When I was a little boy and would visit my grandparents in Williamsburg, Va., I remember how much I enjoyed their little community. Everything was Black-owned – from the grocery store and beauty parlor to the barber shop, pool hall, record store and of course our place of worship, First Baptist Church.
In fact, the bell that was rung during the opening ceremony last year for the new African American museum on the National Mall was our church bell. Who knew!?
I loved those days and because my grandmother would save coins all year long in anticipation of summer vacation with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, putting those quarters and nickels and dimes in a jar for me and my cousins, I always had some money to spend once I arrived on Scotland Street.
No matter where I went in the neighborhood, I recall feeling like everyone had “welcome” mats outside their doors. They made me feel like my ‘Blackness’ was something beautiful, something desirable, something magical – telling me that being Black was an asset rather than a curse.
But as integration firmly took hold, many of the businesses began to close. As one summer ended, many of the doors were bolted shut, the curtains closed. The next summer – my favorite places had new looks, new doors, new curtains and . . . white owners. What’s more, business was booming for them.
Of course, my Daddy was NOT going to let a white man cut our hair or shine his shoes. And Grandma really preferred shopping with people whom she’d known for years. So, she too, was forced take her business elsewhere to another community that had not been overtaken by “white establishments” eager to accept Blacks folks’ dollars.
Then, the strangest thing happened. Blacks in the city began bragging about how much better the items at the white stores were than the Black stores. I wondered what made white products and services “better” than those owned and managed, sometimes even created by Blacks. I just could not figure it out. So, I asked my parents and they gave the answer without any hesitation: NOTHING!
Perhaps it’s this kind of asinine thinking that causes many Blacks to believe they’ve made it, that they’ve “arrived” because white America has given them the green light of approval and welcomed them into previously “white only” enclaves. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with fitting in, with mixing the “coffee and the cream.” I just cannot stomach Blacks who turn their backs on their own – as if they went into a colorization machine and have become . . . dare I say it . . . white.
Back in the day, before whites even took the time to speak to Blacks much less to acknowledge us as human beings, to provide us the opportunity to share our views, display our goods, or express our creativity, etc., it was the Black community and Black-owned businesses, the church, the press, schools, and the like who solely supported their Black brothers and sisters. And we were blessed to have those places in our communities and those men and women in our lives.
So, if they were good enough for Grandma, why aren’t they good enough now?