communication: African Americans tend to prefer very direct communications and “telling it like it is.” Gestures can be more enthusiastic than most non-African American salespeople are used to. Nonverbal communication is very important and can convey more meaning than in almost any other culture. Men may not always be comfortable talking about themselves. The African American culture has a long history of storytelling, so tell stories instead of lecturing.

  • Topics for building rapport: Anything you would normally talk about with other long-established American culture group, such as entertainment, sports, or education.

  • Negotiations: Older African Americans may not negotiate much, whereas the younger generation seems more adept at the art of haggling.

  • Actions to avoid: Calling African American females “Miss,” which can be demeaning. Don’t ask an African American woman about her husband unless she brings up the subject first because many African American households are headed by single women.

  • Tips for businesswomen: Women professionals are generally treated with a great deal of respect by African American men. Black women can be very independent and may prefer to deal with a man.

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