A while ago, I went to the farmer’s market and only bought from Black people. Or at least that was my plan. Although the kind of people I argue with on Facebook would say this type of behavior is “racist” and wrong, I reminded myself of all the times I’ve given my business to people who were probably truly virulent racists, and all the countless times in American history black people have purchased goods from folks who wouldn’t even let them through the front door to shop, and I decided I was more than ok with this. I was going to spend an hour making a concerted effort to support black businesses—small businesses, local businesses.
Buying exclusively black was not my original plan. But sitting in the car, my daughter and I started talking and planning things, and we decided going to the farmer’s market to buy black would be a worthy adventure. I struggle to find ways to flex my blackness in our white county and even-whiter neighborhood. Others have their Black Lives Matter hashtags and their Black Girl Magic t-shirts. I have a couple hundred dollars and a bright idea. I deserve this, I told myself.
We parked, and after about five minutes of negotiating with my increasingly cranky seven year-old, G, we all got out of the car. My daughter, Nailah, in her teenaged wisdom, warned me that it was only going to get worse and to just take him home, but, as my grandmother always told me, I am hardheaded. So we masked up and started heading toward the stalls. I saw a black woman selling hair ties and earrings in colorful prints. “Ooh, lets go see what she has,” I said to Nailah, as I pulled G along.
The vendor welcomed me and told me her name, which I couldn’t hear because G had already started complaining. “I need a cold drink!” he whined, “This is gonna take forever!” The vendor had butt-length locs and we shared hair stories and she told me how she makes all the earrings and hair ties herself, using patterns that “you know, look more like us!” The patterns were busy and colorful, and stopped just short of Kente cloth, which she apologized for being all out of. Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! I looked through the headbands and necklaces, and satisfied that I was gifting myself a supremely ethnic experience, I settled on a pair of red and white earrings made of wood and cowrie shells.
As I was trying to pay, G ramped up his whining. “Why is this taking soooo loooong?” I’m gonna die out here I am soooo thirstyyyyy.” About this time, his legs turned to jelly and he started sinking to the ground, toddler tantrum style. I was going to have to get him that drink. Forgetting about my plan to buy exclusively black, I went to the first stall I saw that appeared to have drinks. I walked up to a ball-capped white man displaying a cooler. A hand-written sign on the front of it said “Cold Drinks $1.00.” Just what I needed. I asked the man for a bottle of water.
He was nice, leaving his shaded perch to offer me a sample of beef jerky, which I declined, and then digging through his cooler to find me the last bottle of water he had. “I’m sorry,” he said, probably making eye contact with me behind his sunglasses, “I just put it in, so it’s not too cold.” I reached for it, deciding to buy it anyway. He continued apologetically that he had ice cold Sprite, Coke, Dr. Pepper… “I’ll take a Sprite actually,” I said, handing him back the bottle of water. He seemed satisfied. It was only then, as he was digging deep in his cooler for a cold Sprite that I was noticed some scrawlings about “China Virus” on his whiteboard and noticed Trump 2020 embroidered on his well-worn camo ball cap. Great. I had been distracted by my thirsty, whiny little kid and walked straight into Camp Trumper. Of all the white people at the farmer’s market that I could have bought from today, this had to be the most problematic. There was a friendly looking older lady selling Tupperware and a couple a few stalls down selling organic plants. I remember them because they were very friendly and smelled strongly of marijuana. Why couldn’t I have stumbled into one of their tents?
The eight dollars I’d just spent on afro-centric earrings seemed less significant now, somehow tarnished, undone. I paid the man a dollar and thanked him, and I walked away, shaking inside just a little bit. Now, I have liberal white friends who might have gone home to take a shower after such an exchange, but I, as usual, felt conflicted. Trumpy Sprite guy was so kind and friendly. And his sprite was so goddamn cold.
I felt a little embarrassed, wondering if the woman who had sold me earrings had seen me and thought less of me for doing business with someone with his biases literally on display. Annoyed with myself and with G, I took him and his Sprite home and drove back up to the farmers’ market with a wad of cash and renewed resolve. By the time we left the market to go home, I had purchased a pineapple-rum cake the size of my hand, a fluffy mango donut spiced with cardamom, a bright yellow lemon cookie of dubious quality, and a soy candle that smells like something a grown-up black woman should have in her house. Especially a confident and sexy one. Yes, it was an aspirational purchase.
I took all of my items home and displayed them on the kitchen island so I could take a photo and post it on our family chat group with a little black fist emoji. But even as I stuffed my face with Black-made baked goods and sniffed the $20 candle that I will probably be too nervous to light with a toddler in the house, I just couldn’t get over that one misstep–the one dollar I contributed to The Man. The Trumpy, conservative, All Lives Matter white man. The polite, accommodating one with exceptionally cold drinks.
I thought about my life, my friendships, and my writing. I would love to think of myself as some kind of Black woman warrior writer–outspoken, unapologetic, and pure in my ideologies. But I think sometimes I get so tangled up in my quest for purity, that I end up completely inert. I am getting closer to accepting that life as a suburban black mom is complicated, and that entwined in that identity are a loneliness and a conflictedness that might never go away.
A few months later, Nailah and I returned to the farmer’s market. I have accepted that anything I buy there is nothing I really need–earrings made of blue sea glass, coffee in little burlap pouches, jarred salsas with the maker’s face drawn on the label. It looks exactly like him, except on the label he is dressed like a pirate, eyepatch and all. As he stands in front of me, he just looks like a regular Florida guy, probably somebody’s dad. We’d only been at the market a few seconds before we heard someone offering free samples of beef jerky. Like moths to a sinewy, spicy flame, we fluttered over to have a taste. The man handing out jerky was friendly and professional. After talking to him for a few minutes about his beef jerky and bacon jerky and deciding the bacon jerky sounded infinitely more exciting, I said to him, “Are you the Trump 2020 China Virus guy?”
“That’s me!” he responded matter-of-factly. I could tell he was wondering what was coming.
“Yes, I remember you,” I told him. “I did a double take at all your politics, but you were so nice, and it was a bit confusing for me. I am blogging about you.”
He seemed charmed. “I can’t say I’ve ever been blogged about before. At least not that I know of.”
“Well,” I offered, “there’s a first time for everything.”
We had a few samples and ended up buying two packs of bacon jerky and one pack of beef. They were a bit overpriced, but tasty enough. We left right after and didn’t buy anything else that day. I figured I had enough to unpack.