In African-American neighborhoods, I see a vast sea of neon-lit liquor stores often owned and operated by people who are not black — people who sell us the booze and tobacco we consume to our own cruel demise.
I see so-called beauty supply stores filled with lucrative Indian Remy hair weave mountains that contribute to our vain attempt to try to morph ourselves into a Eurocentric standard of beauty. All the while, shop clerks watch us like rude prison guards on the yard, from the time we enter the doors until we exit, as if we might steal something.
Some speak to each other in their native tongue in our presence, smirk or snicker. And you get the sense they are talking about you.
Inside nail shops, technicians wear masks while cleaning, filing and polishing the nails of patrons who inhale the fumes that rush forth like a consuming whirlwind upon entering its doors.
Across the ghetto and also the black suburban landscape, I see gas stations and convenience stores where bulletproof glass partitions separate “them” from “us” and where we slip our cash into an impersonal metal tray. I see restaurants where foreign immigrants sell us greasy fried chicken and fish, or pizza.
I see the rise of non-African-American beauty salons that “specialize” in black women’s hair. Cellphone and urban hip-hop clothing stores run by people outside our community but who see our consumerism as a gold mine.
It is clear in my mind that they don’t really care about us. They do not live in our neighborhoods. Nor attend our houses of worship.
And yet, they covet our green dollars — with an estimated buying power of at least $1 trillion among the collective of black America, according to a 2013 Nielsen report.
Indeed by anecdotal inventory, most people usually employed at these establishments run by people of other ethnicities are members of their own ethnic group. And that’s OK — on the surface, I guess.
Maybe it’s the American way. Capitalism 101. Except in my eyes it is further evidence of the drain stream by which black economic virtue flows one way: out of our community.
I can hear it now: “John Fountain is a racist.”
Yeah, whatever. … How? Because I write what I see? Because my heart aches over the perpetual plunder of my people and the erosion of our neighborhoods while economic carpetbaggers fill their coffers and go back home?
What should I feel, say, when I sense, taste, the disdain that people of other ethnic groups have for black folks while at the same time making their living on the backs of black folks?
Not to mention selling us poisons (which admittedly we buy), or treating us with the indignity and inhumaneness of steel bars, bulletproof glass, loathing stares, condescension and impersonal treatment that sometimes feels like it’s bordering on hate.
Not every merchant of non-African American descent is like this, for sure. But it is not negligible.
And I wonder whether in other communities — whether Arab or Hispanic, Italian, Jewish or Korean — black entrepreneurs would be allowed to even set up a cart, let alone a shop. I wonder whether they would tolerate us treating them impersonally, glaring and staring whenever they walked in.
I also wonder whether we would be allowed to set up liquor and tobacco stores or require the exchange of currency and goods through glass partitions and metal trays. Whether it would be OK for us to refer to middle-age male customers as “bud,” “boss” and “dude” instead of “sir.”
What I wonder most is why we won’t demand more for ourselves.