Rayshon Jones lives in the crosshair of American news; he is a Black business owner whose job is to go into stranger’s homes and touch everything.
He owns and operates a moving company located in the greater Chicago area named “AllStar Movers”, one of several moving companies competing for business in northern Illinois.
This, of course, during a viral pandemic that has largely shut down, reopened, and in some cases shut down once again businesses, as well as large segments of day-to-day life for all Americans.
He is also a Black man during a time in American history where race relations have made a resurgence in the public consciousness, with the Black Lives Matter movement clashing against both social and literal institutions that encompass it.
“In the moving business, it’s…complicated. You are going into their homes hoping the customer will (be) comfortable with you because of stereotypes regarding Blacks.”
Jones has run up against these issues even before recent events. He says paranoia over health concerns has only amplified the social panic. (To this point, many Black-owned moving companies refused comment for this story, citing fear of retaliation.)
“A lot of customers would not come out and say they are uncomfortable with Blacks (or Latinos, may I add), but you will see it with the actions of the customer.”
The type of racist actions Jones and his crew says he experiences vary, from small micro-aggressions, such as over-monitoring and filing petty claims, to issues such as not wanting to pay for services due to a perceived lack of professionalism, to as escalated as abusive language within online reviews (Jones’ employees have been referred to as “thugs” and “felons”) They have even had neighbors call the police during a job, simply because they perceived a threat outside.
“I’ve dealt with all of this,” says Jones.
And when it comes to mediation of issues, as a Black-owned and operated business, AllStar movers has it harder than most. “We’ve had instances (where) a customer complains and swears over the phone, accusing the movers we sent out of doing something wrong. I go out there to investigate, and it’s either nothing or a very small situation.
This overreaction, he believes, is racial. “When this happens, our mover always (happens to be) Black or Latino.”
How Jones came to understand this unique disparity came with years of observation. His white employees have rarely suffered through the same scrutiny. “I also (employed) movers who racked up 5-star reviews who were white, but (who) couldn’t move without a dolly.”
What Can Be Done?
Jones attributes any enduring success of his company not just to his positive reviews, but to the anonymity that comes with online listings.
“Having good reviews are not enough. Customers don’t know my race until I show up. Believe or not, that makes a big difference.”
This flies in the face of the critiques leveled at Black-owned and operated companies that by simply garnering enough positive reviews, they can overcome any perceived differences in their industry.
Darieal Sutton, a Black business owner of a fully-licensed moving company out of Philadelphia called “Keep It Moving”, echoes Jones’ experience.
“Although we have great reviews …we have to work twice as hard to show and prove that we are just as capable as the next company.” Sutton has similar experiences of harsher judgments leveled at Keep It Moving’s Black crew-members. “At times, it seems that we face more scrutiny when it comes to quality of work, performance and ability.”
And not only is the quality of their work called into question more frequently, but so too is its literal value.
“Pricing is always a (business concern), but especially so for minority-owned businesses,” thinks Sutton. “It feels as though some customers expect us to charge less for our services, but still expect the highest quality of work and performance.”
These reported perceptions rise up all the way from the crew members to the owner. In the mind of the general public, what it means to be a White business owner can come in all shapes and sizes. Yet, this flexibility is often not afforded to minority-owned companies.
“Being a young, Black business owner is hard. When most people hear ‘Black business owner’, they think of a clean-cut, middle age or older guy in a suit,” suggests Jones. “Stereotypes are very strong and hard to overcome.”
And yet, AllStar Movers is approaching its fifth year in business, while Keep It Moving has been in operation since 2004. They are among a smaller contingency of minority-owned moving businesses who have persevered through institutionalized racism, among many businesses who haven’t.
It’s harder to begin your business (private loans are “always denied”, reminds Jones), it’s tougher to accumulate positive reviews, and it’s harder to endure as long as your competition.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made it more apparent than ever that business risks are not simply monetary for a Black businesses, a reality Black-owners have known for years.
The hope going forward as our culture continues to tackle race issues head-on will likely come down to both education and structural policy changes from local and federal governments.
The best tool that Black-owned businesses have right now, Jones thinks, is the internet.
“I do think you will see a lot more of Black…business owners being online. The technology is really helping, and platforms like HireAHelper does make it easier…regardless of what race (you are).”
All they can do otherwise, for now, is continue working for 5-star reviews.