MAXWELL:  The true color of bloodsuckers

11/5/1995- Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Recently, I went into a popular fish market in the oldest black section of Fort Lauderdale. I had expected to see the familiar, smiling old black couple behind the counter fileting and frying fish.

The new owners are not black. They are Korean. And on that day, they were not smiling, their expressions shifting from glum, to quizzical, to exasperated, to scared. Their customers, however, were the same as always _ poor, mostly black. The prices were a lot higher than I remembered, so high, in fact, that I became dutifully outraged and refused to buy anything.

But before denouncing these merchants as “bloodsuckers,” as Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan refers to them, my rational side reminded me of an ugly truth about the notion of the bloodsucker, the so-called greedy, unprincipled outsider who takes money from the black community without giving back anything: Immigrants struggle financially and risk their safety and their very lives to provide essential services to poor, often crime-ridden, black communities. These people _ Korean, Vietnamese, Arab, Hispanic and Jamaican _ fill a void that too many American blacks refuse to fill.

What happened to this fish market is typical of what happens in black communities almost everywhere. When it went up for sale, no blacks with viable means and business savvy came forward. The Korean family, looking for a good investment, stepped in.

If these people had not bought the shop, it would have rotted, and the city would have boarded it up like it does other long-abandoned properties in the area. The residents, many of whom do not own cars, would have had to travel several miles by taxi or bus to find a comparable business. Even with its high prices, the market, which stocks dozens of other foods, cooking supplies and household products, is a lifeline in a community where so many immigrants now stand behind the counters.

And, yes, these Koreans, who work 18-hour days, leave my old neighborhood each night, taking their money with them to another part of the city. Are they bloodsuckers? If they are, then we, black people, are willing hosts.

Why do we not have more black proprietors? Here are some hard truths that most us refuse to confront:

Both as a group (and groups do exist) and as individuals, too many of us lack the family solidarity required to start and operate a business. Immigrant businesses, in general, are run by relatives willing to work long hours for little or no pay. These extended families may live together for years in cramped quarters, saving their money and spending among themselves and others of their kind. They trust and rely on one another for everything. They delay personal gratification. After they save a few thousand dollars, their first stop is not the Mercedes dealer or the travel agency to book a voyage to the Bahamas or Cuzumel.

Too many blacks lack the personal responsibility and self-discipline required to succeed in business, as Farrakhan has said for many years. Success comes from personal sacrifice, from the cultivation of positive habits, from self-respect, from not having to rely on alcohol or narcotics to function.

Individually and collectively, blacks, unlike immigrants, place their hopes in politics, not in commerce. Unfortunately, black culture does not respect commerce and is suspicious of people who succeed financially.

A Washington Post poll conducted during the Million Man March to measure what marchers identified as the single most important reason for their participation showed how little we care for commerce. Twenty-nine percent came to support the black family; 25 percent to show support for black men taking more responsibility for their families and communities; 25 percent to demonstrate black unity. And a mere 7 percent said that they came to demonstrate African-American economic strength _ the one area that truly is our salvation.

While Hispanics and Asians have been establishing banks and international trade firms, for example, to build fortunes for themselves personally and for their people, too many outstanding blacks have been running for political office, a profession that benefits the officeholder more than it does constituents. Nationally, compared to blacks, fewer Hispanics and Asians are in the legislatures of the states and U.S. government.

But compared to blacks, these groups have amassed vast wealth and enjoy a better quality of life.

Alas, we have digressed too far from our discussion of bloodsuckers. Immigrants do, of course, take black people’s money in exchange for goods and services. And, yes, they do not live in the communities where their businesses are. And, yes, they do not give to charities in the communities or offer college scholarships or volunteer in area crime-watch programs.

But these immigrants are no worse than blacks who own businesses in black communities, who also do not give back. These immigrants are no worse than black preachers and their trustees who collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from low-income parishioners while giving back very little.

Who, then, are the real bloodsuckers?

No bloodsucker is more injurious than the black bloodsucker who vamps on his brethren, who, as Farrakhan describes bloodsuckers in general, attaches himself to human flesh “to suck the value of its life without returning anything.”

The worst slum lords in most black communities nationwide, for instance, are prominent black people _ many of them elected officials, civic leaders, doctors, judges and pastors. What do they do with their money? How much do they give back?

Minister Farrakhan correctly identifies the bloodsucker as an enemy of black communities. But he attacks the bloodsucker of the wrong color. And, by the way, Jews stopped operating businesses in black communities a generation ago.

_ Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.