In My ‘Hood: The Beauty Supply Store

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I chopped all my hair off last week. Love the new cut. But it takes upkeep. I don’t have a perm. I get it blown out. Which means if someone spits in my direction, I have an Afro. And it also means that in between appointments, I can’t rock a ponytail. I’ll have to curl it. With a curling iron. Ugh.

So off I go to a place I haven’t been in many years: the beauty supply store.

Do these places actually have real names? Or are they just called beauty supply store.

No one ever refers to them by name. Perhaps because they’re so plentiful and they all carry the exact same stuff.

Here’s what I see…

DSC09400

I got a headache just looking at the overstuffed store. I’m feeling like I could dress myself for a week on just stuff in this store. It also brought back not-good memories. When I was much younger, going to the beauty supply store was drama. The shopkeepers sat high up, damn near the ceiling somehow. And they would shout down to you if you had a question.

There was this one joint, right behind East Orange High School, on the corner. The woman would use a stick of some sort and just point in the general direction of what you were asking about.

I wanted to climb up to her lofty perch and slap her silly.

I’m a customer. You should have your ass down here helping me.

It never happened. And I had similar experiences in other spots over the years.

When I stopped perming my hair and grew locks, I only stopped in occasionally for stuff to twist my locks.

Once I started getting my hair done professionally on a regular basis, I stopped going up in those spots.

But alas, it’s a recession. I’m gonna have to try to bump my ends in between visits to the lovely Lynn at Shades Hair Studio in Livingston, New Jersey. (not-so-shameless plug. She’s dope. Whether your hair is natural or straight, permed or weaved…)

Anyway.

About this curling iron…

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I got totally distracted by these. God, I want a pair of these. I know, I know. The whole faux-retro thing is past corny at this point. But I still want a pair! Me and my girl Maya bought matching joints like this, (mine with an A in the middle, hers with an M), on Bloomfield Avenue in 1988. They were five dollars. And they turned our ears green within a week.

As would these joints above. Sigh.

DSC09404

I stared at this wall for a long minute. Wow.

Now, I ain’t no stranger to weave. (Right Lynn?!) But this is mesmerizing. I’m not one-on-one with weave like that. I don’t, you know, go buy it. That’s Lynn’s job. I don’t even look at it. It just miraculously appears on my head and I go out the door with my head swinging.

Except times like now, when I’m rocking my first short hairstyle in years.

Anyway. I used to hear the young girls come in to places like this and say things like, “gimme a number two Hawaiian Silky.” That was years ago. Is Hawaiian Silky still popular? Lynn gets her hair from a place called Lugo’s in Manhattan. (There’s a great story on Lugo’s from 199o in the New York Times. Check it out. You might need a free online subscription. If you don’t have one, get one. What’s wrong with you?)

Anyway. Is this quality hair up in the beauty supply store? Or just stuff you use to braid hair. I have no idea. I just know I often see people with weaves that look ultra-shiny and unrealistically jet-black. What kind of hair is that?

DSC09405

Here’s the woman who waited on me. She was Latina. And there was a Nigerian man stocking the shelves. (I know he was Nigerian because he was a dead ringer for my BFF Ukachi who moved to China and whom I miss very very much.)

My BFF Ukachi. He's a filmmaker. And also teaches film, as you can see. I miss Ukachi. And I wish he was still in Brooklyn.

My BFF Ukachi. He's a filmmaker. And also teaches film. I miss Ukachi. And I wish he was still in Brooklyn.

I’m digressing like a mo’fo, huh?

Anyway. All the beauty supply owners I encountered were Korean Asian. (My first instinct was to say Korean. But how do I know that? Why is that drilled into my head? That shop owners in the ‘hood are Korean?)

It looked like the Nigerian dude was running things. But he was missing something:

A set of keys hanging off his belt loop.

My grandmother always told me that if I need to ask for management in the store, don’t stop til you’re talking to someone with a bunch of keys hanging from their belt loop.

One time, I went to Sizzlers with her and my family. There was a ceiling fan above our table and we were all freezing.

“Somebody get the manager,” my grandmother said.

The waiter brought back a middle-aged Black woman with a short natural.

“Can I help you ma’am,” the woman said.

“No you can’t help me,” my grandmother said. “I want to see a manager.

The woman smiled. With her mouth closed. And her teeth clenched.

“I am the manager.”

My grandmother looked her up and down.

“Well let me see your manager…”

The woman shook her head and walked away.

My Aunt Janna tried to talk some sense into my grandmother while the rest of us squirmed in our seats, embarrassed.

“Couldn’t be no manager,” my grandmother sniffed. “She ain’t even have no keys.”

So, I bought my curling iron. (Um, Lynn? It heats up to 400 degrees. And it only has an on/off switch.)

And then I hung around for a while, looking to see if anyone else was working in the store.

Looked like Nigerian dude was really running the show. Times done changed in the beauty supply game.

And then, in comes an Asian man talking on his cell phone. He signs for a package. And then he distributes take-out orders to the Latina cashier and the Nigerian dude. The Latina woman make some kind of inside joke and they all laugh. Each of them have thick accents.

Wasn’t 100% sure the Asian guy was in charge, though. He seemed so convivial with the employees. Like they were all on the same level.

I started maneuvering Tog’s stroller out the door and turned back for one more look at the guy. Sure enough….

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dear readers: does the beauty supply store ’round your way look just like this? Why do I equate the Korean ethnicity with shopkeepers in the ‘hood? Is this a stereotype or something based in fact? Do you know your Hawaiian Silky from your Lugo hair? Isn’t that picture of my BFF Ukachi a great photo?

I’d love to hear from you…

P.S. Wanna tell me about your ‘hood? Hit me up at aliyasking@gmail.com Shoot the flicks, throw some captions on ’em. And you’re done! I’d love to see your ‘hood!

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24 Responses to “In My ‘Hood: The Beauty Supply Store”

  1. Katura Says:

    Mimi’s and Sally’s are two names but I just call them the Beauty Supply Store too. I usually go to the ones on Main St. in Orange, about once every year and a half (when I get my hair braided). What I think is funny is that the sales people seem to know what they are talking about when it comes to Black hair care products. I guess it’s their job to know, but I’m always surprised when they tell me I need 1B and not 1 (or whatever)….I don’t know a thing about weaves, but I can relate to this: “if someone spits in my direction, I have an Afro.”

  2. la negrita Says:

    Aliya! We have started to discuss this, lol. Consider this my placeholder because I have a lot to say (but when don’t I). I have to get ready for a locking appointment. And in the spirit of this topic, I’d like to add that she makes her own hair products. :-p

  3. Aliya S. King Says:

    @la negrita. I gotta run out too. But I will be back.

  4. la negrita Says:

    Alright, mini blog time!

    I visited an Asian-owned beauty supply for the first time in years a week or two ago. I was going to attempt to re-twist my locs and needed to get a comb. I just happened to be in the area, otherwise I would’ve gone to Walgreen’s or CVS. Anyway, this is a store that I frequented when I was a teenager. Back then, I could recognize the people who work there. Now, I’m not sure WHO owns it, but I was reminded why I need to stop spending my money in these places. I can’t STAND being followed around in a store. Once you greet me and ask me if I need help, if I tell you “No thanks,” keep it moving. Don’t hawk eye me like I’m going to steal from you. But you know what? They’re not going to stop. They’ll continue to follow the very people who keep them in business because the CAN, plain and simple. And why can they? Because our Black butts keep funneling money into the establishment. What incentive do they have to stop treating people like criminals when the “criminals” are going to give repeat business regardless? I can’t really hate on that. They have the Black haircare industry on lock, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    I encourage all Black women (hey, men too!) to look at these clips when they have the chance. It’s a documentary about the Korean stronghold in Black haircare and how some even BLACKLIST Black beauty supply owners. The documentary is by Aron Ranen:

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

    Part 4

    This is one of the issues I have in my “to query” file. I mentioned on my Twitter that I support Dr. Ali Syed of Avlon. Avlon makes Affirm and KeraCare products, among others. Since I’ve gone natural I don’t use a lot of products, but I’ve used KeraCare in the past. I know lots of Black women who swear by the Affirm relaxer. Now Dr. Syed is from Pakistan (I believe), but I had a class with him and he won me over because he really cares to understand Black hair. He goes to Brazil to study curly hair and make sure he has a firm hand in the happenings of his business. He is a chemist first. According to his website, he has supported organizations like sponsored many scholarships for minority students with organizations the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChe), NAACP and the United Negro Foundation. I don’t know if other non-black owners in the haircare industry do the same, but I think it’s important to give back to the community that helps you stay afloat. While I have my views about relaxers and hair products geared toward AAs, I have witnessed firsthand how at least one owner is concerned with the CARE of our hair, and I can respect that. I think more of us should be doing the same.

    Maaayne…I haven’t even touched the surface of my views on this issue haha. I’ll probably be back. We may have a future guest blog on our hands. :-p

  5. Yolonda Says:

    Aliya, you are bringing back memories.

    Thanks for the shout-out to your hairstylist. My hair is natural and when I go home, I put weave in because I didn’t know any GOOD natural hiar salons. I’ll be checkign her out my next extended trip home.

  6. Aliya S. King Says:

    Okay. Here’s my thing.

    We are so quick to go rah-rah over Asian beauty-supply store owners. I just need to hear their side before I demonize Them.

    Which was key in your comment. There was a lot of “they” tossing.

    Are we saying that all Asian (Korean?) shop owners are guilty of this?

    And when did this begin?

    From the moment they set up shop, they started following us around? Or did situations in the ‘hood lead to this behavior?

    My good friend Serena, (man I hope she comments), has stories to tell about her parents being held up at gun point–more than once.

    The relationship here is a perfect storm of many factors. But I can’t just say, it’s Them.

    And the other issue I have is that people save their vitriol for shop keepers because they are usually the owners too.

    You mentioned above that you’d rather go to Walgreens or CVS.

    Do you think those corporations give back to your ‘hood? Do you think they are respectful towards our people? Maybe in ways you can see. But what about in ways you can’t? Are they hiring Black people in positions of power? Responsible about what products they sell?

    I think we’d find some stuff that would be far worse than what happens at the local beauty supply store if we dug deep into corporate places we shop with no problem.

    I want to take a look at these clips. But i really need to know: has anyone spoken directly to Asian (Korean?) shop owners about their experiences?

  7. Aliya S. King Says:

    @yolanda. You won’t regret it. But don’t make the mistake I did. I loved how my natural hair looked blown out. And I OD’d on the blow-out. Now my naps are not so nappy. And my fro is pathetic. I cut my hair to start over. Now I’m going light on the pressing in hopes of getting my natural curl back.

  8. la negrita Says:

    I can only speak from my personal experiences, and I have been followed around in different beauty supply stores. It’s not a coincidence. BTW, the day I went to my old ‘hood I visited another beauty supply in the area. There was a Black girl behind the counter. I didn’t have enough time, but the first thing I wondered was, “Is there new ownership?” Next time I’m in the area I will find out.

    I agree about the “they” thing, but honestly…in America a lot of time is is a “we” and “them” thing. And it’s not necessarily about it being a battle against each other. But cultural differences do matter. I mentioned in my comment that I can’t blame them for seeing an opportunity and taking it. We have the most blame. WE can stop it. But far too often, saving a couple of dollars trumps efforts to unify, and that’s the individualistic mentality that many of us have as Americans.

    I am going to start making a conscious effort to support Black businesses. It is very hard, especially with the convenience of a Walgreen’s or CVS on every. freakin. corner. Who can pass that up? Even Border’s. There is a Black-owned bookstore that I frequent in Oak Park, IL. But I live nowhere near Oak Park. Nowhere near it. I have to drive miles to get there, burning gas and passing up at least two Borders and a Barnes and Noble. Sometimes I stop at one or the other along the way. Why? Because it’s more convenient. It’s cheaper. Both due to these companies being behemoths. They can sell books cheaper because it’s cheaper for them to get ’em. If my Black-owned bookstore doesn’t have a book, I have to wait for the owner to order it. Wait. And who waits for anything in America?

    Last week I was downtown and needed to go to an ATM. I went to one inside a Barnes and Noble. Neither had an ATM owned by my bank. I had two choices: one of the large, well-known banks, or Shore Bank, which is Black-owned. I decided to give my $2.75 to Shore Bank, no question. But if it wasn’t right there in my face, would I have walked downtown until I found a Shore Bank ATM? Probably not. And that is the BIGGEST problem.

  9. Aliya S. King Says:

    We can go even deeper here. Why are we assuming that all Black folks are to be supported and respected?

    How do you know what’s going on at Shore Bank? How do you know they are not silent partners in the beauty supply store? How do you know they deserve your 2.75? How do you know how they contribute to your community?

    Is being Black enough to get your support?

    And should Asians, Latinos, et al pass by the Oak Park Black-owned bookstore in lieu of a bookstore owned by *their* people?

  10. la negrita Says:

    All Black folks SHOULD be supported and respected, as should all Latinos, Asians, Indians, Africans, etc. until they prove otherwise. Also, I don’t know what goes on at ShoreBank, and I just did a quick Google search. I’m not even sure it’s black-owned now. One of the original founders was Black, and they do a lot of business in Black communities. I do know that there Blacks in senior executive positions. I’ll have to do more research, though.

    As far as being Black being enough to get my support? Yup (well, as long as you aren’t shady)! And I don’t have any qualms about it. Other ethnicities support their own–why can’t we? I was reading the ANTM forum on the CW website yesterday. People were calling Tyra racist because a Black girl one. WTF?? Nevermind that the girl consistently performed well throughout the season and DESERVED to win. If you ask me, the girl who was in the finals with her (she was white) should have gone home episodes ago, but she didn’t. Tyra kept her on (IMO) because she had an interesting look. Her photos were not diverse, she couldn’t walk…she was just a cute girl with huge eyes.

    Black people have to work extremely hard to prove we’re up for the job, even when we are undoubtedly the BEST for it. You think Obama would have had such a hard time climbing to the top if he were White?? Haaayells no. Anywho, I think I’ve opened yet ANOTHER topic lol. But I think Black people need to start going old school and supporting Black. Sad to say, but there are good number of Black people who are hesitant to even SUPPORT Black, because from the gate they believe it will be “less than.”

    Le sigh.

  11. lashonda silver Says:

    Very thought provoking. I remember that shop by EO high. I went to the one in Brick Church alot too when I lived in Jersey.
    Now in Florida you have the same Asian owned shops, but the thing missing is the people following you around the store. Often when you go to buy hair(braiding, weave or wigs) they have a sister to help with that. That makes me feel more comfortable about getting the right color for my braids. The Asians sit behind the counter and greet you as you walk in.

    My problem with places like Sally’s is that they are always trying to upsell you. No I do not want the conditioner, did you not notice I just bought conditioner. No up selling in the Asian shops. I prefer them because their products move. I went through a time when there were no beauty shops on my side of town here in Jacksonville. I realized most people do not buy a relaxer from CVS, therefore the one I bought was broken apart from too much time on the shelf.

    The following around is not just beauty shops, so I have gotten over that. I remember my mom going off an a manager for following my brother around Sterns, while we were in the store to kill time before her shift ended. This world is just not equal at all.

  12. fuzzylogic Says:

    la negrita: NOOO! Not Borders!!! I worked at one for almost a year and it might have been my WORST service labor gig, EVER. It wasn’t so much how bad of a company they were (they were definitely bad), but maybe it was the whole corny and life-sucking culture of big corporate service labor: “We’re family!” “lets hit those new sales goals so we can give you a 10 dollar gift card for Borders!,” the massive excitement when we got our .25 cent raise every 75 days of work, the employee conversations about dungeons and dragons (i swear i didn’t participate). It was such a weird experience, especially how dedicated and loyal employees were “to the man” or “corporate” as they called it, like s/he was some benevolent ‘ruler’ from a far away land. Then when i moved to Ann Arbor for school (long time ago), everyone in the office was like “OH MY GOD! YOUR GOING TO THE PLACE WHERE IT STARTED! YOU GOING WORK AT THE CORPORATE OFFICES? SO EXCITING” Seriously, it was like everyone was plugged into the matrix… but i’ll stop because I could go on and on about it. Anyway, moral of the story, don’t shop at Borders! That place is evil!

    Aliya: That picture of your friend is absolutely hilarious. Is he shooting a commercial for em? What’s your friend doing in China and where?

  13. Aliya S. King Says:

    good points @la negrita. I still can’t “support Black” on general principal. I need details on why anyone needs my support.

  14. Aliya S. King Says:

    @la negrita: For example, I kept getting these forwards about signing a petition to save “The Game” a show on the CW that I’ve never seen in my life. It ws all about, “we need Black people on television”

    Um. No.

    I’m not signing a petition for a show I’ve never watched in my life. Why? ‘Cause there are Black people on it? I’d have to actually watch the show and decide if it’s worthy.

    I do feel a twinge of something for the writer/creator of the show. I believe it was the Black Woman behind the show Girlfriends. I want her to stay in business. But I’m not blindly signing a petition for a show I don’t watch because the people on the show are Black.

    I WOULD sign a petition to get more Neilson boxes in Black households. Someone needs to tell me the percentage of Black Neilson box holders. That’s more important than keeping The Game on the air.

  15. Aliya S. King Says:

    @fuzzy logic: In this picture, Ukachi was playing back footage to the folks he was shooting in a mini-documentary. He splits his time between Shanghai and Beijing. Makes short films and docs for Current.com and teaches the History of American Film to high school students.

  16. Aliya S. King Says:

    @fuzzylogic: oh. and I worked at The Gap and Liz Claiborne for years. Same corporate culture. One night, I was chilling out with my supervisor. Real cool chick. We were dressing mannequins, getting the store clean for a visit from Corporate.

    I was actually enjoying it. Being creative. Getting the store really spotless. Taking pride in my work. For once.

    Supervisor: The store looks awesome!

    Me: Yeah. It does.

    Supervisor: You know what we should do! We should pull a marathon tonight! And stay all night! And have our store be the best in the entire district!

    Me: [shrugging] Sure. I don’t mind. But do we have that kind of budget for overtime?

    Supervisor: Overtime? No, I was thinking we’d just do it! Corporate would be so amazed and impressed.

    Me: [doubling over with laughter] Um. No.

    Supervisor: I’ll get us a six pack…tell our boyfriends to come keep us company…

    Me: Um. No.

  17. la negrita Says:

    I feel you on not supporting Black “just because,” but it’s funny. Don’t know about anyone else, but when I go into non-Black establishments I don’t always have a list of reasons why I support them. At least not initially. But if someone puts out the notion of supporting Black, the first thing people ask is “Why?” To that I say, why not?

    As far as The Game…don’t get me started on that! I don’t support the issue because I feel The Game feeds into too many stereotypes. I honestly don’t want to see a show like that on TV. It’s a double edge sword, though. Because supporting The Game may make it easier to see more diversity in Black shows.

    I wrote an entry on my blog about me voting for Barack Obama because he’s Black. Although many won’t say it out loud, I believe in my heart that a lot of Black people voted for him for the same reason. They probably won’t admit it in mixed company (or heck, even amongstl un-mixed company!). If people can vote against something because it’s affiliated with Blacks, WITHOUT knowing anything about context, then surely I can do the opposite. Do two wrongs make a right? Absolutely not. But as long as I’m not supporting something criminal or out-of-line with my morals, hey, why the hell not?

  18. Kimberly Says:

    Keeping it Simple… Love the cut. Like you, I wear mine natural and straight sometimes. I’ve been wearing it natural because I over-pressed and lost my naps and was upset. That extra spring adds body.
    Your beauty shop experience is the same in hoods all over. Mount Vernon’s 4th Ave aka The Ave specialized in people talking down to you from above. So glad those days are over. Now I live in BK where I found a nice African-owned shop that sells Jane Carter Solution and the owner and his co-workers sit behind the counter and are helpful.
    BTW Jane Carter’s products work great. And I think it is Black-Owned or partially Black-owned.

  19. Katura Says:

    Aliya–I’m curious. How do you decide where to spend your money? I think you already know my parents own a company that publishes Black-interest books for young people, plus I did the whole Rites of Passage at age 12 and was raised celebrating Kwanzaa, so I def. have a cooperative economincs, collective work and responsiblity-ethic going on. I’m sure plenty of people on this blog do too. But I always, always try to support Black businesses. Black guy selling bootleg cds on the corner, NO. But reputable businesses, yes. Skip Borders to go to House of Africa on Main Street in Orange. Pick Ragz to Riches in West Orange over Annie Sez. Not to say I don’t frequent stores that aren’t owned by Blacks (I STAY in Daffy’s). But I am conscious about who I give my business to. Given my family’s business, I’d like to think we could count on Black parents, teachers, librarians, children to support our work. It seems to work in other communities. Why not ours?

  20. Aliya S. King Says:

    @katura: I’m conscious of where my money goes.

    At the risk of getting all local on my worldwide blog, (ha), your folks have earned my money in large and small ways that you may not even be privy to. I’ve seen their work in the community where I grew up with my own eyes.

    For years.

    I’ve purchased books that I needed for my classroom from your parents company. I was taking TG to book fairs and author meet-and-greets that your parents sponsored when she was knee-high to a grasshopper.

    My own parents know and support your parents mission.

    So. Yeah. I’m conscious of where I spend my money. And companies whose ownership I know and respect will always get my money–no matter what color they are.

    One of my BFFs is a white girl named Dylan in Austin, Texas. Do I pass over her shop to patronize a Black person’s store?

    Or do I support my friends, no matter their color. And then revert to Black-first?

    How is that supposed to work exactly?

  21. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Kimberly: a-ha! So the high-up-on-a-chair thing was not a Jersey-only phenomena. Interesting!

  22. Katura Says:

    Interesting convo and I really don’t know how it’s supposed to work. I def know you support (saw you at our 15th anniversary bookfair. :-)) And I agree that support should go to people/companies with good products, good sense of community who appreciate their customers and treat them well. Of course people have to do what works best for them. But getting back to a point raised in the blog, I do think it’s quite weird that in Black communities, some of us give our money to businesses that don’t seem to respect us as customers, (and I’m adding this part) while other businesses (Black or not) seem to have to make a case for patronage.

  23. Lisa. Says:

    Hi Aliya. I love this blog and your way with words is phenomenal. Its completely understandable that you would want to support your friend, regardless of her race and I believe it is something you SHOULD do.

    However, I think you are missing the larger point of what Katurah and la negrita was trying to make. And that is, it is about supporting your own culture, supporting where you come from, those at the bottom of the totem pole. I’m sure as a hustler in the journalism field, you understand where I’m coming from. Of course, you may not have a solid reason for helping a black person, but my question is exactly why do you need a reason? Don’t be too certain that a white corporation is gonna give back to the black community, because we all know that the biggest way that white America has given back to us, is by being largely responsible for keeping alive the drug pandemic that has ravaged our ‘hoods.

    -L.

  24. mamajanna Says:

    Wow, good discussion. First the “beauty supply store.” Down here in Americus, population around 18,000, we have three! All owned by “Asians,” but the employees are all Black. The Asians don’t sit in a high chair, but the entire pay point is on a platform. The stores look just like your pictures and they have everything you need for your hair. Asians also own most of the convenience stores, hotels and nail salons in the community. Why? Because the Black folks down here are trifling. They hate Latins, Asians, and most Blacks, but love Whites! I had my 16-year old mentee in the car and I was listening to some Latin music and she scooted down in her seat and asked me to turn it off. She didn’t want people seeing her in a car playing “Mexican” music.

    Now, to the “buy Black” discussion. First of all, my experience has been to patronize whoever provides the best service to me. I will try to patronize my own people, but that’s not always easy. I purchase my loc care products online from a sister in Atlanta, however they always cheat me. I pay via Paypal and can never get my money back. But, I continue to buy from her because her products are good.

    I saw those “save The Game” emails, but I bet those folks don’t know that the executive producer is the same as the one for Girlfriends, a White actor named Kelsey Grammer. So, should this be good or bad news? Should I be grateful to Grammer for providing work for the brothas and sistas or should I be resentlful because of the negative sterotypes?

    One of the reasons so many Black folks don’t buy Black is because they are suspicious. I’m a lot older than all of you and my experience has been that often “black-owned” means, “black-fronted.” A Black colleague just opened up a restaurant in town and I went there Friday to show my support. There were several White folks in obvious positions of authority and I started feeling as though my friend wasn’t the real owner.

    Often, our enterprises are “less than” because we don’t have the know-how or the resources to do things right. And I guarantee, other ethnicities are not patronizing their own if it’s not up to snuff! Bottom line? I will patronize whoever treats me with respect, values my patronage, gives back to my community, and provides me with a quality, decent product. And no, I don’t care what color they are!

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