“Obviously,” said Ray, “race is always going to have an effect on whatever we do. It’s sad to say, but a lot of times the African American community is judged by what one or two black people do. It’s wrong to judge a whole race that way, but it’s one of those things you just have to learn to get past.”
Bob talked about the anger many people of color at the racial injustices they experience.
“I personally have tried to take that anger,” he said, “and turn it into some kind of fuel that drives me, that makes me do better. Ray and I are fighting an uphill battle, but the reason we’re fighting is to be an example for other people. You don’t have to walk around the world angry. We can actually use that anger as a driving force to show people what we’re capable of.”
Bob and Ray choose to let what the produce speak for itself and in turn themselves. “It’s no secret that racism exists,” said Ray, “but my art speaks for itself. It’s a quality product I’m presenting to you. It’s not a black man’s product.”
Bob added, “As a black man I approach each situation knowing that people might be making assumptions about me personally, but I stand behind the product I am offering. I stand behind my clothing, for example, because of the quality you are wearing which is all original.”
Ray put it this way: “It’s all about the choice. Just because a person is pushing you in one direction or the other doesn’t mean that you have to go in that direction. It’s your choice. You can choose to stand on your own two feet.”
He then explained how responding to racial injustice has become part of the two business partners’ mission in life. “We want people to see that we are two positive men, and on top of that two positive black men in an age where ignorance and negativity are broadcast everywhere, and that’s what people seem to be drawn to. You don’t hear much about all of the positive things black men are doing. What you hear about are things like black men hitting their women.”
Bob added, “Ray and I try to tear down stereotypes. We want you to know that we are different than whatever your perception may be when you walk into our store. We don’t want to be perceived as two black men. We want to be perceived as two men. My name is Bob and this is Ray. We’re here to help you.”
Ray took the risk of raising the ire of some in the African American community by declaring that stereotyping exists in the black community as well as the white. “The most prejudice I’ve received from a group,” he said, “has been from the black community, because any time you’re not that typical black man–not loud and ignorant and you’re articulate–a certain portion of the black community will call you a sell out. There’s also this prejudice between darker skinned black people and lighter skinned black people.
“I can say from own experience,” Phil said, “that there has been change. Affirmative action helped some minorities get into places that would not have accepted them no matter how good their grade point average was, and that a black man holds the highest office in the land shows that there is opportunity.”
But, Phil used the example of President Obama to explain why the “Dream” is partly an illusion. “To me, Obama getting elected president also shows how little change we’ve made. I mean laughing at and heckling the president while he’s giving a speech to congress is unheard of. Why can you do that? Because he’s an African American.”
During the interview we got talking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, in which the author contends that every black person is afraid because they know that no matter how hard working and law abiding they may be, what happened to Trayvon Martin could happen to them.
“Am I afraid?” said Phil, referring to the grilling he underwent by the state trooper. “Oh, I am afraid, because when I’m out of my element I’m just another black guy. We will never be equal as long as you look at the color of my skin and on that basis make a judgment about me.”