As I skip along in the blogosphere, reading this blog and that blog, I “see” a lot of black folks lamenting their national issues and problems. And this is a worthy exercise. Black people world wide have so many issues to deal with, of which I won’t even go into here. But I see a lot of frustration and a general throwing up of our collective hands. But should we throw up our hands? I have heard it said that there is strength in numbers. There’s something to be said for alliances. Should black people of different places and ethnicities even consider forming any alliances? Is it wrong?
Let me tell a little story. Back in the 1990s, I used to vend at a little place called the Berkeley Flea Market. Actually, it was just the parking lot of the Ashby Street BART station at the corner of Adeline and Ashby Sts. in Berkeley CA. (Yes, the same infamous BART where Oscar Grant was murdered) On the weekends, rain or shine, the Berkeley Flea Market was open and we vendors would rent each parking space as a booth space for a mere $30 a day and set up our wares for sale.
As one would get off of the BART train at the Ashby station, one would be greeted by a wonderful drum circle made up of folks of different ethnicities! You would see beautiful women both black and white, just dancing away, lost in the power of the drums! If you could tear your eyes away from that scene and proceed into the Market, you would then smell numerous flavors of incense burning from The Incense Lady, hear some oldies playing from The Music Man (if you needed to know the name of a song, tell him a few lyrics and he would know which song you meant). If you kept going up the first aisle, you’d see The Carpenter Man, an old white guy who never smiled but had some very nice, reasonably priced shelving units that he built himself.
Further along was another incense man, a Vietnamese guy who rented a double spot and had every kind of imported incense, including the ubiquitous Nag Champa–for those incense connoiseurs of discriminating tastes. Across from the Incense Man was the Jamaican food truck, where you could get the best vegetarian rotis and meat patties ever, along with a Ting lime soda! Yum! Turn left and go down the next aisle and you would see the Soap Lady with her beautiful homemade soaps and bath salts. Then there was the brotha selling adidas sneakers (were they real or fake?) Then you’d come to the booth of the young Buddhist couple who sold jewelry and trinkets!
Keep going then you’d come to the Middle Eastern man selling regular American hot dogs for a dollar. Across from him was his son selling doughnuts and soda! Then you’d come to the coveted “corner booth” of brother Hassan from Senegal, with all of his beautiful African fabrics and jewelry! Brother Hassan had that corner lot sewed up for years! It was a prime piece of real estate in the Berkeley Flea Market. Brother Hassan had a beautiful disposition and a smile that could brighten your day!
Then as you turned you’d see another food booth, A Taste of Africa! Bow down and worship. I don’t even remember where they were from in West Africa, but they had some of the best tasting food that could come from a rickety food truck! The food was very delicious! The white kids from UC Berkeley would line up and wait patiently and long for their plates of Jollof rice, akara and the spinach dish that I don’t remember the name of. Sidenote: whenever you see a long line of white folks–know that whatever it is that they are patiently waiting for is going to be good!!
What I found so endearing about these kids was that they would then sit on the curb, one next to the other and eat their African food with relish!! Beautiful! Everyone loved A Taste of Africa’s food and some were bold enough to get a miniscule speck of the HOTT! pepper sauce on the side. (I tried it once, but never again, and I grew up on Tabasco sauce!) Then there was another Middle Eastern man selling beautiful two-piece caftan-types ladies outfits. Then there were the Jamaican bruddas selling crocheted red gold and green tams and scarves and anyting Red Gold and Green as well as the best artists of roots reggae (and some dancehall) music on cassette tapes. I heard that they were selling more than that! 😉
Then there was the African American book man, and another African American record man, and the African American blanket lady and the white lady selling jewelry and the Afro Cuban Man selling used appliances! The Berkeley Flea Market was a wonderful mini version of the United Nations! We all were very friendly and caring and supportive of each other, and we got along very well! When I look back on it all, what truly stands out for me is that we black folks easily crossed racial, national and ethnic lines in that little space–the parking lot of the BART station at Ashby and Adeline Sts in Berkeley, CA!