I get blacker as the days go by, the smoldering summer sun baking my skin a shade or two darker than my winter hue. I am completely free in my annual metamorphosis — “Wakanda” free — even if I realize that my freedom is a state of mind, freedom not yet having arrived for the black and brown masses in America.
“Stay black!” I can still hear a former newspaper colleague in Washington, D.C., sometimes exhorting me with a smile as I walked through the newsroom, her yellow-black home-girl fist raised high.
I don’t have a choice in being black. But staying black, especially when it comes to spending my money, is a different matter.
I buy black, seeking to circulate the black dollar in our communities to help create a flowing economic river. I spend my hard-earned money with black-owned businesses. My dentist, my orthodontist, my doctor, my family’s barbers and hairdressers, restaurateurs… We give to black churches and black organizations, do business with black caterers and other professionals.
It is, for me, a matter of our own survival. A matter of witnessing over the 18 years we have lived in the south suburbs restaurants and commercial retailers close up shop like thieves in the night. Of seeing the once vibrant Lincoln Highway corridor in Matteson morphing into a near economic desert while west of Interstate 57 a glistening oasis of stores, restaurants and other businesses stand aglow in beckoning temptation.
I would prefer to shop in my own community. And that has nothing to do with being black or white.
I do mostly follow that rule, except mainly for big-ticket items. But some goods and services simply aren’t available anymore in black communities, even middle-class black communities like mine.
White flight? Economic redlining? Someone please tell me. It certainly isn’t our lack of buying power.
What is clear is that we’ve proven to a fault that we as black folks will travel to Timbuktu to shop in white communities, even if those same businesses shut down in ours.
I am a proponent of boycotting large businesses that forsake us. But when I ask black folks why they won’t stop shopping in places like Orland Park, they respond, “Well, they have what I’m looking for, I can’t find it over here. So what am I supposed to do?”
Huh? They leave me scratching my head and convinced that the Montgomery Bus Boycott would not work today because some of us would declare: “I need that bus… What am I ‘posed to do? Walk to work?”
I’m not mad at Korean- or Arab-owned businesses in our communities, though they do employ mostly their own. It is mostly the disdain and disrespect I sometimes perceive, the siphoning of our economic stream that ultimately builds their homes and communities at our expense. And I have also looked into the eyes of too many non-black folks doing business in our community. And in the words of Michael Jackson, I plainly see, “They don’t really care about us…”
I’ve witnessed some of them speak in their native tongue, then smile or snicker. (An inside joke, I guess.)
In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, “We gets no respect.”
Although I patronize black businesses, I also realize there are many needed goods and services that they may not provide. And our shopping doesn’t have to be racially exclusive. But what is the responsibility of local businesses to our community?
And how do “we” hold all of them — every single one — accountable?
Maybe by first choosing to think “Wakanda” free. To stay black. And to embrace the power of our collective green.
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