Thursday, August 27, 2015


So I was at Whole Foods today, doing my usual every-few-days shopping and I made sure to pick the last check out line closest to the door where no one was waiting and I could feel unrushed as I like to bag my own groceries in my own bags I bring from home. (Yeah I know, I'm a liberal cliche, including driving a Prius, though a beat up one so old it's almost one of the first.)

The lady checking the food I placed on the conveyor was doing it so rapidly I couldn't keep up so that everything was basically waiting to be bagged by the time I put the last item on the conveyor belt or whatever we call that moving surface in check out lines.

When I finally got the bags to stand up straight so I could start packing them there was no one behind me. Usually if there are people in line behind me I make a joke about being an old man or having had a brain operation or whatever to let them know I often share whatever impatience they might be feeling toward me taking a little extra time when I encounter folks in front of me in check out lines taking what I consider too long to bag their groceries and pay and get out of the way.

But as I was busy packing the bags I didn't realize there were people behind me waiting until I turned around to slide my credit card through whatever we call the thing you slide your credit car through to pay. Directly behind me was a young redheaded woman we usually call "white" and behind her a couple of tall teenage boys and a man I assumed was their father who was at least several decades younger than me and had at least fifty pounds on me or more and a few inches. All of these males what we usually call "black."

The man instantly started loudly berating me for not having paid before I packed my groceries like there was some law or rule or standard stating the order in which we are supposed to do whatever we have to do in a check out line. I noticed he only had a few items in his hand so I pointed out that there were other lines open and a whole section devoted to express lanes for people with less than ten items. But that only seemed to make him angrier.

A young "black" male manager I recognized thought quickly and opened the register next to the line I was in and motioned for the man to go there to have his items rung up and bagged. The man moved over there as I finished paying and started to leave but he couldn't stop berating me so I said something about how I hoped when he became an old man he was treated with more patience, but he jut kept ranting at me.

I could see in his face that it was obviously much more than me and the few extra seconds I added to his wait in line that was angering him. But I was too busy feeling disappointed that no one came to my defense including the several workers in that area, and the cashier. All of them were what we usually call "black" and all were looking away from the man and me as though nothing was happening.

As I pushed my cart toward the exit I grabbed my two full bags and left the cart, thinking I could drop them fast if I had to and not be stuck behind a cart if the guy came after me in the parking lot. I calmed myself down and slowed myself down deciding that whatever would be would be and there was no need for me to turn back to see if he was coming after me or to speed my pace to my car. In fact I walked more slowly than I normally would to make it clear to whoever might be behind me that I wasn't rushing or running away from the scene but was leisurely strolling toward my vehicle.

After I put my grocery bags into my car I finally turned around and saw the man walking parallel to the lane I was in and not looking my way at all. I got in my car and went home feeling pretty unruffled thankfully.

But when I got home and saw the news about the TV news anchor and her cameraman being shot and killed by an enraged ex-coworker who had a grievance against them and the station they worked at in Virginia because he had been fired and believed it was racially motivated, him being what we usually call "black" and them being what we usually call "white" (both of which terms are preposterous if they're meant to describe skin color as very few people's skin is either "white" or "black") I wondered if I had been a seventy-three-year-old black woman, or black man, or even white woman, if the angry man would have been as angry or have voiced it as ragefully as he did.

I know the killer in Virginia had obvious mental problems, and the man in Whole Foods was probably having a bad day brought on by stuff I had nothing to do with, but I also suspect this old "white" man represented something to the man in Whole Foods that I might have also represented had I been around that killer in Virginia. It isn't the first incident provoked by my being an old white man, the first one happened at a poetry panel in L.A. on which I was the only older (in my 50s at the time) "white" man and found myself being attacked as a representative of everything I fought against for most of my life just because I was being judged by the color of my skin, my age and my gender not my actions or my history.

I've spent a good deal of my adult life fighting against racism and sexism and homophobia, but I don't wear that on my skin (except in a tattoo that is so symbolically subtle at this stage of history that no one would get it anyway), so there's no way for others to know. I know that doesn't exempt me from continuing to work to change the racist legacy inherent in our history and current systemic and individual discrimination against those usually referred to as "black" (as well as "brown" and what used to be called "yellow" and "red"), but it does give me insight into what motivates some of the racial animosity Trump is playing so well to in his "white" supporters (including white supremacist organizations that have endorsed him).

In a way I'm glad that at the moment the two leading contenders for president from the right and from the left are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—two "old white men"—so that that generalization can be seen for what it is, mostly useless (and of course I know Bernie is Jewish and so by some of the strange racial categorization that goes on in our society that makes him not exactly an old "white" man but still...)...


JenW said...

Here are some thoughts--
1)At the checkout when they are crazy fast, I immediately tell them politely "please slow down & don't throw my stuff. (Sometimes I say "shit") I'm happy to bag but I don't want my shit thrown at me & piled up- or you can keep it all and put it back" (That works for larger orders too:-)
2)Black or White or any color -people carry junk (pain) & when they don't deal with it, it comes out negatively.
You did nothing wrong obviously & did the best- stayed calm.
3) Karma & the universe will teach him but who knows how long it will take.
4) Being proactive helps & and I always intervene when there is trouble brewing. The young manager tried but he should've done more coming to you to assist because you needed it and did nothing wrong.
Ohhh man- it ain't easy but it is a gift.
RIP Alison Parker & Adam Ward

tpw said...

Assholes come in all colors. I'm sorry you had to endure that experience.

Lally said...

thanks Jen and t, the good news was it didn't shake me up much and only for a moment, but it did kind of bewilder me for a moment too until I realized, or concluded, or assumed, it wasn't my slowness in packing my bags but my "old white man" appearance that instigated the level of rage against me...I sure have been guilty of expressing my own impatience and sometimes as rage so I can forgive the guy's always full of surprises...

JenW said...

Concise tpw. I hope that made M laugh out loud like I did.
So fortunately, kind people come in all colors too.