On Sept. 10, 2016, here in my weekly Philadelphia Tribune column, I began a periodic series titled “Philly’s Jim Crow,” which focuses on racist employment practices primarily in Philly but also references such discrimination throughout the country. This is part nine in that ongoing and relentless series. Let’s begin, shall we?
Many non-Black businesses in Philadelphia and across America racially discriminate against Black consumers primarily by not hiring us. But I don’t blame those white, Asian, and/or Arab businesses as much as I blame Black people who voluntarily make racist businesses richer and richer each day.
Why do we do that? Well, experts like Joy DeGruy, who holds a master’s degree in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Social Work Research, wrote in her seminal book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” that centuries of slavery followed by systemic racism have resulted in multigenerational maladaptive behaviors that began as survival strategies. It’s like Malcolm X’s point about how, during slavery, Blacks were so afraid of whites that when their so-called owners weren’t feeling well, Black servants would say, “What’s the matter, boss, ‘we’ sick?” Think about that for a second. Those particular enslaved Black people genuinely believed they had to appear so deferential to their white so-called owners that they could literally feel “massa’s” (i.e., the “bosses’”) pain.
And those centuries of survival mode deference in the past became so ingrained in Black folks’ consciousness in the present that many- if not most- of us have actually become enamored with whiteness and all other kinds of non-Blackness. If that’s not maladaptive behavior, nothing is.
You want proof? Ask yourself what would the average Black person do if a local pharmaceutical chain, like CVS for example, was Black-owned but hired only or mostly white people who worked in top management positions. Black folks would go ballistic.
Ask yourself what would the average Black person do if a neighborhood Chinese food store was Black-owned but hired only or mostly Asian people who consistently cursed and yelled at Black customers through bulletproof glass. Black folks would go ballistic.
Ask yourself what would the average Black person do if a hood corner store was Black-owned but hired only Arabs who sold beer, blunts, and vials to Black adults and realistic-looking toy guns to Black children. Black folks would go ballistic.
So why then do we not only tolerate it from non-Black-owned businesses but increasingly finance it when those businesses do it to us? It’s because of what Dr. DeGruy and Brother Malcolm told us. We’re maladaptive. We’re sick. But there’s a remedy available.
The cure, first, is knowledge of self. We need to read books like “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson, “The Philadelphia Negro” by W.E.B. DuBois, and “The Destruction of Black Civilization” by Chancellor Williams as well as Dr. DeGruy’s aforementioned book along with “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley.
Those books and many similar books will get us up off the floor. But that’s not enough. In addition to standing, we need to be able to move.
I am the self-described “Angriest Black Man in America.” I’m always agitating, protesting, and demonstrating in the battle for political and cultural Black consciousness. But, in America (and all other capitalist societies), Black consciousness- meaning Black power- is utterly useless without green power. In other words, Black power, by itself, is like a Lamborghini without any gas. It can’t move without the fuel of green power, i.e., money.
So how do we, Black folks, move forward? Well, here’s the second part of the two-step cure. After we’ve built that fancy car by having gotten our minds right, we gotta get our business right. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make that happen. We simply have to reach back and take a page out of the metaphorical book written by our ancestors and elders. It’s called the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” movement.
During the 1930s, Black folks in numerous cities throughout the nation responded to white merchants’ disrespect in Black neighborhoods by organizing the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign and boycotting. For example, there was the New Negro Alliance, founded in D.C. in 1933, that successfully used boycotts to protest white employers in the city who refused to hire college-educated Blacks in professional positions. Those boycotts were part of their “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” and “Jobs For Negroes” strategy.
They told those white business owners that Black people were no longer going to allow themselves to be the instruments of their own economic destruction. In other words, they said they were going to stop financing their own oppression and stop making racism profitable. Their strategy and similar strategies throughout the country were so effective that not only were they credited with creating thousands of new jobs for Black professionals, laborers, and customers but Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists began copying it beginning in the 1960s.
In the famous words of Public Enemy’s frontman Chuck D on the classic 1991 Hip Hop song “Shut ‘Em Down,” he says:
I like Nike, but wait a minute
The neighborhood supports, so put some money in it
Corporations owe- they gotta give up the dough
To my town
Or else, we gotta shut ‘em down
All we as Black people want is equitable (not merely equal) access and opportunity. Treat us right in the neighborhood and downtown businesses and we’ll treat you right by continuing to line your pockets, which also means lining our own pockets as partners/employees.
In later columns, I’ll discuss the need to “do for self” by creating more Black-owned and operated businesses.
But today’s column is about getting white businesses to “do the right thing.”
And the next installment in my periodic “Philly’s Jim Crow” columns will start naming names with factually documented proof. Non-Black business friends will be commended and non-Black business foes will be condemned. Stay tuned.
P.S. Dear Foes: Black folks constitute the largest demographic in Philly at over 42% of the population. So be afraid. Be very afraid!