Shopping for bed sheets today at Bed Bath, and Beyond, my arms are full. A helpful employee asks if I need a cart.
“Yes, that would be nice,” I say.
“I’ll get you one,” she tells me.
She’s African American, and immediately I feel the usual, overly self aware, sensation, afraid I’ll do or say something wrong, act phony, or come across as, “Hey, I’m one of the nice white people.” See jenncastro.com/2014/12/07/take-your-seat-white-america/
Lately, I’m very aware of micro aggressions, where white people naively say or do something insensitive to a person of color. I don’t want to commit a micro aggression.
Aware I am definitely over complicating the interaction, I’m certain she is making sure I know, that by helping me, she is just doing her job. Still I’m aware that whenever I’m around an African American person, I feel like I’m seeking to be forgiven.
“Could you tell me where to find the kid’s sheets?” I ask.
“My children’s sheets are behind you to the left,” she responds. A minute later, I’ve forgotten the directions and walk through the store in an endless circle. Cycling back to her department, I have to repeat my question.
She tells me. I don’t find what I want, and seek her help again, “Do you have printed queen size sheets?”
She doesn’t, but offers to special order them.
I hesitate, “Will there be a shipping fee?” I ask.
“That would depend on the cost,” she replies. She looks it up, and there is.
“Well, I’ll just get these,” I say pointing to the drab beige in my cart.
“Maybe shipping could be waived for a one-time deal since we’re out of stock,” she offers. It can. I thank her.
“Would you like to pay here or downstairs?” she asks.
“Here is easier,” I respond. I give her all my information. She suggests I continue my shopping and offers to find me to give me the hard copy of the receipt.
I tell her I’ve finished shopping, so she invites me to follow her to the printer. I do.
We walk through the endlessly full, busy aisles. We don’t talk. I don’t expect to. Arriving at the printer, I’m aware of every move. I extend my hand to hers to receive the receipt, thank her, and head down the escalator to finish my other purchases.
But I want to thank her more. How? I wonder as I wait on line. About to leave, I ask to see a manager. “Was there a problem?” the cash register employee asks.
“Not at all, I just received some very nice help from someone upstairs, and I want to let her manager know,” I offer.
“Do you know her name?” he asks. I don’t.
“She’s an African-American woman in the bedding department,” I respond.
“Yes, I know her, I’ll tell the manager,” he says.
Suddenly I feel connected. Maybe I helped. A little.
Here’s a question.
Any action around the Black Lives Matter movement you can take, today?
Black Lives Matter.