Dear Urban Immigrant Merchants:
First of all let me start off by saying Congratulations! According to favorable statistics, you have overcome many obstacles to make it to the free world that they call the United States of America. Indeed there is great suffering all over this globe, so there is no telling what you and your family may have had to go through to establish residency in the US of A whether permanent or temporary. And of all things, you have not only made it to the land of opportunity, you have chosen what some may call the most riskiest of occupations. You have chosen to open a business in the urban community to sell your product and services to African Americans.
I commend you on your enterprising spirit, that you have carved a profitable way to provide for you and your family. However, your stereotypical behavior toward African Americans is where the relationship gets a little tricky. I need you to understand that the money you receive from urban neighborhoods is what causes your business to thrive. And before any particular ethnic group takes offense to this letter, let it be clear that I am addressing ALL urban immigrant merchants. Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Caribbean, and even including our Latin brothers and sisters and any other possible ethnic groups I left out. If you have opened your business doors to the public and you are accepting African American dollars, there are some things that need to be put On The Table. (pun intended)
While my views may not speak for the entire African American community, I know a lot of them share my sentiment. The grievance I have with you is the way we are sometimes treated by your culture. As if your relationship with us is only transactional. Yes we are aware, African American culture is THE highest consuming culture in the world. However, it has even been rumored by a few of YOUR brothers and sisters and told directly to me that, most times your culture is debriefed before you set up shop in the neighborhood (“hood”) that African Americans are rude, obnoxious, lazy people that don’t care about anything but making babies, looking good and getting high. You are told that by no means should you trust us. That if you turn your back AA’s will rob you blind. Not to mention, media portrayal, rap videos and hood movies don’t aid to dispel this belief. Sometimes you are even correct in your assumptions & belief in the ignorance that comes from people of the ghetto. However you take that “ghetto” money to put your children through private school and college. You use that “ghetto” money to establish living quarters and purchase property for as much family that you can bring to this country. You also use that “ghetto” money to send back to support your family in your home country.
I know I know! Shame on us for not opening up our own convenience store 30 plus years ago. Shame on us for not owning and controlling our own hair supply stores. Luckily we’ve started to in-house nail-techs in beauty salons and we still for the most part control that and barbershops, but shame on us yet and still because we don’t own the building which means money is still flowing out to other cultures hands.
Yet after you’ve made a living from the community you snub your nose at….this is a true story I witnessed. 3 African American children come into the convenience store. I was in the store with my two friends. We were getting keys made because we just inked a deal to merge three businesses…I digress. Anyway, the owner (Indian decent) yells at the children. “One at a time! Only one child in my store at a time! Only one can go and get what you need, you other two have to stand by the door so that I can keep my eyes on all of you” (I swear I can’t make this shit up) The owner then turns to us three gentleman and says to us “I know they are going to steal” and proceeded to give the nod of approval like we were going to agree with this racial discrimination. I got so pissed I left my friends at the counter saying “I don’t have time for his bullshit today.”
In the past three years I’ve seen immigrant merchants call the police on people that regularly patronize your store. One case in particular is the case of Eric Garner from Staten Island NY that lost his life for allegedly selling “loosies” in front of the convenience store. But this last case right here in my hometown of Columbus Ohio took the cake for me. The brutal beating of Timothy Davis in a Columbus Ohio convenience store was appalling. Even after all the video and articles I’ve read, I’m still not educated to speak thoroughly about this case. But what I did witness was either the owner or storekeeper looking on as if Mr. Davis deserved the punishment he was receiving by Columbus Police. The storekeeper even went as far as trying to aid the police cover up their horrendous behavior by telling the bystander to turn off the phone camera. The owner continues to look on as Mr. Davis’s clothes is being stripped from his body and being beaten mercilessly. It is obvious that the owner does not care that this is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s nephew, someone’s cousin. All you see is a man that is not profitable to you so you don’t care what happens to him.
I remember in 1993 how accurate it was to see these stereotypes being played out on the big screen in Menace II Society. At the very beginning of that movie, the store owner and his wife suspiciously and overtly monitor Kane & O-Dog’s every move. The store owner and his wife are robbed and killed by O-Dog (Lorenz Tate) for his offensive remark “I feel sorry for your mother.” The movie resonated with me because I too have been followed around a corner store. I have been spoken rudely to by an immigrant merchant simply because I wanted to return an item. Needless to say, I never stepped foot in those places again.
I’m writing this letter hoping it will spark a change on both sides. You have to understand Mr. or Mrs. immigrant merchant, the government plays a large part in ”ghetto” behavior. Yes! I too have seen plenty of ignorant shit happen in your stores. Half of the shit I wouldn’t put up with as an owner. But there is a story behind the story in regards to ghetto behavior. A number of urban African Americans live in places called the “projects” which is sometimes what it is..an animalistic “project” filled with rapists, drug dealers and killers. But you have to understand GOOD people are being raised in those same projects and they are annoyed by the same element you are annoyed by. As Tupac Shakur says…”The same thing you fear…We fear..except we live next door to the killer” I also feel that some urban people are the product of poor public education and ill indoctrination. One would even have to consider surviving continual trauma can bring about the high rate of mental illness in the hood. However humanism still has to come into play at some point. You must realize you are making a living off of PEOPLE and that deserves and ounce of respect. Don’t judge people from the ghetto. They’ve been through a lot, and survival is sometimes the only thing they know how to do. I’m not saying to be a sucker. What I’m encouraging is for you to show some compassion. Show some empathy.
Because the scary part is that African Americans are waking up. We now know that if we can be President of The United States scandal free…We can do anything we want…including put you out of business and do for ourselves. No obstacle is too great that we can’t network with import and export companies and demand that companies respect the needs of our community and treat us with the respect we deserve. We know that we are America’s biggest consumers, and it’s time we got a piece of that pie (Thank you Jay-Z 4:44) . …and by the way..we’re not asking anymore, we’re just doing it (Word 2 Nike). We may not be able to control the economy as a whole, but bit by bit, we can put people in office and hold them accountable for the promises they made to the African American community. Look around you, a new black business is opening up everyday. And a lot of it is not only because of conventional lending but through creative financing as well. And if we start opening up beauty supply stores or successful carryouts right next to yours, where do you think we’re going to spend our money? A merchant that allows us to get beat by wicked police, and speaks to us rudely? Or someone that knows the plight of being black in America and treats us with love & respect? Think About It…..
A person that has had enough of the bullshit.