Knuckleheads are here, too

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

November 01, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Last week, a 57-year-old black man died of a heart attack after employees of a Korean grocer, thinking the man was in a drunken stupor, carried him out of the store and deposited him on the sidewalk.

And right away, a bunch of knuckleheads started screaming, "racism".

"They dragged him out like a piece of meat," said one guy, who later admitted that he didn't actually witness the incident and that he lives on the other side of town.

"They didn't have to treat him like that," said a woman who heard about the incident on television. "It just shows how they really feel about us."

I don't know what really happened at the B&M Market in the 3100 block of West North Avenue last week.

At first, witnesses claimed the man was left to lie on the sidewalk for 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived.

Later we heard that employees, who were black, took the man outside for fresh air and called for help immediately.

But the facts, of course, never get in the way of a good, old-fashioned rage.

So over the weekend and for most of this week, we heard the same old racist, anti-Korean nonsense that we have heard in New York City, Washington and Chicago.

People complained that Koreans are always rude to and suspicious of their black customers; that they own and operate stores that rightfully should belong to blacks; that they take money out of the black community while giving nothing in return.

For a while, the knuckleheads mounted a boycott. Signs were made up. Leaflets distributed. Epithets shouted for the benefit of the television news cameras.

Then, more responsible heads prevailed. The local community association held an open meeting Tuesday. People got to air their feelings, and hear both sides. Finally, an ancient wisdom emerged: If you really don't like the service, shop somewhere else.

Last night, a lone man in a heavy winter coat and a cap with dangling ear flaps stood at the intersection of Franklin Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard -- far away from the scene of the incident -- holding a piece of cardboard with the words, "Boycott Korean Grocers" scrawled in crayon.

But at the B&M Market yesterday it appeared to be business as usual.

"I don't always like how I'm treated there," said Ann Taylor, a customer. "But like the man [at the civic association meeting] said last night, what real good would a boycott do?"

So, we can congratulate ourselves that Baltimore's knuckleheads aren't nearly as knuckleheaded as the knuckleheads in Washington and New York, who maintained noisy boycotts for weeks on end.

But let's not let the knuckleheads off too easily -- because these protests reflect the same racist fear that some whites have about blacks: that outsiders have come to steal something away from them.

For whites, it is the fear that affirmative action programs that allow blacks to get jobs in formerly segregated work places will take jobs away from whites. For blacks, it is the fear that Koreans are taking over stores that blacks would otherwise be owning.

Both fears are racist and wrong. They reflect the universal need to have a scapegoat -- one of the least attractive of humanity's traits.

The truth is, there is enough opportunity in Baltimore for anyone willing to put in the time, the energy, and the sacrifice. And the other truth is, thousands of blacks have already done so.

There were over 15,600 black-owned businesses in Maryland when the 1980 Census was taken. Most of them were "mom and pop" operations and most of them were in the city.

Baltimore, in fact, may be the only city with two black-owned grocery chains-- and the owners of those chains built their stores up despite competition from Koreans or anyone else.

Two doors up from the Korean-owned B&M Market is a neat little variety store, "Stay in Touch", owned and operated by Jimi Bey, a black man.

Bey said he started out 25 to 30 years ago selling handmade jewelry on the street. Then he sold it from his home, and finally, five years ago, he bought his own store.

"How did you get started?" I asked.

"It ain't easy man," said Bey. "You do it from hand to mouth, from bill to bill, just like I'm doing now."

"Look around you," he continued. "I built this all practically by hand. That's what you've got to do. I mean it's scary. But the thing is, it can be done."

And that, my friends, is really all it takes.

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