A public-private partnership focused on businesses by race is inherently destructive.

Attitudes may be changing rapidly on this (or at least the mainstream narrative may be), but the partnership between the administration of Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Foundation focusing on minority-owned businesses is destructive to our state.  From an RI Foundation press release by Chris Barnett (emphasis added):

“Supporting and growing our small business sector in Rhode Island has been one of the top priorities of our Administration, but we need to ensure that growth and success are attainable for all Rhode Island business owners, especially those from underserved communities that may not have equal access to business opportunities,” said Governor Dan McKee. “I am proud to be part of this initiative to ensure that minority-owned businesses can flourish here in Rhode Island, and thank the Rhode Island Foundation and Secretary Pryor for their leadership in spearheading this study.”

“We are committed to supporting this expanding and important minority-owned business segment of the state’s business sector that was especially hard hit by the pandemic. This effort builds upon our long-time commitment to small business growth and jobs and to equity and inclusion as a key to the economic success of all Rhode Islanders,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

The problem with the thinking is implicit in the language.  If you’re going to “ensure that growth and success are attainable for all Rhode Island business owners,” that means “equal access.”  The “especially” creates tiers of access, such that it is more important to make “growth and success” attainable for a prioritized group than for others.

Many qualities might justify tiers — rate of pay, uniqueness of industry, reinforcement of other active industries, and so on — but judging by race is, well, racist.  What is it that makes the “minority-owned business segment” especially “important,” other than the color of the owners’ skin?  For that matter, what makes it a segment?  From the point of view of a government that must maintain equal treatment for all citizens, does it really add anything to call one Black person’s corner deli part of the same segment as another Black person’s software engineering firm?

If private organizations want to create databases of businesses and work to increase resources going to them based on the races of their owners, then that is their right. (Although one wonders whether all the hoopla about Bailey’s Beach Club was unfair, in those terms.) However, that absolutely should not be the role of government, for many reasons.  Apart from the obvious equal treatment problem, the question must be asked:  If your premise is that American society is infected with systemic racism, why would you want the government making lists of businesses by race?

This whole way of looking at society is destructive, and codifying the principles in government policy ensures the destruction will last long after the perceived advantage evaporates.

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