Tucked away in a quiet commuter town was a shop unlike any other. It wasn’t subtle like the neighbouring ones. To be completely honest, the other shops were dull and had nothing unique about them. However, this shop was different. From the vibrant clothes to the music playing inside, you couldn’t help but have a quick peek through the window. It had character and was full of life, exactly like the person who owned it. Her name was Irene. Originally from Zimbabwe, Irene moved to Switzerland and opened up a local boutique there. She sold clothing from brands that were heavily influenced by hip hop culture.
As I was growing up, Irene became quite special to me over the years. From giving me a job to helping me out with school projects, this woman was incredibly selfless and had a lot to give. Which is why I was always baffled as to why she wasn’t received with the same warmth by certain people in town, especially by other business owners.
As the only black-owned business in town, Irene sadly had jealous competitors. Some wouldn’t greet her as warmly, while others would even give her these cold stares. A hair salon was located right next door to Irene’s shop. Both shared a mutual staircase and Irene would place her mannequins just outside. Some of the other shop owners thought that the mannequins were ‘too flashy’ or complained that she had too many. But one day, the petty comments about her mannequins escalated to a whole new level.
The hair salon owner for whatever reason thought that these mannequins were somehow situated ‘too close’ to her entrance. They weren’t. They’ve always kept a respectable distance. However, this obviously bothered the salon owner so much that she got the police involved. That’s right, she called the cops on Irene because of her mannequins. (Insert sarcasm) My god, what heinous crime did Irene commit? You’d think that the police would just leave after realising that nothing was wrong. Right? Sadly, they didn’t. In fact, the cops stuck around and also began to have a dig at her. It was ridiculous how desperate they were trying to find something to pin on her. After hanging about for too long (and let’s face it, wasting valuable police resources) the police left but gave her a warning.
What did these poor mannequins do to deserve this? Correction: What did Irene do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. If she were white, would she have been treated like this? You see, racism still very much exists even in Switzerland in 2020. Even if you’re a humble shop owner, when your complexion is darker, some people treat you differently than their Caucasian counterparts.
Irene brought life to what was an otherwise uneventful town. She solidified my love for hip hop and was always so kind to me over the years. Sadly, Irene eventually closed down her shop and moved away due to instances like the above. But I’ll always remember how it brought me joy every time I had walked past and said hello.
Black culture has contributed to various sectors in society such as music, fashion, sports, film etc. Without the greats such as Muhammad Ali, Aretha Franklin and countless others, where would the world be without them? The least non-black allies can do is to show support and fight for their rights alongside them. I certainly will – for my friends, Irene and her mannequins.