Monday, March 5, 2012

What I'd really like to say

Time for another post in the recurring series, What I'd Really Like to Say to People.

Today's post comes from a few weeks ago when I was in Barnes and Noble. It was busy (yay! lots of people in bookstores!) and an African American woman approached the information desk--you know the one located in the center of the store. The employee there was helping an older white man with his request.

"Sure, let me just finish with this gentleman," the employee said in response to the black lady's request for help. But suddenly the black lady exploded.

"Oh! You're helping him because he's white and I'm black! I see! You won't help me because I'm black!" she said at a volume that I considered to be quite high.

That employee, man I give her credit. I would not have known what to say to such a blatantly unwarranted and unseemly claim. But the employee kept her cool and said, "I'm not going to go there. I'll be happy to help you when I'm finished with this customer, who was here first."

The angry black lady walked away, muttering not at all quietly about the injustice of her plight as a black woman not being helped in clear favor of a white man. Here's where I wish I'd stepped up and said something. I really think a lot about color and diversity in my stories, and it bothers me that the default is white for most readers and writers. Color or nationality shouldn't be a big deal. But you know what? I haven't had to really struggle with racism most of my life.

But I do wish I'd stuck up not for the white vs. black thing (which wasn't an actual issue here), but for the correct order of being first in line. The power of queuing, if you will.

"Excuse me," I wish I'd said. "That guy was totally there first. I'm offended that you'd turn it into a race thing."

"Screw you!" the black lady might have replied. "She wouldn't serve me because I'm black etc. etc.!"

"NO!" I would shout. "Bad lady! You should have made it into a woman vs. man thing! Make it a sexism thing! What were you thinking! Oh yeah, she'll help the MAN, but what about the lowly woman!"

The lady would stare at me blankly.

"Yeah!" I would shout. "Also, that guy was totally wearing loafers! How dare that employee help someone who wears loafers! What, your sneakers aren't good enough? What kind of place is this?" I would dance around like a monkey, knocking into the bookshelves.

At this point, the lady would walk away, or continue to shout, or hit me over the head with a book--all possible outcomes, which is why in the end I said nothing.

I have loads of these things happen to me--where crazy things happen and I wish I'd spoken up. I push myself to do this in my stories. Speak up! Kick the guy! Do something I wouldn't normally do!

Well, I don't know. But I do feel better now. Happy Monday!


Laura Pauling said...

Wow, I've never seen anything like that. That is so tough. Any situation can be so easily misconstrued. Sometimes I wish I'd said things like that too.

Jessica Lemmon said...

LOL! Ahh, the age old loafer/sneaker debate...if I had a nickel... To your credit, you were probably hesitant to get involved because, frankly, that woman sounds like she was itching to pick a fight. I can't say I blame you for remaining neutral...and peeved.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I like to think that in my craven reaction to most of these kinds of situations I am really just saving up my psychic energy and whatnot for the times that really count. Like when I can save someone's life or something.

Linda G. said...

LOL! Trust me, as satisfying as your pretend scenario is, you did the right thing in real life. You can't reason with someone who has an irrational chip on her shoulder like that. It would have only escalated the situation, making the employee's life even more difficult. But I understand your "I shoulda..." frustration.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Laura and Jessica, I definitely said nothing because I believed the lady was indeed itching for a fight, and I like my well-being too much. And the employee didn't need help; she'd stood up for herself really well!

SL, right, craven is how I usually feel in sitches like this too. It's only AFTER the fact!

Linda, that's what the blog is for :) I sense a running series on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Ooooo, I hate those kind of situations. Kudos to the customer service lady. I know I'll never know what to say if something like that ever happens to me.

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