So the Year That Wasn’t So Great is apparently determined to kick me in the ass one last time.
True story: I’m visiting the local thrift shop downtown, a charming little boutique with lots of lovely clothing collections, jewelry, home decor items, books, and even furniture. I wander around for about twenty or so minutes, wondering if I should get the lavender Christopher Banks sweater that I found in the $2 rack, before finally putting it back, realizing that it really wasn’t me, you know? Anyway, as I’m walking out the door, the plump, gray-haired woman at the front counter calls to me, “Excuse me?”
I turn back to her expectantly, and she asks, “Is that your pocketbook?” I think, Oh, what an old-fashioned phrase. I look around, thinking that perhaps she thought I had left something behind, and seeing nothing I turn back to her with a quizzical look. “I’m sorry?”
She then pointedly looks at my purse. My black Fendi doctor-style handbag that my mother had given me about twenty years ago as a birthday present. I look down, then back at her, and ask again, confused, “Excuse me? Of course it’s mine. Why do you ask?”
She shrugged and gave a half-smile, still glancing at my purse, and says, “Oh, well, I thought I saw it…” Her voice trails off, but I know what she’s implying. I give her a hard stare. “Of course it’s my purse,” I repeat, before walking out of the shop.
I call the manager this afternoon and explain what happened. She’s extremely apologetic, and says that they’ve had problems with shoplifters of late but that “that’s no excuse, of course.” Of course. She’s very sincere, I can tell, and she promises that she will speak to the clerk and let her know that that was inappropriate. I explain to her that I don’t appreciate being accused of shoplifting, even indirectly and in public, and she understands, continues to overwhelm me with apologies. I’m somewhat mollified, but I’m also, well, resigned.
This is, to be sure, a relatively minor incident, but you tend to get used to it when people constantly ask you things like, “So where are you REALLY from?” “Are you a mail-order bride?” “What’s your first language?” My brother was once indirectly accused of kidnapping a white woman by a cop in south Texas while he and his white law school classmate were driving around in the heat of the summer. (The cop asked his friend, “Ma’am, do you want to be in this car?”) People have referred to “those fucking Orientals” in my face when speaking about others. I’ve been yelled at on the street and told to go home. Once, while I was waiting for my mom in front of my high school, someone drove by and screamed at me, calling me a “nigger.”
And people wonder why I have a chip on my shoulder. This, of course, is nothing compared to what many other, less fortunate people of color have experienced. But it doesn’t make it less offensive, nor does it make it hurt any less. You get used to it after awhile, but sometimes you just want to fight back, to redeem some shred of dignity. Retaliation has never been my favorite thing to do, but sometimes, people really do deserve it.