Walking through my neighborhood is like obtaining a crash course in economic diversity. I remember old Mr. Coleman’s grocery store where I raced to buy my candy when I was a girl. But now, a string of Arabic or Persian writing now replaces Mr. Coleman’s sign and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the neighborhood who knows what it means. Nevertheless, kids from the neighborhood still visit the store daily – accustomed to doing business with the new owners – never wondering or questioning why the money makers in their community are not like them.
Keep walking and you’ll find a nail shop that’s owned by Asians. Three Korean or maybe they’re Vietnamese, women doing nails and feet. Lines of African-American women patiently wait their turn. Then, a few blocks down are several HUGE hair/wig shops that are crowded with African- American women who visit and spend BIG dollars! Business is always booming. If you keep walking, you reach the liquor store with its business sign containing another language unknown to me (perhaps Iranian or Persian). I’ve visited the store on numerous occasions and as you walk into the store, the first thing to hit you is the smell. Even now, I can’t put my finger on what it is. Maybe it is exotic incense, maybe someone cooking in the back? You can’t help but notice all the liquor is caged off behind a huge thick bulletproof glass, as was all the candy. That seemed very strange to me . . . how can the kids pick candy if they can’t see what’s available. And, how was I to choose an alcoholic beverage without seeing what’s available? I guess you have to know what you want? I decided to ask – after all, it was a simple question. I could hear several conversations spoken in the store’s employee’s native tongue and at that moment I was the minority. Behind the counter were huge posters from their native land including, movies, calendars and one of an exotically painted woman who must have been a musical star in their native country. They have proudly brought their culture with them as our community’ culture appears to be diminishing. I asked one of the more friendly of the four foreigners who patrolled the store why everything was locked up behind the counter and my question was finally answered. He replied, “Your people steal from us.” “The first thing that struck me was the word “your people”. The last time I heard that term was on July 11, 1992. While attending a NAACP meeting, Ross Perot, in describing the criminality of certain populations, referred to them to the members as “your people”, causing a negative reaction – and his bid for president.
Again, like the nail shop, business, it was booming! There were kids everywhere, brothers and sisters old and young. I wondered if they realized or if they ever felt slighted that even though they were spending their money in this store, each was viewed as a potential thief. As I hurried out, I thought to myself, what happened to Mr. Coleman? I was sorry that none of his children had taken over the family business – another legacy lost. It had also crossed my mind that whoever owns those stores mentioned above is really making great money in this community and from the community. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the stores owners were giving back to the community and if it were Black owned would I be thinking the same thoughts.
As I scanned the streets, I saw a few other businesses I had never noticed before and I couldn’t help but wonder – WHERE ARE THE BLACK OWNED BUSINESSES? WHO ARE THESE STORE OWNERS, WHEN DID THEY GET HERE, AND WHY ARE THEY HERE?
The largest convenience/gas stations in my neighborhood are all foreign. In fact, a non-American owns every convenience store/gas station in a 20- mile radius of my neighborhood. Additionally, there are few to no community members working there. Yet, I spend my money there several times monthly most of the time without a thought of how my neighborhood has changed so dramatically and perhaps not in positive ways when you consider empowering the black community.
African-American women have supported Korean and other foreigner’s shops (especially hair and nail shops) for many years. We as African- American women have poured millions of dollars into their businesses – right in our own back yards, enabling their businesses to expand throughout the community. Many friends have commented to me of the same experience, and I have witnessed the same kind of customer service in these stores too. I have always spent a hefty price in these hair stores and have been followed throughout the stores as if I planned to stuff wigs in my purse just as soon as their backs were turned. Honestly, I have never felt appreciated for spending my hard earned money in some wig shops.
So why do I do it? Why do I continue to spend my hard earned money in shops where I am seen a potential thief? In shops were, if I am totally honest, I wish were Black owned so that I could support the true “face” of the community at large. My neighborhood is 100% African American and I have yet to see a Black owned business or shop. Maybe it’s because I, along with other African Americans, do not support Black owned businesses. Maybe we don’t know where the Black businesses are? Maybe it is just convenience.
What happened to the entrepreneurial spirit of the African-American? Why don’t we start our own businesses in our own neighborhoods? After all, there are all kinds of grants, small business loans, guidance, mentorships, and government money and programs for minorities who want to start a business. Why aren’t we taking advantage of them? Surely not all the foreign business owners who come to Milwaukee happen to come here with enough money to start their own businesses. They got help somewhere – why haven’t we? Why are there so many foreign business owners in inner-city neighborhoods – and not in the suburbia areas?
On Saturday, my shopping day, I recalled my purchases and they went like this: I bought my takeout from a Chinese shop, purchased my wig from Asians, gas from Iranians, liquor from Arabians, nails from the Korean shop and not a penny I spent today (a total of $272.00) went to benefit my neighborhood, nor the African American community. And, I saw no African-Americans employed at any of the shops.
If we, as African-American people, don’t take time or make the effort to develop and own businesses in our own communities and obtain ownership in them, the trend of foreigner economic dominance will move so quickly and so powerfully that you may not have a community at all. Your community may become all Arab or Korean – which in and of itself is not a bad thing, – except what will happen to our communities? Why can’t we try to sustain our communities? And where will you go? This is where it starts. This is where it has always stared. These business owners do not live in your community – yet. They do business in the inner city and the go home to the suburbs. But maybe not for long.
GIVING BACK TO THE BLACK COMMUNITY – FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Do you think foreign businesses that plant themselves in the heart of our communities are giving back to the African American community? Do you think it is important that they do? Should they give back to the community? And if they should, how should they? How about donating towards the education of a child in the community they benefit from, or show monetary support for Afrofest or the celebration of Juneteenth day?
Many African-Americans feel these businesses should invest in the community where they make their living, but is trying to motivate or encourage these foreign businesses to give back the answer, or is it fair?
Center Page News wants to hear from you? What’s your opinion?