Another story for you of my experience with “-isms” (ex. racism, sexism, ageism, etc).
When I moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2006, I was sitting pretty on a large sum of cash. Growing up, as I was a girl (and a Latina girl, no less), my role was always defined as “the nurturer”. Back then, even though it is not that long ago, I was implicitly being groomed to be the homemaker, caretaker, wife, cook, maid; all the things that my mother was and that I was supposed to be because, as my father always told me, “you are a girl”.
However, watching my mother and her submission to my father and her reliance on him, sparked a fierce independence in me. Even to this day, I struggle with the desire to be close to others (males) and yet retain my independence. My mother, at 76 years old, has her driver’s license, but has not driven a car in over 20 years. She knows and can utilize cash money, but does not know how to pay a bill with a credit/charge/debit card or checkbook. She has never had to improve her English speaking skills, because my father can speak English quite well. The big issue for her, however, is that my father is 9 years her senior and beginning to fall to the ravages of time. My fear is that she will not be able to manage things herself once he is gone. I, on the other hand, have no issues paying my own bills, searching for assistance and information in this new technological age, driving a car, etc.
This is the backlash to the way I was raised. This has helped me in many ways, yet hindered me in others.
Back to my story….I had packed up my girls and moved back “home” to Kalamazoo. As I stated, I was sitting pretty and had a full time job on top of the money I had. So, going to the store was not an issue. Purchasing those things I wanted and needed was not a problem, as I had plenty of money to do so. So, I did. I wanted my children to have the full benefit of this money, as we had always struggled before. Now, that is not to say that I went hog wild and spent money on fashion items, but it was not uncommon for me to go to Target or Sam’s Club and drop a few hundred dollars on necessities and desires.
One afternoon, my girls and I went to Sam’s Club to purchase some groceries and small appliances. I ended up spending a good $600 on this trip. But, that is not the shocking part of this story.
To understand this experience, you need to understand how I raised my daughters and how they were when we would go out in public.
My girls were always clean, well groomed, and wearing gold jewelry (this largely in part because of a metal allergy, which did not allow them to wear costume, or fake, jewelry). So, on this particular day, my daughters were nicely dressed, wearing their gold jewelry, and sporting the Ipod’s I had purchased them. See, going to the grocery store with Mom was not as exciting an adventure as it used to be when they were toddlers.
We make our purchases and head out the store. If you have ever shopped in a big box store, you know that they typically have a greeter at the door, who will also inspect your receipt and the contents of your cart, as you exit. This day, there was an older lady, with a short red bob (what I jokingly call “the Midwestern Mom haircut”) standing at the door. I roll my cart towards her and reach out to hand her my receipt. My girls are standing around me, joking and laughing and bobbing their heads to whatever music they are listening to. This lady grabs my receipt with a nervous smile, and looks at it. She then proceeds to look at my children. She sizes them up, her eyes traveling up and down the length of them, inspecting their clothing, jewelry, and Ipod’s in their hands. She then looks back at the receipt. Her eyes travel back to me and she says “that’s very pretty jewelry your daughters are wearing”. I smile and say “thank you”.
Do you see what was wrong with this exchange, no matter how polite it all seemed? She never ONCE looked in my cart to verify that the items on the receipt were in the cart. She only looked at me and my children. Now, why do you think that is?
I have my assumptions about the manner, which I fully addressed with the manager of this Sam’s Club. You see, I understand that there are people who feel compelled to steal things from stores. Ironically enough, I also am intelligent enough to know, based on empirical fact, that the majority of theft occurs in the White population.
According to the FBI, in 2009, there were a total of 1,056,473 reported thefts (larceny). Of those, 68.1% were committed by White people, 29.0% by Black people, 1.4% by American Indian or Alaskan natives, and 1.4% by Asian or Pacific Islanders (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_43.html). Now, I’m not saying that people other than White people do not steal, however, the White people leaving that store before and after me were not attended to with such scrutiny as my daughters and I were.
I understand the desire for someone to do a good job at what they do, and considering what this woman’s job was, I’m sure she didn’t want anyone stealing anything under her watch. I do not understand, however, her scrutiny of my children (who were all minors at the time). She did not perform her specified job, which, I’m assuming, was to verify that the receipt matched the contents of my cart. She didn’t do her job. She, instead, took it upon herself to immediately judge myself and my children, and made her biased presumptions solely on…what? Skin color, perhaps? That is the only assumption I can make at this point, as I did not have time to speak to her, but only to her manager. I took my cart full of items to my car, fuming the entire time, and then I returned to the store to see if I could confront her. I did not want to make a scene, but I was damned sure not going to hold my tongue.
I was offended. Not so much by her scrutiny, but by the fact that she was sending a message to me and my children by her behavior. The fact that a woman with three brown children could not purchase those items, or had the need to steal what the children were wearing, is the very distressing message that she was conveying.
My discussion with my White, male friend included this concept. That it is not the tangible, explicit things PoC deal with on a daily basis, but rather those covert, or hidden, “-isms” that pervade our society. Quite possibly this woman thought she was not doing anything untoward, however, in my eyes, she was. She was saying “you aren’t the right color/type/culture/gender/what-have-you to be able to shop and spend money in this store.”
Comment below on whether you’ve ever been faced with a situation where someone conveyed this type of message to you, without the exact words even being spoken. Or any other story you have of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. that you would like to share.
Thanks for reading!
Read Part 1 here.