When I was growing up on the west side of Chicago, my ma operated one of those “boutiques” that people drive past and wonder, “how do places like that stay in business?” We sold cigarettes, expired canned goods, and kitty litter but somehow my mom kept finding odd ways to stay in business. For a few summers, we just let proper gangsters rent out the back room for “meetings” and they kept the business afloat simply to have a front to work out of. Sometimes we’d host community development meeting and rally preparations in our back room, this would keep us going for a month or two at a time. My mom sold discounted cartons of cigarettes that she bought in Northern Indiana, which seemed to generate a notable income. She hustled.
I’m quite confident that most of our schemes were right on the border of legal, and my mom was a hard-worker but she wasn’t fucking around with any of the illegal gang shit. Sure, she’d let these big wigs gather in the back room, smoke it out, and make plans, but she maintained that we weren’t funding or involved in the plans – we just provided the room.
Some of the other boutiques in the area were selling dime bags out the back and one or two even participated in the gathering and selling of illegal guns – from those gun shows in Indiana. My mom’s brother died real young from gang-related gun violence and she never ever talked about it. But once I did hear a man proposition her for turning these kinds of tricks out the back of our store and she hustled him outta there in a real hurry.
See, my mom was very careful to never really break any laws and I’ll save you the trouble of asking her why: the modern government works harder to keep black folks enslaved (in prison) than it does to protect any members of society, they make our survival skills illegal so that they can inprison us for trying to stay alive, and once we’re in prison, we’re slaves again and American racial balance is restored. Ooohoh she loved giving this speech! And almost every time she delivered it, it got better, she got angrier, and you could just SEE the listener growing convinced.
Never one to shy away from the “angry black woman” vibe, she delivered this speech so many times while I listened from afar that I could deliver it word for word now. And I believe it. I’ve seen enough of America now to know my place. And my place, currently, is in the fucking mall selling work clothes to people with job interviews who will certainly return them after the failed interview.
But when it was time to apply for retail jobs – I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and I work in retail while fulfilling my PhD work – I used my ma’s store as retail experience, I used my ma as a reference (we luckily have different last names), and I was told how damn lucky I was by friends and family to have such a respectable job. This is how low the bar is for respectable jobs in my community.