Wednesday, May 26, 2010

my heart is heavy with weight of my color

I was burning to write this.

So much so that I'm sitting here, my head starting to ache dully, my backpack still on my back, my nerves rattled.

I practically hurtled my groceries on the counter so I could grab my laptop to document this feeling.
You could call me lucky. (Though, I don't believe in luck.) You could call me spared. You could call me young. Whatever the case may be, I do not believe that I have ever sincerely come into contact with racism. Meaning, I've never been given the sideways eye, never been called "nigger," never had anything truly derogatory thrown my way that had something to do with my race. Sure, maybe it's because of how I carry myself; maybe it's because of the people I've been around, I don't know. I have had some "educational moments," when I had to school someone on something, or let them know that they were being offensive, but never have I had an instance when someone was being flat out racist and didn't give two shits about my educational moments.

I don't know if I've just experienced one of these moments I've been "lucky" enough to have avoided in life, but my spirit sure as hell is riled up, so something just happened that I'm not sure I understand.

I needed to go to Dollar General this morning. Well, I didn't need to go, I wanted to go. Wanted to get some coconut milk and honey for my hair. (The experimentation of a natural girl and her hair knows no bounds.) So, I decided to stop by the one on Semoran, on my way home. I was wearing my work shirt and jeans, my hair is in a bigger 'fro than yesterday (picture later), and I had my little black slingback backpack on my shoulder. You know, the kind with the rope straps that you can just toss on your back. Before I got out of the car, I had what I call an intuition moment. What I believe an intuition moment is, is when you suddenly stop, debating your course of action for what feels like no good reason. Despite my reasoning that I will always listen to my intuition, usually when I have one of these moments, I go left of what I'm thinking. Maybe it's because I always learn the hard way.

Anyway, I was sitting in my front seat, having just silenced my ignition, when I looked at my sling bag for no good reason.* For whatever reason, I wondered whether I should take my wallet out and just carry it and not take in the bag. I don't know why I had this thought; maybe it's because I know that stores consider kids with backpacks to be suspicious characters, waiting to steal something. I don't know. Despite that logic, I'm grown, is what I would have said to myself. I decided I didn't want the hassle of trying to balance my wallet, my keys, my phone, and my sunglasses, and grabbed the bag anyway (along with my reusable shopping bag) and went inside the store.

When I approached the store, there was a not-so-young-but-not-so-old woman standing outside, talking to a guy. She paid me no attention, I paid her little attention, and I went on my way.

Inside, I found most of the things I was looking for--I needed some new bobby pins, for experimental hair styles, I found the coconut milk, and I didn't get those hot dog buns, which felt like they were on their way to becoming rock. But, I still didn't find the honey.

Instead of asking someone if they had honey, I just decided to walk around the aisles until I found it. I had time to kill, and I was feeling emotionally spacey anyhow, so I relished the quiet time alone and just meandered around. In the middle of all this, I felt my back vibrating--meaning that my phone was in the bottom of my bag, which was sitting on the small of my back. Feeling like it could be something important, I stopped in the middle of the aisle and opened my sling bag, searching for the phone. I found it, only to see that "unavailable" had called me. (I wish the credit card company would take a long walk off a short-ass pier.) I blew breath through my lips in frustration, and put the bag back down so I could toss my phone back in there. As soon as I straightened up to continue on my honey search, I had the fleeting thought that I hope no one thought I was trying to put something in my bag. Call me paranoid, or call me Black, but anytime I'm in a store, I always make sure that I don't do anything that looks suspicious, just because I don't want someone to think I'm stealing anything. If I bought something that doesn't require a bag, I carry the receipt in plain view. I don't fiddle with my purse a lot when shopping. Just a habit of mine.

Well, I go back to walking. And I notice that the same not-young-but-not-old woman walks down the aisle where I am. I stop because I'm getting ready to pick up the coconut milk, but I have to wait, because she walks extremely slow in front of me. She doesn't look at me, and I don't look at her, but I just wait for her to move out of my way, then pick up the milk.

I meandered to another aisle, and she appeared on this one also. I paid her a little more attention this time, though I wasn't alarmed--anybody who shops knows that there's no need for alarm just because you and a stranger end up on the same aisles twice.

But as I kept moving, she kept appearing wherever I was, and then the salesguy from the front register appeared also. They weren't looking at me, and they never stopped to ask me anything, but I noticed that they appeared wherever I was.

Eventually, I realized that the store had no honey. And I was growing agitated by the not-old-not-young lady and her flunky in the yellow and black uniform. I decided finally to head toward the front register. Flunky in the yellow and black walked up there at the same time I did.

When I got to the register, I said hello, to which I received a mucho-delayed response, and then I noticed the lady came behind the register with him. I felt like I was being stared at as he rang up my meager purchases in silence. Besides being stared at, I sensed a vibration traveling between them, as though they were speaking with their bodies to one another. I paid for my shit and he handed me my receipt, without saying anything to me, and I felt it again. Like they were staring at me. I looked down and noticed he didn't even put my shit in the reusable shopping bag, like I'd asked. He'd left it sitting on the counter, as lonely looking as I felt.

As I walked out the store, they began having an awkward-feeling conversation about cans on store shelves. When I left, I noticed they both came outside also, even though there had been a customer waiting at the register behind me.

I got to my car, open the trunk, threw the bag in, and slammed the hood. I felt like they were both staring at me, talking about me. When I pulled away, I made sure to drive by the store. I looked in my rearview, and the lady stepped out to the curb, as if she was looking at my license plate, and then she retreated from my view.

Now, you may say that maybe I was hallucinating, and maybe they weren't looking at me after all. Maybe this is a store ritual. Maybe you ask why I didn't say something to them. I know when I tell my mother this story, she's going to ask me why I didn't ask them why they were looking at me, or something like that.

I don't have an answer for you. Part of me, when already safely back on Semoran, wanted to drive back to the store, demanding answers. But, no one wants to be the sensitive minority, who cries foul anytime someone looks at you funny. I try to live my life assuming that people do things based on who I am, that if they look at me, it's because I'm tall, or because my hair is big, or because I'm even a bit cute, not because my skin is dark brown. But part of me wants to cry, and has been fighting tears ever since I left and went to the Wal-Mart around the corner from where I stay.

As soon as I walked in, I felt self-conscious. Were people looking at my skin, or my hair, or my features, and making assumptions about my character? I stopped to get some plantains, and a young white woman and her precious little baby were standing there. I braced myself for another sideways glance, feeling somehow inadequate after the episode in Dollar General, but she smiled and asked me if I knew how to fry plantains. I shared my acquired knowledge with her, smiled at her and her cutie-pie baby, and went on my way, feeling that there was still some kind of justice in the world, in my world.

I don't really know what happened this morning, and perhaps I will never know. Maybe I'm just feeling extra sensitive because I've been feeling particularly alone and out-of-the-loop the past couple of days**, and maybe I'm more sensitive because I'm wearing my hair out for the first time in a long time. But I know me. I rarely jump to call "race" when something questionable happens. I'm not one of those people who plays the race card just because someone got hotter french fries at McDonald's than I did, and the people who do participate in this kind of behavior make calling foul when it's necessary a lot harder to do.

But I don't get all shook up over nothing. And as soon as I pulled out, I was furious. I wanted to drive my car through the fucking store, I was so mad. (Though, I would never hurt my car like that.) And then, as soon as I was angry, I was saddened. Immensely saddened. The tiny circle of a space which I've been living in lately, seemed to tighten even closer, and the wave of being alone washed over me yet again.

I felt alone.
I felt profiled.
I felt like a Black girl.
Not in a good way.

Like I said, I don't know what happened in that store. But I'm never going back in there. I'll stick to the Dollar General on my parents' side of town, which I still claim as my side of town, because that's where my heart is. I've never had a problem in there.

They say home is where your heart is. And my heart has little respect for this side of town. This incident didn't help not one bit.

I wanna go home.
(here's the pic of the big 'fro... could this be why they clearly followed my ass around the store? I think not.)

*-the "no good reason" is usually God tapping you on the shoulder. So, the reason really is good, but we perceive it as being for no reason; random; out of nowhere.
**-thank God for my family, for without them, I'm sure I'd feel even more alone. And for those very few friends I have, who manage to never make me feel on the outside looking in.


Anonymous said...

Yikes! I'm sorry you had to encounter that situation. I do not think you were hallucinating at were being profiled. You're better than me b/c I wouldn't have even purchased anything from that store. It's so unfortunate that this type of "undercover" racism still happens. Don't be mad. And damn sure don't feel insecure. Hold your head up high and pray for them and their ignorance (and hope they don't have any offspring :)

Miss Malorie said...

Thanks girl. I think I was in shock being that this was the first time I'd ever come in contact with something I'd heard so much about that, so I a). didn't think about leaving sans my purchases, b). couldn't say anything at all, and c). tried to believe it wasn't real. My mom (of course lol) told me I should have said something and I should have asked for my money back, something she said she's had to do before.

I'm still holding my head up, but I won't lie... it definitely rattled me something awful.

Leila said...

Awww I'm sorry you had to go through that as well. I also doubt you were hallucinating. Could be racism exacerbated by the fact that you're young (oh yes, even cookie cutter white girl Leila has been followed around a store because 'I might steal something')!!
Your mom is awesome, but I feel with ignorant people, confrontation doesn't help- it only hurts! They would have no doubt added belligerent to your profile (oh wait- they probably don't know what belligerent means! lol).
Either way, I'm sorry, hun! <3

Miss Malorie said...

Thanks Leila :) You're right--they wouldn't have known what belligerent means anyway! And we young people also seem to appear suspect to older crowds... doesn't help that young people do stupid stuff to help promote that image lol.

I feel better than I did when I wrote this, but my eyes are open, that's for sure.

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