By Olumide Shokunbi
When a Black entrepreneur takes a risk, bets on their drive and their passion and stakes their future on starting a business, the stakes are higher than most people can understand. A successful Black- owned business is a building block in the empowerment of Black people everywhere. When those endeavors are successful, they lift up the entire community by fostering growth, opportunity and support. But when they struggle or fail, doors close, amounting to fewer jobs for workers, fewer opportunities for suppliers and vendors, and a loss of community for customers.
Black business owners should have every tool available to help their businesses succeed. Today, one of the most vital tools at our disposal is TikTok, a platform threatened by decision-makers in Congress who do not understand it. I own and operate Spice Kitchen in Brentwood, Md, a restaurant that connects people and shares the culture of my native West Africa with our community. TikTok has allowed me to engage with new customers, display our culinary oﬀerings and become a food destination for people across greater Washington, D.C.
As a member of this community, I appreciate that TikTok allows me to connect with other users and share ideas and content that show oﬀ my cuisine. As a business owner, the app has been a diﬀerence-maker that has allowed us to thrive. Thanks to the connections we are able to make through social media, Spice Kitchen is on track to add more than a million dollars in sales this year, doubling our revenue from last year.
My business has beneﬁted greatly from TikTok as a marketing tool, but that part of our story is not unique. Anyone who follows food and restaurant interests on TikTok has heard multiple stories about establishments across the country that have been boosted or even saved by the inﬂux of new customers sent through their doors by popular accounts and inﬂuencers. Nearly ﬁve million businesses are on the platform, leveraging its unique, curated algorithm that allows us to reach people who are most inclined to be interested in our products. For Black- and minority-owned businesses that face greater challenges than most when starting and growing a business, that reach is invaluable. It allows us to advertise and communicate meaningfully in the same arena as large corporations whose massive marketing budgets dominate other platforms.
Lawmakers who are pushing for a ban on TikTok should consider which communities would be harmed the most by such an excessive and unnecessary measure. Almost a third of Black adults in the United States are on TikTok, using it to foster a sense of community, activate and organize politically, and share their culture and ideas with people who might not have the same background or experiences.
Banning TikTok would silence Black voices, prevent opportunities for cultural awareness, and harm businesses that are central to thriving Black communities across the country. It would also apply one set of rules to a platform that empowers Black users and creators while allowing other platforms to play by a different, more lenient set of rules. Allowing Congress to create new rules that effectively silence Black users sets a dangerous precedent for free speech in America.
Congress must reconsider its attempts to penalize and ban TikTok, an app that has allowed me and countless other Black entrepreneurs to see our hard work pay oﬀ. When I started Spice Kitchen, my dream was to connect people through common experiences and introduce my culture to people who were unfamiliar with it. A ban on TikTok will inhibit countless opportunities at a time when we should be talking about how to open doors, not close them, for Black business owners.
Mr. Olumide Shokunbi is a first-generation Nigerian American and founder and owner of Spice Kitchen located in Brentwood, Md.
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