Last week I went into my job just like I always do. I put my bag and coat in the drawer designated for “vendors”, and proceeded to stand at my station. It didn’t take me long before I started daydreaming and thinking about my plans for 2017, because after all the end of 2016 is here. Half way through me dreaming of taking over the world one makeup brush at a time, a customer walks in. I spoke, she looked at me, and then proceeded to walk around the store looking for whatever it was she came in for.
Now at this point I know some of you are wondering whether she spoke or not, and the answer is no. She blatantly ignored me, but because I am so used to being ignored by customers who choose not to say hello after I have greated them, I was unbothered. I chuckled to myself, and continued to daydream. Five minutes later, the same woman told me to grab some things for her, all from brands I coincidentally did not work for. I explained that I was visiting from ___ brand, and that I would grab someone to pull her items. She was heated! Now I’m sure you are wondering why she would become heated? Well my guess is probably because I didn’t scurry to step and fetch what she wanted with the sense of urgency that I may have had to have back in 1876. Anyway, before I could finish explaining that I was gonna grab someone to help her, she cut me off and blurted out “Well perhaps someone else can help me then”, and dismissed me like I had done something wrong. I laughed in my head, not being shaken because as I alluded to earlier, this type of stuff happens everyday.
Fifteen minutes go by, and the same client comes back and asks me a question specific to my brand. Of course because she is still irked that I wouldn’t step and fetch her products from earlier, she says “Well since I usually use ____ brand, can you just “do something to my face?” I mean since you work for ___ brand? Now in my head I was thinking that based on technicalities I could say no because “doing something to my face” means a full face makeup application, and that is considered a service which costs money, but I am no dummy, and was not looking to argue or have a customer complaint so I said “sure” and asked the lady to have a seat!
Almost as soon as she sat down, she started talking about politics. She talked about how awful it was going to be with Trump in office, and how our country was going to go backwards, and how she worked in politics, etc…Here and there I would engage her and discuss statistical data in regards to Americans and the break down of how we all voted (she had no idea that 96% of black women voted for Hillary while 52% of white women voted for Trump),shared with her a few funny anecdotes on my experience at the DNC this past July, we discussed where we both were from, our educational backgrounds, etc… Overall I kept the mood light, because Trump is the president elect, and somehow someway we have to move forward. At the end of our surprisingly pleasant conversation, she looked me dead in my eyes scrunched up her face as if she was really trying to understand something with all of her being and asked “How do you know all of this stuff?”, now people ask me that question all the time, but the way that she asked the question reminded me of the other statement made by many people towards me at least once a week and millions of other people who look like me and that is the ” You are so articulate” micro aggression which makes the assumption that because of the color of my skin my vocabulary will be basic at best, that I am uneducated, and that there is no way that I could have a decent conversation about politics (even though I had already shared my educational background and live in DC which makes it almost impossible to be clueless about politics).
Not feeling up to reiterating my specific educational background or providing a history lesson, I just replied that I love to understand the world around me and the people who live in it, which is the truth, and gave her a Kanye shrug. After that, she felt the need to bring up how awful the election of Trump would be for race relations and for immigrants and proceeded to tell me that she had a black son. At that moment, I realized that while I live in a city that voted 96% Democratic that many of the folks who view themselves as liberals and progressives have a long way to go.
Rewinding my experience with this one woman took me from slavery into modern day times, but I controlled our journey into the future. If I had made the decision to “step and fetch” the items that she asked for initially, I would have been making a subconscious decision for us both reinforcing the same crazy ideologies that got Trump elected in the first place. If I had declined her request for me to “do something to her face”, the experience could have turned nasty and strengthened the unwavering stereotype of the angry black woman inserting me as that woman. Had I chose not to be myself and engage her in conversation, she would not have been caught off guard by my educated and articulate thoughts and responses which she obviously needed for various reasons.
Finally I remembered that everything happens for a reason, and both of us needed to share in that experience. Racism is alive and well in many, and fighting it requires many strategies. As my granny always said, there is more than one way to skin a cat.