Questions people of color get asked

March 29, 2010

Penney’s department store counter; Northgate mall. Seattle. A mom pays for a purchase while her 6-year old son plays with his toy; rolling it on the counter. “Is that yours?” the clerk asks the boy. “Yes, It’s my toy” he replies.  She continues on with the transaction and says to the child, “Did you get it over there on the shelves?”  The mother interrupts, “No, that’s his toy.”   The middle-aged female clerk was white. The mother and her son were black. The white man observing said that what bothered him the most was the clerk’s tone of voice. It was not playful and casual as might be asked by a friendly observer of a child with his toy. Said the man:

In my ears, it was ‘I don’t trust you. I think you are stealing that.

Spokane, Washington. Restaurant. A white man and his black male friend are sitting eating dinner.  Two white men walk in. One looks at the black man and says, “Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen cooking?”  The friend of the black man is shocked. The black man dismisses the incident as just one more in a long line of racist actions that surround his life.

Seattle. Upscale department store. Two professional colleagues are engaged in their usual friendly bantering with each other. She’s a white woman. He’s a black man. Both of them fashionably dressed. A white man approaches and says to her, “Is he bothering you?”

Real stories. Real people. Real heartbreak at how people of color move through their day unsurprised by the racial harassment they receive and the kind of questions they get asked.

If the people of color in this story were white, I believe these questions would not have been asked. Whiteness at work, dehumanizing us all in its wake.

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