How to Support Thamizh Communities Through Purchasing Choices
What does the average entrepreneur look like to you?
Your impression of what an entrepreneur may be, might be of someone who sees opportunities to bring something novel and different to society, a product or even an ideology. They’re perhaps young and fearless, a risk taker, who’s willing to press forward with their passion project, against unlikely odds of success and enter into their endeavours with full knowledge of possible failure. They however believe that their plan will not fail, that it will be a success, and that ultimately it will be well appreciated by others.
Let me now illustrate for you what the average entrepreneur actually looks like:
He is white
And yes, he is a he
He has a degree from an elite university
And he’s from a wealthy family
With these characteristics and background, he would not only have inherited money to start his business, but would have also most likely been approved for business loans for his new venture.
Those statements aren’t based on my personal bias as much as they are actually well known. The article from Entrepreneur.com published on May 10, 2018 explains, “Statistically, What Does the Average Entrepreneur Look Like?”. Turns out the average entrepreneur is a 'he' and white, well-educated, the last-born sibling -- and not as young as you'd think.” It’s an interesting and well researched article which is worth a read regarding unfair systemic advantages that exist for entrepreneurs.
So, these systemic advantages have existed for “him” for quite some time and do not seem to be soon changing toward an environment of equality for others who are unlike him in the near future.
Big companies have their particular advantages of oppressing small businesses. Monopolizing markets and undercutting competitor prices through high volume purchasing and having the advantage of repeat business, which generates higher sales and larger profits than small businesses. Eventually as most people have seen in our lifetime, the mom and pop local shops end up shuttered, and we are left as a community with only one or two superstores to choose from. Even now, these superstores are suffering their own struggles against the competition of the internet marketplace.
However, dismantling such unfair oppression can occur if we as consumers begin to change our purchasing choices. First individually and then collectively. It may not seem that a single person can affect such changes, yet, it should be appreciated that there’s an absolute power that exists in everyone’s individual purchasing choice. Such changes first begin with a few individual’s conscientious purchasing choices but may gain momentum through the collective choices from a community of conscientious purchasing choosers. A good first step to take towards tipping the scales of business inequality and getting back into a healthier balance within their local communities is through the recognition of their own true individual purchasing power.
Here’s my experience that led me to recognize that I needed to change my own purchasing choices for myself and the community.
I clearly remember Dec. 23rd 2012. I worked as a marketing strategist at a photo and gadget production company. When I started the job, it was very important that I knew every step of our production process, and equally important that I learned about our employees’ personal stories. I wouldn’t hesitate to assist the production line if we were running behind on daily orders.
Christmas season was the peak of our production and I found myself on the production floor with the rest of the staff to meet our deadlines. In the days up until Dec. 23rd, our workload had been so heavy that I’d worked almost 60 hours without sleep. I went home just to take a shower and change my clothes, then returned straight away to work again.
Looking back on that time now, I’m not very proud of my chosen path during those times, especially in regards to protecting my own mental and physical well-being. Nor was I aware of the fact that my work ethic could be best understood as a product of, what I like to call “immigrant child syndrome,” which simply is a belief that my own worth was measured by my work engagement and not so much as my worth as a person. This was driven by my need to please others and prove this worth to them. From an early age, I worked alongside my father who continues to work 363 days a year, and I had already entered into adulthood in many ways much sooner than when I “actually” became a grown up, or “legal adult.” Anyhow, back to December 23rd. The whole month was so crazy that I didn't have time to buy christmas presents for my family. I went down the shopping street and spent my entire salary buying thoughtful, but impersonal gifts. Most of the gifts were from big brands and mainstream products. Looking back, these choices aren't something that I am proud of, but rather a product of me trying to fill an expectation to give gifts of appreciation and love to those I care for most.
I could have supported small businesses and made an effect to positive change in someone's life, rather than contribute to add another zero to another big company’s bank balance.
I bought these amazing art pieces from Sindhu. A Thamizh artist based in Canada. Check her Instagram on @murukku or her website https://murukku.bigcartel.com/
Today, I do it differently. Not only when it comes to gifts, but also when in my weekly grocery shopping. I actively search for minority owned local and online businesses to support their growth and well-being. Supporting minority owned businesses was just the start though. Today, I look for
Thamizh businesses as well, and here is why:
I think about what my hard earned money contributes to and where it is most needed. Does it uphold systems of oppression and negatively affect minorities? Or does it strengthen the minority communities.
If I financially support a Thamizh business, then I also support a whole community, and then that community will grow.
In doing this, I support diversity, and diversity leads to resilience.
Now in 2020, the Thamizh identity is at risk. Sinhala oppression up to mainstream media quoting us as “Srilankan Thamizhs” or sometimes just as Srilankans, thus erasing our Thamizh identity. Supporting Thamizh businesses is a very strong form of defiance.
Let me elaborate on that. Earlier this year I was out with some friends in London. The activist mind that we all have in that particular group of friends, obviously led to talks about identity. We discussed the combining population of Indian Thamizhs and Eezha thamizh refugee families in London, to clarify for outsiders, might have contributed to both terms: ‘Sri Lankan Thamizh’ and ‘Indian Thamizh’. Being Thamizh in Denmark, we didn’t have to clarify or explain our origin, because the Indian Thamizh community was even smaller than the Eezha Thamizh. So my story was always “I am Thamizh and my family fled from the atrocities done by the Srilankan government”.
I am very proud of the strong Thamizh identity Maitreyi Ramakrishnan showed, when she was interviewed by Nowtoronto. Not identifying as Sri Lankan, but as Thamizh-Canadian. Earlier this year a young Thamizh travelblogger Mathusa Selvaratnam who is behind @undercovermathu was interviewed by AD Talent, where the reporter instantly identified her as a Sri Lankan-Thamizh and Selvaratnam used the opportunity to not only correct the reporter but also educate the reporter on the Thamizh genocide and why she doesn’t identify herself as a Sri Lankan Thamizh. Fast forward a few months, I stumbled upon an Instagram post by a Thamizh in Denmark who identified herself as Thamizh Sri Lankan. Not only was I shocked, but sad too. In tiny little Denmark where we don’t have the incentive to use “Sri Lankan”, mainstream media and discourse in society has found its way into a bright Thamizh girl’s mind and changed how she identifies herself.
So, getting to the point: I identify myself as Eezha Thamizh.
Recently I set out on my own entrepreneur adventure. This adventure made me reflect on the structure of businesses in the world, which led me to write this blog.
Now let’s get back on track.
By supporting Thamizh businesses you support the Thamizh society entirely. By adding and circulating the money within the Thamizh community we can strengthen ourselves and even begin to support Thamizh businesses in the homeland.
Diversity and resilience does not only strengthen us as a community against threats from outsiders. It also strengthens the voices of marginalized members of our own community. By narrowing the wealth gap and becoming equal members of our own society, we can fight casteism and shadeism as well.
Being part of the Thamizh community in Denmark feels a bit different, than how my Thamizh friends in other countries describe their communities. To begin with; we are a fairly small bunch, compared to the other Tamizh hubs around the world. Geographically, we don’t live in huge hubs, but are more widespread. I believe in time, that social media will change this for us. I have connected with many Thamizhs around the world since joining the Instagram community, and I’ve developed many relationships through this tool.
I am currently curating a blog with a list of where I would buy my Christmas presents this year. The list is based on my renewed perspective of how my purchasing choices affect the well-being of the communities I care for. I would love it if you would help me with curating the list by commenting on my Instagram post or blog with your own business or other Thamizh businesses you may know of, so we can connect with one another and support each other. Maybe we can inspire others to support Thamizh-owned businesses or even those of their own culture as well.
I believe every single purchase helps!