Racism is…

By S. Christopher Emerson

Racism is:

This past Friday evening, I go to a grocery store in a decidedly White part of town (waaaayyyy out in northwest county St. Louis *wink*), get my items and get in line behind a couple (Black man, White woman). As I take position in the checkout line, I see and speak to a sista waiting in a lane several checkout lines over, with the light on, but with NO employee behind the counter to check her items.

As I wait for the aforementioned couple to finish being checked out, I spy, out of the corner of my eye, an older White woman employee emerging from one of the aisles greeting two elder White individuals coming forth from another aisle. I overhear this employee giggle and oblige, “You wanna just step right on in here?” as she gestures to the empty checkout line next to the one I’m in and turns the light on. The elder white shoppers proceed.

I stand in amazement; in not so much shock as umbrage. The elderWhite male sees my obvious, yet muted reaction and asks “You wanna go ahead?”

“Nah, I’m good,” I shrug, knowing full well that I’m not at all “good.”

Not that I’m angry, but rather that I’ve promised myself that I would challenge issues when I deemed appropriate, and the employee’s professional and social infraction was indeed “an issue.”

Sista Several Lines Over is watching with the “WTF?” look on her face…

“Pardon me, Ma’am,” I motion to the elder White employee who is now just chuckling it up with her befriended shoppers with small-towny obliviousness. “I’m certain that the customers who were already in line would have appreciated if you had checked us out first, instead of checking customers who were not even in line yet.”

Sista Several Lines Over looks at me with the “There it is” look, and Brothaman in front of me cops the “We-tried-to-tell-y’all-Ancient-African-American-proverb” look….

Microaggressive-White-employee’s expression shifts from bewildered, to outdone, to trivializing. Oh, ok,” she says with a sophomoric sneer. Elder White male shopper adds, “Well I offered him my spot in line…”

“Yeah, I know, it’s ok,” she pops her gum, which probably smells like cigarette butts and BC Pain Relief Powder, with that way out white STL accent where the term “farty” is the number after 39. The whole exchange purposely-not-purposely heaped petty onto insult. But as classic urban epic poet Oran “Juice” Jones declared, “But instead, I chilled…”

I decided right then to help them with the intellectual labor, feeling the racial tension masked as willful ignorance mounting. “I very much appreciated his offering me a spot where I should have already been, but I’m addressing the notion that he shouldn’t have had to do so, because we expect employees to assist customers who were already in line first, including the young woman over there (gesturing to Sista Several Lines Over, who STILL was not being helped). I just wanted to be sure to address that.”

So, I started off by saying “Racism is” right?

Racism is all the “Willya look at this uppity nigger” and the complimentary “that’s why we moved out to the county” looks from all the White folks within earshot.

Racism is my having to be acutely aware of and intentional about my physical stature and stance, facial expressions, and vocal tone and timbre, making sure to soften myself so that someone doesn’t sense a disturbance in Ofay Ridge and call the police overseers in a major St. Louis municipality that is just as notorious as Ferguson for locking up sistas and brothas and gouging fines.

Racism is my being aware that this elder White employee might suddenly flip and try to damsel herself into an explanation.

Racism is me having to watch my back as I walk out for some concerned White citizen who might “fear for their life” in a red state that, now, doesn’t even require a CCW to carry firearm.

That situation lasted all of four minutes, and may not have ruffled any white feathers, but I had to balance pushing against bullshit and making it home. Racism will make you feel right when you KNOW you were wrong. Racism will try to make you feel wrong when you know you’re right. And it’ll make you fear being TOO right. Racism is some backwards ass bullshit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *