Store owner told ‘take Black pictures down’
23rd June 2011 · 0 Comments
By J. Kojo Livingston
The Louisiana Weekly Contributing Writer
SHREVEPORT, LA. – Richard Washington was truly surprised when the first anonymous phone call came. The caller was a white man telling him to remove photos and paintings of Black historical figures from his wall or lose business. But that was only the first call. “Some actually told me that I had too many Black pictures up.” None of the complaints have been made in person.
In a city where Black people have to see the Confederate flag which represented the slave-holding states, on display everywhere including the courthouse you’d think there would be some tolerance for Black artistic expression. Washington is learning differently.
Washington owns Wing Taxi located on 7610 Pines Rd. in Shreveport. He has been in the wing business for seven years and has always had images of Black personalities in the various locations of his store but he has never had this reaction until now. “These are people who paid the price for our rights and freedoms. I am a Black man of African descent, so naturally I have people that look like me on my walls.”
Washington says that one of the benefits of the pictures is that “children can come in and see their history on the walls. Sometimes I challenge them and their parents about who is on the wall. It makes them brush up on their Black history, which very much is needed because it’s not taught in our school systems. Whenever we can implement a little history we need to do so.
Washington says that he notices that some white customers appear agitated when they see figures that some consider controversial such as Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X. “They ask if I’m a Muslim. I tell them no, these were some of the people who contributed to our history. I include them with the others because they were significant to us. None of the people on my wall wanted to oppress anybody. They all spoke out for freedom and justice.” One figure that is not Black on his wall is Mohandas Gandhi who fought for freedom in India.
Asked if is “unprofessional” to promote Black history and culture in his business, Washington says, “I’ve had go in their establishments and see no signs of my people unless we were washing dishes in the back. When you go into an establishment owned by any race you do have a feeling of where you are. When I go into El Chico’s I know I’m in a Mexican restaurant. That’s a good thing. But when it comes to us, we’re supposed to stay in our lane.”
Asked what he would do, Washington says, “I’m going to have to stick to my guns. Nobody goes into a Chinese or Italian restaurant and tells them that they can’t have pictures that show pride in their history on their walls. Every race can show their pride but us. Why should we accept a different set of rules?”
But can his business survive a boycott of this type? Washington responds, “If racists are not going to support my business then hopefully my own people will support me and it won’t be an issue. We make the all big restaurants rich with our money. At some point we have to start supporting our own so we can become like them, but it’s going to take the backing of the people.
“It’s not that we don’t want white money or Hispanic money but sometimes you just have to stand your ground. If they don’t support it, we pray that God will see us through and bless us.”
This article originally published in the June 20, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.