Sunday was tough. We got home late from the circus (cue music for tiny little first world problem here), Selam woke up with a fever and a cough, and then discovered that our refrigerator had broken. (From the condition of the contents, this happened on Friday.)
We stayed home from church and the planned pumpkin patch visit to just try to get her back to normal. The temperature resolved itself quickly through Tylenol, but she just felt kind of puny and yucky all day. But after throwing out some spoiled food, we didn’t have much of anything cool for her to drink on her sore throat, so I thought we’d trek to our nearby W**greens to pick up some shelf stable juice boxes and of course, ice for the fading foods that we had rescued from the fridge. This store is literally behind our apartment, so it’s not much of a walk.
Despite that, Selam was tired and feeling yucky in the store. We grabbed our items and went to the counter. For some reason, (why does this always happen?) the previously empty-appearing store was no longer empty. There were at least 8 people in line in front of us. Due to the line, the manager opened up a second register.
“I can help you on register two” he said looking at me.
“Me?” I said.
Selam started walking to the register.
“Thank you,” I said, “but these ladies have been waiting longer.”
He rolled his eyes and took the next woman in line.
“Why didn’t you go, Mommy?” Selam said, her voice petulant. I get it. She didn’t feel well. She hates stores.
“Because we weren’t really next.”
“Then why did he say it was our turn?”
I didn’t answer her, just looked at the six African-American women in front of me, and three African American men behind me, and all their kids in tow. I asked her about her music class, and she was off and talking about that while the line inched forward.
“Mommy?” she asked, after we’d paid and left the building.
“Why didn’t you go when the man said we could?”
“Because it wasn’t fair to other people who were waiting.”
“Did that man pick you because the other grown ups are brown?”
I had know idea she’d even noticed the racial makeup of the line.
“I don’t know. But if that’s why he did it, it would be wrong, wrong wrong.”
“Are you mad, mommy?”
“Just sad, baby. Just sad”
This is not the first time that I’ve been aware of preferential treatment by this particular manager. The store’s customers are predominantly African American. Most of the staff are African-American. Only one of the three managers (or assistant managers–I don’t know his exact title) is white. And he routinely engages the few white folks in the store in a much more efficient and respectful manner. I fired off a letter on Sunday night.
At bedtime, we had to talk about it some more.
“Mommy some people are mean about what color is your skin. “
“They are. Has anyone been mean to you?”
“No. Only big people are mean to big people.” (not true, but let’s leave it there for now)
“What do you think about that?”
“I think everybody should be nice to everybody. Because brown skin is really pretty.”
“It is. You’re the most…”
“beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” she joins me. I guess I say that a lot.
“And I’m smart and brave and strong, too, Mommy.”
I say that a lot, too.
She begins to yawn as I kiss her forehead.
“Maybe all the mean people should read about Jesus, Mommy. He doesn’t like being mean….”
She starts drifting off. I hold her hand tightly until I feel her grip release in the sweet melt of sleep.
Then I hold it just a little bit longer, still.