Covid Confrontations

“Don’t be mad at me, I just didn’t know. I haven’t been here since March.” the customer raised her voice through a decorative brown and orange striped cloth face-mask.

“Well if you don’t know, you don’t know,” I mumbled.

I did not believe she didn’t know. “Just another white lady who thinks the rules don’t apply to her.” I thought. “I’m ready if she pulls some Karen shit, though. We won’t tolerate that here.” I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that my co-workers were around to back me up if necessary. 

As I scanned the groceries and tossed them back into the cart, I continued to complain to myself, “She thought I was going to take the groceries out of her bag. Ha! Why didn’t she just use a cart like everyone else? I should have told her to go get the cart for herself. She better not make a scene.” I sucked my teeth and probably rolled my eyes a little.

“What’s wrong now?” She asked, unexpectedly.

“The other cashiers are not here now, we aren’t busy now, that’s why they left. But they were here a few minutes ago.” I rambled on a bit, not telling her what I really felt.

I did not tell her that I was terrified that she would start throwing shit and calling me names and blaming me for all the problems with the world. I did not tell her that she was standing too damn close to me when she was belligerently trying to bag the groceries after I told her that she could not do that here.

“I still don’t understand exactly,” she interrupted my silent reel. “Where am I supposed to bag the groceries?”

“In the parking garage,” I replied incredulously. Didn’t she see that on her way in?

“Oh, how strange,” she replied. After a moment, she simply said, “Ok.”

I felt relieved, she was not going to make a scene. Soon she would leave and I could just forget about the whole incident.

“You accept SNAP here, right?” She asked.

“What?” I asked. I thought I heard correctly, but the masks muffle the words sometimes.

She showed me the food stamp card and asked again.

“Yes,” I replied, a bit stunned. I realized that my story about her was at least partially shattered. She wasn’t just trying to get special treatment. She did not know that the store policies had changed. I wondered whether this was the first time she’d been able to buy groceries since March.

I checked over my shoulder to make sure there were other cashiers available, but this time for a different reason, “Follow me,” I said sympathetically, “I’ll show you where you can bag your groceries.”

Black Lives Matter – Statement of Support

Black Lives Matter Protest
Washington, D.C.

This is a public statement in support of the global protests seeking justice for George Floyd and countless other Black Americans who have been unceasingly victimized and brutalized in this country for hundreds of years. I write this to make my position clear because neutrality is a weak and unacceptable position to take during this global demand for the end of the oppression of our Black friends and family. Furthermore, silent complicity to gain a vote or a like or an extra dollar is reprehensible. 

I saw the video of George Floyd, but I could not watch the whole thing. I saw that he was outnumbered, unarmed, pleading for his life, calling for his mom, and that he was terrified. I saw that he was being murdered in public without mercy or an ounce of compassion. I do not understand the callousness of heart that causes police or anyone else to terrorize and murder people. I do not understand any person who defends the current system and status quo as if such acts of brutality upon humans are justified. I could not watch the entire clip because it was graphic and heart breaking. But, I am old enough and have seen enough that I did not feel shock. That was not the first or the last time a Black person was murdered by white people. 

My daughter is biracial, my second mother is Black, my girlfriend is Black. These are some of the people that I cherish and defend. These are the people that I worry about every day, in part because their skin is brown. Police brutality is only one of my concerns for their safety. According to The Washington Post, Black people are more than twice as likely than white people to be shot and killed by police. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/?itid=lk_interstitial_manual_11)

Last week I saw that there had been car-jackings in the area and that the suspects were Black men and I suddenly became worried that police might assume that my girlfriend was breaking into her own car to go to work that morning. I asked her to please wear the pink mask instead of the black mask, since no one has ever associated pink masks with car-jacking. I should mention that my girlfriend is also Deaf, so, if the police yell at her from behind and she doesn’t put up her hands because she doesn’t hear them or notice them, what are the chances that encounter will end well for her? This is just one example of the type of thoughts that ought to strike one as being unreasonable and absurd. I would welcome such sanity. There is a metal bar barricading our door when we sleep at night though, since this is the world we live in.

Recently I got my DNA test done with Ancestry.com. I had a not-so-secret desire to find non-European ancestry in my blood so that I could say that I was not really white after all. Being white is an embarrassment at best. To my dismay, my test results showed that my DNA is mostly English, Scottish, and Irish with a tiny bit of Finnish mixed in. Moreover, my research showed me that most of my ancestors have been here since the 1600s and 1700s. There were many poor immigrants who had huge families and lived in shacks in the Kentucky mountains. There were also colonizers, Revolutionary war vets, Southern land-owners who held Black people as slaves, and no short supply of confederate soldiers. I am a descendant of all of the evil that shaped this society as it is today. This is not a reason for pride. I am a descendant of terrorists who massacred Native people and enslaved Africans. Recently I saw a Black woman wearing a t-shirt that said “Not Today, Colonizer!” I thought that shirt did not refer to me. But, unfortunately, I was wrong.

For years I have yearned to make this world better but have felt absolutely powerless in the wake of a system that continues to profit off of oppression (aka capitalism). I have felt there is no possible way to right the wrongs of my ancestors, especially since I have been chronically poor and have often lacked anything but the basic resources for survival. I admit that I am not well-versed in politics, have not read enough about Black history and racism, and that social activism has not been my focus in life. I have not had much hope in our government to right the wrongs that it created, especially since year after year the majority of white people who do have resources and platforms to create change have been perfectly content to dismiss the racism against and oppression of Black people while chanting that they are not racist.

But something has changed. I went to the protests in DC a few days ago and I felt absolutely shocked by the number of white people there! When did this happen, how? I’ve seen the videos of so many white people in this country and all over the world standing up against police brutality for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other recent murders and by this I am shocked. This is something different. I hope they will use their power to make lasting changes. I hope they will listen to the lived experiences of Black people and that new policies will be made in collaboration with leaders in Black communities who have been fighting this fight for years and years. I hope they will continue to stand up for equity and justice when the conversation is uncomfortable for them.

I voted for Obama. I voted for Hillary. I will vote for Biden. Black Lives Matter. Those who do not stand up for justice for Black people have buried their hearts for the sake of ignorance and conversations with them are probably a waste of time. However, that there are so many white people who have a conscience and are willing and ready to listen and learn gives me hope that we can finally move forward together to build a better world.

2020 Credo

Me 2020, Photo Credit: Elicia Varnado

As per the advice of Colum McCann in the book “Letters to a Young Writer,” I’ve decided on a credo for my writing:

I am not the two-dimensional propaganda carefully crafted by those who wish I’d never been born. Nor am I any mythical heroine burdened with limitations of virtue, or vice. Imagination attempts representation but should not subscribe to theories of knowledge. I, like any character, breathe beyond the page and die without an ending. Predictable skin-deep desires may dance us through the script but truth is touched only when the heart can be felt screaming beneath the tripe.