This is not easy to write about, however, given the climate of our times, I feel it’s important to share experiences that we have, even when they are uncomfortable to write about. We talk a lot about gun violence and all the trauma and fear that occurs as we have been dealing with mass shootings but, now the conversation has shifted to racism, which is also layered and complicated. I experienced racism recently, and I was put in a situation where I truly didn’t know what to do, or how to manage it, but will share this honest story.
About a week ago, I was driving home from my work, and needed to get mosquito repellent cause it’s mosquito season and I have some that bother me in the middle of the night. I had been to my local CVS and they were sold out, so I went to a Walgreens by work and they too were sold out, so I decided to stop at a Rite-Aid on my way home to see if they happened to have any in stock.
Thankfully, when I got there they had the box that I needed so picked them up and got in line. I was waiting in line when a man walked into the store and got in line behind me. He got up really close to my ear and said, “Black lives matter, black lives, matter you know.” I’m white. And the funny thing is usually I look WASPY – I wear pearls and dresses and heels – I’m fair skinned with bright red hair so tend to stand out but this time, I was wearing a helmet for I ride a Vespa. I had on an old jean jacket on which I got in the 90’s from Ross Dress for Less, and flats. My laptop was strapped across my body so I more or less looked like a bike messenger, not some white girl from the Westside. I didn’t respond and just stood in line facing forward waiting for a cashier to become available. There was only one cashier open, and another one behind the counter was doing inventory or something. Once I got to the front of the line the man continued to invade my personal space so I stepped forward at which point he started yelling, “One day there’s going to be a fire and you’re gonna need a black man to rescue you!” I looked at the cashier that was closed and said, “Can you check me out,” which he replied, “I’m not open.” As the man escalated with more harassment I looked at the cashier and said, “Well, I’m being harassed,” and he said, “Do you want me to call someone?” What?! Everyone was seeing me being singled out, and no one was helping me. Then the other cashier that was open was done with her customer and instead of allowing me to get checked out the man stepped up to make his purchase.
There were a lot of things that crossed my mind at that point. Should I say something like it’s my turn? I was in line first? But then I thought I would fall into some stereotype of a white entitled girl which, quite frankly is not fair. When the man initially harassed me saying, “Black lives matter,” what was I going to do? Turn around and say, “Yes, I know.” But, I didn’t want to engage with him, and somehow responding to him would make me responsible for racism when I am not racist. It would mean somehow I would be at fault or agreeing to being complicit with people that are racist which I was not going to entertain. And, if I challenged him by stepping forward to take my turn in line, who knows what would unfold. So, instead I ended up dropping the repellant which I so desperately needed, and stormed out the door.
As I rode home I felt frustrated, sad, but mostly angry. It is not the first time I’ve experienced racism in the recent months but, I am at a point where I am not going to take it anymore. Even when I talk to friends that are minorities about something like my skin cancer they say, “White peoples problems.” But, in this situation, it’s a total stranger in a pubic place harassing me and people just standing there. I’m not going to be accosted or harassed and be made out to be a problem or worse racist cause I’m white. I am not going to just take it cause it’s a sensitive topic these days and cause I’m not considered a minority. I’m just supposed to tip toe around the subject? No. I’m not going to back down, or be silent. I’m going to defend my right to get my repellent despite backlash and stereotypes of a white woman standing up for herself in a store where everyone just sits and stares.
I just hope next time I don’t snap, but, at least I have a helmet in case anyone takes a swing at me.