Beyond Bed and Bath

IMG_5121Shopping 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.

One thought on “Beyond Bed and Bath

  1. Rochelle

    Yes. I have experienced this. On the day I realized it I changed. It wasn’t an immediate change just slow and steady. I made an effort, if the employee was wearing a name tag, to say “Thank You X” at the end of our conversation. If the interaction was on the phone I would jot down their name or say “I’m sorry I missed your name” or ” Can you pronounce your name for me?” and then always, using their name, Thank them for their time.

    The catalyst for my transformation came in the form of a book some 8 years prior to the day I realized that not only the color of my skin but the words I strung together mattered. The book was “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. The year was 1991 or 1992. I remember reading it while Spike Lee was filming his movie. My Mom let me skip school to go to the premiere. I would have been 16 at the time. A senior in high school.

    Flash forward to 1999. The post office released a stamp commemorating Malcolm. I was still enamored by him. His poster still hung on my wall. His story ever present on my “5 books to take on a deserted island” shelf. I called the post office to see where I could purchase the stamps because I “had” to have a sheet of them. The woman that answered the phone was looking into it for me and while she was occupied with her computer, in my excitement for potentially finding the stamps, I whispered to my Mom, while probably pointing at the phone, “she’s black!”. Rightly so the postal worker hung up on me. I was mortified.

    I did not grow up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Unless you were to turn the attention to my own mottled DNA sample which, thanks to my textbook, was taboo I grew up white. It angers me when I realize I only truly know one word of my Choctaw language. Why? Because my Grandmother was taken from her family to attend a Catholic boarding school. All of her family history was effectively schooled out of her. My Mother learned some words of the language and used them enough for me to remember one of them. Maybe because it is a good word and is the translation of the first English word I properly used as a toddler. “Hi”/”Halito”

    This blog post, from someone I admire more with each interaction, reminds me that I need to begin more conversations and to, as always, be kind “always, all ways.” (Also from “a deserted island book”, Toni Morrison’s Sula.)

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