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Thursday, August 4, 2016

RACISM PLAYS OUT IN NANOSECONDS

 TODAY AT WALMART! "Are we not better than this?"


Racism doesn't always involve extreme acts of hate, in fact, it takes on many subconscious and covert forms. If you are not African American or a person of color you may not readily see that racism is rampant in some of the simplest day to day events unless you pay close attention. However, if you are a person of color you inherently live the indiscriminate dynamics that follow such individuals as a constant threat. (Yes, even in 2016!) I am not talking  about all the tragic shootings and obvious hate crimes that should not have happened by police and others, I am talking about the constant daily acts of racism that go mostly unnoticed. The subtle slights like the white librarian who ignored the black man at the front of the line only helping the woman behind him. The woman behind him spoke up, thank goodness. Similarly, an African American soldier next door worked on his yard everyday only to find it branded with Clorox in the middle of the night. An employee not offered a well deserved raise or the secret ridicule and stereotyping that often plays out without a second thought. Oppression happens in nanoseconds. People are too willing  to fold right into blanketed assumptions and long held biases. This even happens in neighborhoods that promote themselves as upscale or racially diverse. One family on the next block was pranked gradually until they adopted a large protective dog and put the dog's picture in the window with the words:  "My House, your Butt!"  It is clear that these people were unfairly targeted due to the color of their skin but far worse is the psychological impact. Living under chronic scrutiny fosters fear and frustration like a school bully upon his victim. The result is distrust and anger at the system....perpetuating a deep wound within our social construct.

A social issue that conflates so many issues brings a wound of dysfunction to us all. The protest sign reads, "if one group is oppressed no one is free." As in any family if one member is in pain the whole family suffers. On a broader scale when members of society are targeted for oppression our societal family cannot function smoothly. We can not just ignore this problem or kick troubled people to the curb who have been systemically disenfranchised or it will come back to haunt us all.  More crime, more anger and more economic division and dysfunction.  We need a new design, not the same old rhetoric that allows everything to stay the same. Those of us who walk the road of indifference are just as culpable as those who oppress.  How can we isolate ISIS as a terrorist group when we fail to see the terror that we assail upon each other everyday.  We all must take responsibility in healing a deadly racial divide and it starts with how we think, talk, act and blame. Today I saw another silent example of this sad narrative.....  

It is Wednesday and I waited in line to make a return at Walmart. It was a nightgown that was a gift to a family member who gave it back so I could return it. But even more, I needed the money to buy a treat for my son to help with his medication. Anticipating a quick wait with only three of us in line, I soon noticed  a great deal of fuss over the gentleman in front of me. He had his receipt and his method of purchase was easily validated plus he offered other details as needed but the line of questioning seemed obscure and wrong.  He was an African American man. Finally, a little annoyed, he said, " I know what I bought, where I bought it and what payment I used and it was in this store at that electronics counter. You have my receipt!" He pointed to the back area of the store. Phone calls ensued as a manager came to the front. She took his receipt to supposedly match it up to an item that they were all out of now.  Without his receipt he became worried and turned toward me to say, "Next thing you know they'll say I never had a receipt." I reassured him with "Don't worry, I am your witness; I know you had a germane receipt and I am sorry that you are enduring this."

When the lady returned she said she could not match the skews and denied him the return or exchange. He became upset and explained that his item was purchased just three hours ago.  A second manager approached and in the most civilized way reached to shake his hand while introducing himself as the electronics manager. (I believe) Then he firmly stated, "I can NOT authorize this exchange because I can't verify that you bought that item." Naturally, I was shocked so at that point, I interjected, "He has been trying to make an exchange with a receipt and credible answers to all of the questions; it does not make sense that you can't authorize it? Do you know how many times a day African Americans are confronted with negative assumptions? It's not just the occasional error it is a constant and we all need to be aware of how we persist certain stereo-types. The manager answered, "I understand but this is different."

Perhaps it is different so I must let those in charge do their job as a certain amount of skepticism is normal in making a return. However, I have shopped and returned items at this Walmart  for 10 years occasionally without a receipt and have never been treated like what I witnessed.

I really wanted to support this customer as I felt he was being discriminated against. He seemed to feel better with my backing and came up with a great idea. "Take the receipt time and date and find me on the Walmart store camera purchasing that item and also getting it checked at the door clerk on the way out."  I was impressed with his resourcefulness but couldn't help worrying that he'd still be shortchanged. Fifteen minutes later, I was now being helped with my return/exchange. Interestingly enough, I had lost my receipt and my exchange took all of three minutes.... probably because no assumption of thievery was cast upon me. Can you guess what race I am? Yep, I'll bet you guessed right. Conversely, in his case, it is amazing to see how much manpower and time it takes to cop a negative assumption and try to back it up.

We all learn in high school that our justice system is staked on an innocent until proven guilty theory  but on this day Walmart's crew hit a blind spot here.  As I signed the exchange slip the young electronics manager returned from searching the cameras and told the clerk to finally go ahead and process the return or exchange for the disgruntled customer----as he was, indeed, found on several store cameras purchasing it just as he claimed! I was so relieved and so was he......until the manager began walking away without a single apology. Something in me had to stop him. "Sir, you should kindly provide this customer an apology or some kind of reparation for your accusations and refusal to exchange a legitimate purchase.

Other customers who were now in line waiting chimed in and asked that he be given a $20.00 gift certificate plus an apology for 45 + minutes of hassle.  But the man simply said, "I don't want any compensation I just want to exchange the damaged item I came for. This affirmation of his dignity and morality only served to amp up the audience in his favor. The total effect was one of great support and understanding. With so many customers reaching out to provide social understanding, my heart was warmed. When he left the first clerk was in tears trying to figure out what had just happened and under a great deal of pressure from the get go. Good grief, racism is rife under the simplest of circumstances. Innocent until proven guilty by a preponderance of the evidence means that this assumption of thievery in the presence of all required documentation and proof of purchase (receipts) reeks of racism and injustice.  

Proceeding to finish my errand, I happened upon that same electronics manager and took the opportunity to kindly explain to him how his assumptions persist discord and pain in our populous and that we need to be more sensitive to this unfair dynamic. His answer said it all.  "I know but I had to decline his return at first because he could have easily picked that receipt up off the floor and then grabbed the item off the shelf to return it. Then he would be getting money for something he never paid for. I am just doing my job."

"Wow," I exclaimed, "so you did assume the worst and that is why you gave him such a tough time, so sad."

Our system has been faced with the tough mission of making reparations, righting the wrongs of past generations but it is clear the scope of this repair has been flawed for a long time. The reparations have failed! The protests and riots we see happening in the news may be a consequence of desensitized or racist police but this consequence is due to a broader failure that must be rewired internally. Men and women who are racist and insensitive to various dynamics should not be in our police force PERIOD.  "Brown vs. The Board of Education" was a huge help for the racial wound in 1954 but very little landmark legislation has been done since then. Not only that, no one was educated in how to completely heal the fall out caused by oppression. Hence, this deeply gouged and infected wound in our society is still with us. To heal it properly we must start from the very infrastructure that tore it apart in the first place.  What I am saying is simply this, when someone has been economically, educationally, and socially injured at the hands of others then it seems crucial that social, educational and economic nurturing and restructuring must take place. A  re-set can't happen overnight but can be set up over time by training leaders and boosting schools and communities that are clearly failing. A wound that is cared for heals and this must be our  scope.


It amazing to me how so many white people can blame people of color for their situation ignoring the dynamics of all forms of oppression and standardizing a code of "white ignorance." By all means enjoy your own success but reach out to learn the psychological implications that you might be unaware of. Americans must level the playing field and create unity. Inculcating a better understanding of oppression and how it works to target various people and groups helps us get there.

After I picked up my items and paid for them by the same tearful clerk I touched her arm, "I understand that you were put in a tough position, we all have to be more sensitive." She softened and smiled. With keys and food in hand my hope is that all of this unnecessary drama can be alleviated by a better understanding of our historical weak points not just in Walmart but everywhere. My hope is that we stop the awful stereotypes that dehumanize people of color everyday down to the smallest comments.  My hope is that when our police rush to do justice that it is tempered by new training especially when it involves those who have been systemically disenfranchised.  I believe we are capable of becoming a grand culture but we have to heal this old wound... lest we stay a deadly divided one. I love the poignant words of Congressman Cummings (though he was referring to something different) "We are better than this!" I say, we have to be. Please read my post on how we also make these same mistakes with our children "Common Parent Misfires."

(Nota Bene) Statistics show that white women are responsible for most of the shoplifting in America. Thank you for reading this post and please share your thoughts on it.
Penman

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