Although the basic answer may seem more than obvious, I am not so naïve as to believe that everyone shares my views on this topic. I would like to believe that everyone would like to live in a world where race , religion, or sexual preference has nothing to do with our day-to-day treatment of people, but we don’t. And as I will explain later, I am including myself when I make that statement. This is one of those hot bed topics that always seems to cause a stir, no matter how lightly you tread upon the subject. So with that in mind, I am just going to trudge forward and let the chips lie where they fall. Some may agree with me, others will not.
As with many couples, over the past few years, Maureen and I have come to know each other very well, and we have developed an unspoken instinct towards each other. There are times when we can have a conversation with almost no words at all. There is almost no second guessing anymore. We both seem to know how the other will react in certain situations. As an example, this last Sunday we were going to dinner and watch the Super Bowl at Maureen’s parents, and our schedule was going to be a little tight. One of our stops was to pick Alex and Molly up from their mother’s house. We were supposed to do that at 4 on our way out of town. While running some errands, I was dropping Maureen off at the gym while I ran to the grocery store. At that time, Maureen asked if I would give my ex-wife a call to see if we could pick the kids up a half hour early because her mom wanted to start dinner early. I looked at the clock that said 1:45 and then looked at my phone. I decided to save myself the phone call. Knowing us, we would be lucky to make the four o’clock pick-up time. After the store, we still had to make an appetizer and two side dishes for the dinner.
When I got to the store, it was crowded. I had to go back out to the parking lot to retrieve a cart, because the store was so busy they had not sent anyone out to bring them in. I stuck to my list, and surprisingly made it around the store with relative ease. Here is where things get a little hairy. My cart was about half full, but I had way too many items for the self check out. The sign above those registers says 15 items or less, and I am always amazed at how many people stay in those lines even with a cart overflowing with groceries. I have been tempted on occasion to ask for a re-count. The store was adequately staffed, and almost every register was busy ringing up customers. I am notorious for picking the wrong line. I almost always get stuck behind the lady who wants a price check on every other item, and then writes a check to boot. But today I got lucky, or so I thought.
I found an aisle with just two customers. The first was already in the process of reloading her cart with bagged goods, and the second was a young guy flipping through a magazine. I use the term young because I basically call anyone with less grey hair than I young, but I would say he was in his early to mid-twenties. He was African/American and there were two things about him that just seemed strange to me. The first was the fact that the waist band on his pants seemed to hover just above where I would assume his knees should be, and the other was that he was not moving up in line. The conveyor belt was empty by now, but he had not moved up or placed his magazine down. Without trying to be pushy, I inched my way up hoping that he would give me enough room to start unloading my cart, but he wasn’t going to budge. I was just about to say something when I heard a soft voice behind me.
It was young woman this time, also African/American and very pretty. She carried with her three items, one of which was a belt. It seemed obvious the two were together, and at first I was a little pissed that they pulled this stunt, saving a place in line while there were other customers waiting to check out. With just three items, they could have easily used the express self check out without much of a wait. But as long as it got the line moving again, I really didn’t care. Only the guy was still not moving up.
Now it was my turn to say something. The young lady was checking out, and all I wanted to do was get enough room to unload my cart. Why did he need that much room? Then suddenly it became very obvious to me. The young woman who had so politely passed me was paying for the three items with a $100 bill, and now she was asking the clerk to make change for her. Suddenly, the man with the sagging paints wanted to make conversation with me, asking me if I knew directions to a Wal-mart near by. I looked him straight in the face and told him that he and his friend needed to stop what they were doing and get out of there. And then I started telling anyone who would look at me that we needed security here fast. To use one of the young people’s terms, the woman was suddenly up in my face. The former sweet voice was now harsh, and then here it came. I was a racist.
To be very honest, race does come into play here, but not in the way I would have expected. I second guessed myself. My instincts were telling me something was wrong, but because of their race, I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. Having worked with money for many years, I know the short change scam, but I was being too cautious. If it had been a white couple, I think I would have reacted more quickly. But now the same thing that had made me cautious in sounding the alarm, was now being thrown back in my face. I turned to the kid who was working the register, who by the way was also African/American but was obviously still in high school, and told him that he should hold on to the change until he got a manager over here first. Unfortunately, in the confusion, the clerk gave back the money, and the couple made a break for the door.
As I said before, I am not so dumb as to think racism does not exist, but I also know that it goes both ways. This is not the first time I have been accused of being a racist, and I am sure it wont be the last. For some people it has become an easy excuse. If things are not going your way, it’s not your fault. The other guy is a racist. And that is a problem. Because then it takes away from all those who really are involved in a situation where they are being descriminated against. It is like the boy who cried wolf. If you keep shouting about the big bad white racist, then it is going to be that much harder to get the world to listen when it is really needed. I know racism still exists. And I am thankful that I have parents who did their part to show me the right way to combat it. And I can only hope that I have now passed those same feeling on to my own kids. I don’t want my kids to have to live in a world where people are still judged by standards that have nothing to do with what they are like as human beings. I didn’t stop that couple from taking advantage of that store clerk because of the color of their skin. I did it because they were doing something wrong. And for me to look the other way, no mater what their race, would have been wrong too.
And that is why racism sucks.