My fabulous partner and I were out doing last-minute costume shopping on Halloween, and we made the obligatory stop at the craft store. The fabric section was surprisingly quiet. I’d expected to see people looking through the bolts of vinyl, felt, and fake fur. Instead, we were two of only a handful of shoppers in that section of the store, and this guy was one of them. I don’t even think he was looking for anything related to Halloween. He was browsing through some lovely vintage-style floral fabrics that seemed best suited for draperies, wallpaper, or table cloths. Perhaps he was going to be window dressing for Halloween, or maybe even a classic Victorian parlor.
Whole Foods, Harrison Street, Oakland, California.
I’ve been to a lot of different Whole Foods grocery stores, but I’ve never been to one with as many Black customers as the Whole Foods in Oakland, California. There are also a lot of Black employees there. Even some of the security guards are Black. Then, a few weeks ago, one of the security guards at the store beat a Black customer pretty badly. There were several days of protests, even after Whole Foods fired the security guard. Eventually, the store ended its relationship with the security firm for which he worked. Throughout this period, there murmurings on social media that it was one of the Black security guards who carried on the beating, at least according to the handful of reports that mentioned his race.
Today was only the second time I’ve been to Whole Foods since the beating and the subsequent protests, but it’s the first time I’ve taken a moment to think about how those incidents have impacted the store. I was there just before the lunch hour, and the line at the deli counter seemed just a long as ever; and it seemed like there were more Black employees behind the counter then I remembered from previous visits. There were other Black customers, but not as many as I recall seeing in the past. Then again, I usually go to Whole Foods around the dinner hour, just after work. I probably won’t be able to tell whether or not Black shoppers are staying away from this store until I have a change to go back during the early evening rush.
If there are less Black shoppers, it’s hard to know exactly why. It might be for the same reasons I stayed away for so long: I didn’t want to cross the protest line; and although I was personally satisfied with the actions the store took to try to make sure such a violent incident never took place again, I was willing to privilege the consensus of my Oakland Black community about when it was necessary to stay away and when it was appropriate to return. From the looks of the shoppers and the employees, I feel pretty confident that it’s appropriate to return, and that’s good for me and for all the Black folks who have been using the store to make healthier food choices. (I mean, when the chefs are Whole Food Oakland are really on their game, the yellow corn grits in the food bar are the best grits in Oakland.)
Another portrait from the Barbershop, and a shout out to Mo at Master Barbers, San Leandro. He can cut a fade like no other.
It’s time to talk about Black people and aging. About 10 years ago, a white woman approached me at a party and, after asking me my age, explained to me that she could never tell how old Black people were; so, she was reluctant to guess my age, for fear of insulting me.
It’s a running joke among both Black and non-Black folks alike that people of African descent age much more slowly than their white counterparts. I have frequently co-signed this belief, often quote the familiar adage that, “Black don’t crack.”
When I really think about it, though, I’m not sure if it’s that Black people age more slowly than white folks or that most Americans–including an awful lot of us Black folks–see so many more white people than Black people (in real life, on TV, in movies, et cetera), that our ideas about what a certain age should look like are based on using white people’s aging patterns as a baseline.
Something about that makes me a little sad–and a little ashamed. When I marvel at how “young” one or another Black middle-aged or old person looks, am simply confirming that I am so immersed in the whiteness of this nation that I can’t even correctly guess Black people’s ages anymore? I sure hope not.
Still, though, I have to tell you that the brother in this drawing–who I know to be at least 80 years old–looked really good for his age. My barber pointed him out to me, telling me that he didn’t know how old this man was, but that the man’s son was in his sixties; and he didn’t have any gray hair.
Black don’t crack.
Here’s another portrait from Garberville, CA. Every year, a group of my friends travel to this town to hang out poolside, eat lots of food, and enjoy a weekend of doing absolutely nothing. This is one of the people who was in our group, and I sketched him while he lounged around the pool. He was friendly and, as you can tell from his beard, he was impeccably groomed. I also appreciate that when my partner told him I drew his picture, he seemed pleasantly surprised. He wanted me to show him the sketch, but I didn’t want to show him the drawing until it was completely done. That was four months ago. I’m kind of embarrassed by how long it took, but I’ll make sure he gets to see it.
This is the son of the gentleman I posted as 1001 Black Men #881. Both father and son very stylish, and their interest in my art show was just the type of flattery I needed to get me through several days of hanging my work. They were only passing through, so they didn’t get to see the show, but I gave each of them one of my business cards. With any luck, they’ll google my site and find their portraits. I hope they’re pleased with what they see.