Rubric: Racism is not just a knee on a neck…. It’s bigger than that, and it’s deeper.
In the wee hours of June 12, as every morning, I clicked on PBS Newshour and listened to the news while sorting through emails and preparing for the day ahead. The excellent Paul Solman (his “Making Sen$e” rubric is always instructive) had a report on racism and business. He featured an interview with the owner of a jewelry store in Charlotte, North Carolina. The corner of my eye picked up the names Citizen and Invicta, two watch brands, so, obviously (as the editor of Wristwatch Annual), the report had my undivided attention.
Epic Times was struggling with the lock-down, aggravated by recent looting. But the report went further. It was about surviving the kind of ingrained, latent racism that tends to be ignored or simply not noticed, because it is so quotidian, because it is not nearly as visible as the violent clips starring the police or cosplaying vigilantes.
Epic Times is a chic — and I am sure striving — jewelry store owned and operated by a Mr. James Mack. The watches and men’s jewelry he sells are not über-luxury, the margins are probably modest. Watching his presentation in the clip reveals a man with a friendly disposition, articulate and knowledgeable, clearly with the needed enthusiasm for his product. What caught my “ear” before even my eye, was this outrageous statement that James Mack hears occasionally:
“You should hire someone of Caucasian or Mexican descent to stand in the front.”
James Mack is Black. And he’s not the only businessman of color to be experiencing that kind of throw-away racial attitude. I just wonder: Why? Where do we, as humans, get the idea that one skin pigmentation is less valuable, is less successful, is less appealing than another. What strange mental convolution will tell its owner “I’d like to see what’s in that shop, see if I can buy a Citizen for my nephew, but, gee, the man serving me is kinda dark-skinned…. I’ll go elsewhere.”
This is not a question of taste. It’s a question of rationality. We’ve all seen the clips (the many, many clips) of “personal” racism, the police killing or beating up Black citizens, vigilantes, even, yes, the signs held up by Tea Partiers “protesting” Obama for specious reasons (deficits? In the middle of a deep recession? Look it up, if you don’t believe me, I’m not posting such trash). Racism is not personal only, it’s systemic and must be considered as such before it can be addressed in any coherent fashion. If there’s any good to come of these past four years, it’s that this fact has come so clearly to light.
So I rest my case at this point. Those of us who are White cannot know what it’s like, even though it often stares right at us. What we can do is build up some compassion and, above all, sense. It doesn’t take much, just a little mental training and some listening. “Excellence being of these two kinds, intellectual and moral,” wrote Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics some time around 350BC (BC, already!), ” in intellectual excellence owes its birth and growth mainly to instruction, and so requires time and experience, while moral excellence is the result of habit or custom.” In other words, live, learn and apply regularly.
Here’s a gofundme page to help Mr Mack cover some very extraneous costs. I’d also encourage people these days to go help small businesses by doping your shopping there, even if their prices may be a bit higher. They are the backbone of local economies and usually don’t have the funding to bridge a large revenue abyss like the one left by the coronavirus crisis (and the lethally negligent response to it).
And in case the message hasn’t gotten through, yet, here’s a famous meme to close.