Social issues

Bullying people’s Blackness is racist! Not the other way around.

Vice Magazine’s David Schilling has labelled the Black Community of Portland “Racist” for not allowing a Trader Joe’s into the neighbourhood.

trader joe's banned from town by black residents

Trader Joe is a white people’s store.

You didn’t know that? That’s too bad.

It is a white people’s store and according to Vice’s David Schilling, Black Americans are being racist by refusing to have one in their neighbourhood. Call on the civil rights movement!

Alright, fine. Since apparently being an Angry Black Woman is not very advisable, let me be more politically correct: Discrimination, racism, sexism and other isms, are words. But they are also more than words, they are perspectives. Two types of people usually use these words: the ones who use them to attempt an explanation for things and feelings too hard to put into words, and the ones who use them to cry false outrage.

David Schilling here would be part of the latter group. He writes that in Portland (Oregon), Black people are refusing to let Trader Joe open a store in their neighbourhood as a way to keep white people away. No it is not a joke! Even though in his story, not a single ‘white’ soul complained to him (or to anyone else) that they were dying to move there and they were just waiting for a Trader Joe’s to open. I mean, don’t we all know by now how much White Americans have been historically at a disadvantage?

vice magazine this week in racism
The intro to Schilling’s column.
Should we be ranking his RACIST stories by how RACIST they are?

Schilling’s story is wrong on so many levels that dissecting it would bring back my migraines. But let me say a couple things: First of all, the real story is more complex than what he writes. The Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) explains, according to this news story, that what they needed from the promoters of the Trader Joe’s store in their community was to limit gentrification. Schilling mentions – but willfully ignores – that the PAALF specifically requested that the city’s Development Commission require that whoever bought the land in question make provisions for affordable housing that the local residents would plan themselves.

What Schilling is instead doing is telling an entire community to shut the fuck up and accept what they are being offered by a for-profit money-making machine. And if they say no, they will be called racists.

So let’s call racist the local “ very real black people of Portland,” who are worried that the poor and weak among them will be literally pushed away if the community doesn’t stand up and ask to be included in the decision making process concerning their lives.

Also, I don’t know how offended I should feel when someone writes that this Trader Joe’s is “a clean, affordable, pleasant, convenient chain grocery store” that will offer the Black community “a clean place where they can buy cheap, healthy food.” I mean, Black people need cheap, healthy food, right? And most importantly, clean? Right? Shillings, who thinks the local Black association is “fucking their own people” by refusing to take the deal, is mostly offended because they just dared asking for what they deserve! I mean, who do they think they are to take on big corp?

01cd7af37cThe President’s official statement on the matter.

One of these days someone will have to tell us why it is that anytime a minority asks to be treated like human beings, with needs, wants and choices, they are told to shut their mouth and be happy they are even allowed to be alive.

A year or so after I arrived in Canada, I had an informal meeting with a news editor to discuss potential future employment. The meeting went well, and after a newsroom tour, the editor told me that they are always looking for people from minority groups: “As you can see, we need to add a bit of colour to the newsroom,” he said. It was not a joke, but I smiled nervously. I knew he had said something awful and hurtful, but I just couldn’t explain it. I called one of my friends (now non-friend), I told her that my potential future employer had said what I believed to be racist. She told me that I overthink things, it didn’t matter what he says if he gives me the job. Be pragmatic, she said. But I felt humiliated, disappointed, like I had been told to shut up. I wanted to be hired because I am a good journalist, because I know my shit. Not because I “add colour” to the newsroom. Those words robbed me a very small part of my soul.

Schilling, and my now non-friend, should know that thoughts and actions of people like them are meant to keep us Black folks scared, humiliated and silenced. But, too bad for them. It is time we say no; it is time to ask for more, even if it means getting nothing at all in the end. At least we won’t be selling our souls.

What do you think of this issue? Has your community faced a similar problem? Is the wine at Trader Joe’s really that cheap? Let us know in the comments.

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