As the holiday season kicks off many of us are spending more time out and about trying to finish up (or start) our holiday shopping. As we attempt to capitalize on sales or maybe just enjoy being a part of the festive spirit of the holidays.
A week ago I was in line at my local Target doing all of the above with my fiance, who happens to be white. As we checked out I heard the next available cashier call out that she could help whoever was next in line. After a moment or two passed, I can feel that I was being stared at. I looked up as she announced again that she was able to help the next person in line. I made eye contact, smiled politely, and moved closer to my fiance to no avail. There are a few people behind me and I realize that I’m still being stared at as she says “next”. I picked up my purse from our basket and then touched his arm. These are all cues I’ve used in the past to non-verbally indicate that he and I are together. Because of her focus on me, the people behind me are not only not moving to her counter but are giving those under the breath heavy sighs as they feel I’m holding up the line by not paying attention. Finally, when my fiance addressed me did the cashier realize her mistake and everyone started to move. I’ve gotten used to going to places and having people question if we are together, asking if we need separate checks, or assuming I’m with the black family in front or behind us despite the fact he and I are holding hands. This is something I’ve never experienced when out on a date with black men.
All of this goes to show that claims of people being colorblind are simply untrue, they most certainly see color. They continue to demonstrate that not only do they see color, they also allow color to inform the snap judgments they make about customers in their store and how we should be treated based on their preconceived notions of people. As you will see in the video below from Ms. Kimberly Houzah:
We need to discuss the inherent racism of this reaction from the store manager. Can you imagine that if the shoplifter had been white, all the white people would have been asked to leave the store? Probably not because such a thing would be ridiculous and unthinkable, just as it is in this situation. This is the kind of racism that many want to deny is an issue. The kind of daily slights that dehumanize people of color and in particular African-Americans. We are denied the privilege of being seen as unique and complex individuals and are often lumped together as if we operate from a hive mind. Many of us leave our houses and raise our children with the burden of representing the entire race for the sake of dispelling myths and unfortunately, playing into the faulty system of respectability politics. We know we are not allowed to react in negative ways even if that reaction is completely justified. It will not be seen as a disgruntled moment of someone having a bad day, it will not be seen as the failings of one person, it will be an indictment of all African Americans in this country.
These misconceptions are not the failings of black America to properly assimilate but of White America’s inability to accept the diversity many people swear they champion. It is the inability of White America to comes to grips with the fact that their acceptance typically comes in the form of White America watering down aspects of other cultures and appropriating what they find fanciful and discarding the rest along with discarding the people who are a part of those cultures. Often telling those cultures that their ways are not desirable and ostracizing us for displays of our culture while hypocritically making money off the pieces they have appropriated.
We need to address the erroneous belief that accepting diversity means White America decides what it finds useful for them and to discard the rest. True diversity is giving equal access and fair treatment to those with diverse backgrounds without the expectation of mollifying White America.
The most recent update to the story shows that Ms. Houzah returned to the store with a small protest group and Victoria Secret has issued an apology and fired the offending store manager. Ms. Houzah states that she will continue to shop at Victoria Secret, but not the one she was humiliated at by being kicked out for shopping while black.
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