Racism at the corner store

by Crystal Brown

"Hurry up and buy!" Watch any contemporary boy-in-the-hood, gangsta', African-American film and count the number of times you hear this line. For filmmakers, this situation has become a point of humor in their films, but for people who live in impoverished neighborhoods, Vietnamese shop owners are an everyday occurrence.

The owners are often cruelly prejudiced and overcharge on their items because they know they can. Many of their patrons have no mode of transportation to visit other stores.

I recently encountered discrimination at a Vietnamese beauty supply store in Southwest Houston. I approached the cash register and prepared to pay for my products with a credit card. The cashier informed me that the minimum charge was $10. I took out my check book to pay for my products, and she quickly replied, "Never mind, I'll take the credit card."

I was in a nonconfrontational mood, so I paid with my credit card. After I left, I dreamt up hundreds of things I should have said. I will never shop at that store again.

I've also noticed these Asian convenience stores carry an overabundance of inexpensive malt liquor products. When I'm in West U or River Oaks, I never find malt liquor in convenience stores. Malt liquor billboards are strategically placed in poor neighborhoods. Look at the billboards surrounding the university and you'll see what I mean.

The logic here is simple -- when you open a store in a ghetto, your clientele is representative of that environment. Cheap liquor sales promote alcoholism. This is not to say that poverty breeds ignorant people, but it takes a certain mentality to buy a T-shirt that reads, "Shut up, bitch."

Many of these shop owners follow African-Americans around the store. This activity promotes theft rather than hindering it. It makes me so mad I want to steal from them just because they already assumed I would.

Several years ago, a Vietnamese shop owner shot and killed a black youth because he thought the teen was stealing from his store. It was later discovered that the teen was falsely accused, tried and convicted by the shop owner. His punishment -- death.

I have several friends who are Vietnamese, and my daughter is named after a Vietnamese girl I worked with one holiday season. Her name was Jackie Tran, and she was the first Vietnamese friend I had ever made. I remember thinking how beautiful she was and what a cool name she had. Jackie Tran sounded like Bond -- James Bond.

I also have a Vietnamese friend who owns a dry cleaners in Southwest Houston. She has always treated me with respect. Imagine my surprise when she let me take my clothes without paying one day when I forgot my checkbook! She trusted me. You and I know that not all Vietnamese people are prejudiced. Still, it would be ignorant not to realize there is animosity between Vietnamese and African-Americans that must be addressed and overcome.

The all-mighty dollar still has power. Let's give our dollars and powers to those business people that respect us and welcome our business.

Brown is a senior radio and television major.

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