When looking to get ahead in marketing, business, or life, the black community faces challenges and structural issues. What should white people consider to be effective allies to black colleagues, friends, and neighbors?
Today’s guest is Muyinza Kasirye from APRT Media in Los Angeles. Muyinza immigrated from Uganda to Toronto and relocated to Boston after his mother’s death due to cancer. Muyinza grew up with little money or privileges but worked his way up. He shares his perspective on challenges that black marketers and business owners experience.
Ben: Hi, Muyinza. Welcome to the show.
Muyinza: Hey, how are you doing?
Ben: I'm doing great. How about yourself?
Muyinza: I am very good. Enjoying the day. Can't complain.
Ben: Absolutely. Would you mind taking a moment to introduce yourself to our audience and explain what you do with APRT Media, and maybe touch on some of the other creative endeavors and things that you take on as well?
Muyinza: I am a media producer and a creative director, marketing director. What we do is we help creatives and small businesses with their marketing and media presentation online. That's the main thing that we do that I do. In addition, what actually got me (partially) to APRT Media was a studio that I’m also the marketing director for, which is Neon Sound. A studio that we took over and rebuilt with a group of friends and investors. Those two are the main two endeavors currently.
Ben: I understand that you have a pretty incredible life story (it sounds). From relocating from Uganda to Canada, growing up to now, being a business owner, and a marketing director. Would you mind sharing with our audience just a little bit of your personal background and how you got to where you are today?
Muyinza: I'm born in Kenya, grew up in Uganda, and moved to Canada when I was five. My father is a pastor, and my mother was a lawyer. Due to my father's job, he was relocated from Uganda to Canada. In Canada, unfortunately, we lost my mother when I was 12. She passed away, and then the year after that we moved to Boston in the United States. And from there, it was pretty crazy—very dangerous neighborhood that we moved to. A lot of violence, a lot of gun violence around the neighborhood, and it was wild for a while. Went to college at Northeastern University, finished there, worked for about five years just working and saving up money.
I moved to Los Angeles, eventually, after saving up enough money to build a company—my first real endeavor that took off, which enabled me to move to LA. In LA, I was able to expand that business and also build Neon Sound Studio while I was here. From those two, I put together APRT Media. That was the path to grow to be able to put the skills together to be able to do this now.
Ben: For sure. Very cool. Something we're going to talk about in-depth in this conversation is the challenges that black entrepreneurs and business owners face. And also we'll get into—in your opinion or in your view—what you think their white colleagues can do to actually be better allies in the workplace. The first question I have for you on that front is what are some of the most pressing challenges that you feel black entrepreneurs, marketers, creative professionals, and business people, in general, face today?
Muyinza: There are a few things. I can tell you the most glaring thing that I have become aware of is initial and collect the money you need to start the business is the usual part that we have trouble with. A lot of us don't have anywhere to get funding other than a bank, and a lot of us just aren't in great standing, usually, quite honestly, to be able to get the loans we need. A lot of times we're denied the loans or just a lot of us don't know the banking system well enough to understand how to take advantage of some of the business loans that are available to us. I would say that's the most pressing.
The second is there is a higher barrier of proof that we have to provide. I have white colleagues of mine that do the same thing that I do, but their barrier to getting work is just simpler. There's no other way to even put it. It's simply easier for them to get work. There's already an idea that I feel as though—there's a trust, I guess, almost in just seeing a familiar face. Because the reality is I do service everybody, but I service a lot of white people in businesses because a lot of businesses are white. Either white-owned or—from an executive standpoint—are generally still primarily white.
It's hard to say that's not what it is. When I present work that a lot of times is even though of higher quality than some of my white counterparts, and yet I'm still not given those same jobs or I’m passed up and you peel everything else away. It becomes difficult to say there's anything else other than—
Ben: It becomes self-evident.
Muyinza: Yeah. I would say just the openness—really the only thing is just a fair chance. The fair chance for work, the fair chance for investment, and a fair chance for positions of real power where we can truly do things. We're put in positions a lot of times where we're subordinate to people with the power to make the true decisions. If that power could be given to us, that would change a lot of things and make a lot of things better for us, and quite honestly, the entire business system.
Ben: Absolutely. What would you say—for each of those three items that you touched on—are the negative consequences of those things that black entrepreneurs and business people experience as a result of those circumstances being the way that they are right now?
Muyinza: I would say the biggest impact is the economy isn't achieving its true potential because opportunities aren't given equally to the entire potential of everybody. I'll use a really simple example. If you think of restaurants, the reason why a city like Los Angeles is fantastic to live in is because of the variety of restaurants. You can eat at a restaurant from almost every continent in this city. That's the variety that's presented there because that is a business that is—although difficult to open—still reasonably able to open business for the average person.
That has garnered that wonderful ability for us to have that variety in our food choices. Imagine if that same variety of ideas and input existed in other places. What would come about the type of things we would have? Do you know what I mean? There's so much that we're missing out on just because I have a very specific way of looking at the world. I have a very specific way of going about things because I am black. That is just what it is, but that also makes my approach different and therefore the outcome is different.
If you give different people different opportunities, you're going to get different outcomes. We're not seeing our true outcome, and I can tell you from someone who has been able to garner some of those things—as far as investment and those things, what I've been able to make of those things, and with what I've made and passed on what those people have been able to make those things. If the vast majority of people in power also made those same decisions and did those same things, we would be looking at a much more prosperous economy because the opportunity is just the opportunity. That's it. And we would see that same variety in all of these other industries. I can guarantee it.
Ben: I think if you're a white person listening to this interview, the most valuable insight that Muyinza has to offer here is just the importance of listening. When other people in your workplace, in this industry, or in your community are trying to tell you about their own life experience and their own experience of being in business, being in marketing, and just being a person in general, it's important that you open your ears and listen.
From there, just do what you can to make yourself helpful without trying to dominate the conversation and without giving in to growing defensive. The better able you are to do these things, the better you can support those around you and others in the marketing industry that may not have had the same experiences, or the same advantages that you might have had, and that I know that I've had for sure. Now back to Muyinza.
In order to effectively challenge that status quo, and really drive positive change in the direction where it's needed based on the circumstances and the consequences that you are describing here, what do you feel needs to happen in order for black business professionals, marketers, and creative people in general, to really be able to overcome those barriers to whether it's just access to capital, openness to ideas, or whatever that the barrier may be?
Muyinza: A fair distribution of power realistically, that's really what it is because, unfortunately, the way that things are set up right now, it is set up to such a degree of unfair that the fight upward is too much for (quite honestly) us to overcome. We need seats and rooms that aren't, number one, just for diversity, but to actually have real input, to be heard, and for those things to be given just in a fair number. Just in a way that reflects what the place that we live in is, which is this diverse place.
There's a zero-sum game view to prospering. We can all do better by that being the case. The world will only get better if it is fairer. We've seen what unfair has brought out, and we're only sliding further down the landscape. Just a real equal distribution of positions, and a real openness to listening and considering ideas that are presented that aren't what have been. That's what we have to do. There's no other way around that exactly sadly.
Ben: Yeah. No real way to go around it but to push through it is what it sounds.
Muyinza: It's not only we're pushing through it. When you look at a company like Nike, you can't say there's not something eerie about the fact that Nike makes an immense amount of money off of black athletes, and yet all of the people in power at Nike are all white executives.
That doesn't make any sense. That just doesn't make any sense. I can tell you, it doesn't make any sense also because it's bad, not only because it is bad, but it's also bad because it doesn't make things better in a much deeper way than I think people realize. Because, for instance, something like that, by just having things split up like that, you're keeping a vast amount of information out of an entire community, which means that an entire community will not even know how to ascend to that place.
Even if you want things to be fair because people also need to be qualified to do the things that they do. But if you want to be able to pick from a diverse group of qualified candidates, you have to give people the opportunity, not only deliver, but also get the information to deliver on. And if we're not put in the positions, then we'll never know how. It's that—just trying a little harder. Find people that can fill the roles in diversified places like that, so that the information can spread around.
Ben: Absolutely. That's got to start somewhere. I guess for anybody who happens to be listening to this episode, why not start with yourself? Why not start with the position you're in right now? I think there are things all of us could be doing, which leads to my next question. This is a direction that these types of conversations very often tend to go in. Particularly, in this industry, creative people are doers and want to do things. It's like you present someone in a marketing capacity with a problem. Your job is to then go solve it.
People get anxious if they feel like they've identified a problem, but they personally don't know what they could do. What could I do right now to [...] be a solution? The question that I have to get down to it is, in your view, what do you feel, what do you think, or maybe what do you know that maybe your white colleagues or white folks—just in the general business community at large. What do they need to know and then do in order to actually be better allies and to do their own part in dismantling the barriers to success for their black peers?
Muyinza: To help us when you can. For instance, if you are in a position where you need a supplier for something, it might take a little more time, it might be a little more difficult to find one, but try to find one that's black. Hey, we need a plastic supplier. Okay. Is there one that's black-owned by any chance that we can find, that we can pass those finances on to? You do two things when you do that. Number one, you're helping the community, in general, but you're also putting someone that is qualified, in a better position to truly make that trickle-down, you know what I mean?
Every black executive, black business owner, or really black anything that provides a service, if you can (in a way) put them in a position to do more of what they do, that is the best thing you can do, because we're already doing something. Unfortunately, the way the world is set up for me, it's more difficult. The dismantling of the things that make it more difficult is going to take a long time because a lot of that has to do with mentality, and a lot of it has to do with laws that a lot of us that will take a long time to change.
But what you can do right now to start seeing one of the effects that need to happen is to start investing in individuals that are already moving forward. We're trying. It took me five years to accumulate the money to start the business that I wanted to start. I had to basically open another business to start the business I want to start. But if I had someone that saw—because I had the same business plan. I had the same business plan. I had all of this already.
All I needed was the funding. I know several of me that I'm helping to try to overcome the things that I had to overcome. If we could be helped and just put in a better position, if you get a job that comes across your table for, oh, this person needs a logo. This person needs this. Oh, let me see if I can find more. Let me look up black-owned businesses and see if I can have a few on tap for calls I get often (considering what I do) that I can have.
Other executives say, hey, you should give Muyinza a call. He knows [...] up. You should give him a call. Do you know what I mean? Doing that is what's going to help right now—if you can. If you're in a position or you find yourself able to even suggest, please, that's going to go a long way.
Ben: It sounds like, do what you can to the extent that you're able within what you're able to control and influence.
Muyinza: Yeah. That's it.
Ben: Very cool. That's simple enough. Those are things anybody could do. That's the last question I had for you, but before I let you go, I'd like to give you the opportunity. If there's anything else pertaining to this topic in any way that you feel is important to get out there, but weren't asked about or haven't really had the opportunity to throw out there yet in the course of this conversation, I just want to open up the floor and just provide that opportunity in case there's anything that's right there on the tip of your tongue that you would like to say on this topic.
Muyinza: I would just say to anybody that is white and not understanding, or maybe even if you do understand. Wherever you are on the spectrum of understanding what's happening as far as your black colleagues or just everything that's happening in general, the best thing that you can do is just listen. Just listen. What's happening isn't an argument. We're not lecturing anybody. We're simply just speaking exactly the way that you've been speaking, but the way it has always looked is that the way when we speak, it's made to look is offensive to you.
That's not what we're trying to do. All we're trying to do is give you an explanation, sincerely of what we've been going through, and what we've been going through quite honestly has been debaucherous (in nature). It's insane. That's all we're trying to do. We're not trying to overtake. All we want is just the real same opportunity to acquire the same things. We just want a nice life, our family, and a real opportunity to achieve those things. That's it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel offended, or you find yourself pulling back in the conversation, just try your best to work through that and just listen. Just listen. It may not make sense now, it may not make sense at the moment, but just let it sink in, and just listen. That's it. I would say that.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.