And they wonder why I have a chip on my shoulder…


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.

5 thoughts on “And they wonder why I have a chip on my shoulder…

  1. All while the actual thieves, the feds and wall street and the military contractors, 99% of whom are white, get nary a funny glance or a word in the paper save for the most detached language as if they’re simply not part of the rabble that is humanity.

  2. Dear <>Randal<>, I know, it’s kinda sucky, no? What I disliked about the whole incident was that it wasn’t as if she had seen me DO anything (unless digging through my purse for my gloves so that I could put them on before I ventured out into the below-freezing weather was a red flag!); I suspect she simply thought that I wasn’t the kind of person who should be toting around this expensive designer purse. Grrr.Anyway, fear not. I listened to a book-on-CD this morning while on the treadmill. It was a sort of gift from Brian, a recorded lecture from a Zen nun titled “Don’t Bite the Hook.” Very thoughtful, and by the end of the 1st disk I was sending out positive thoughts to the old lady at the shop. Yes, I will be the bigger person. Ommmmmmmm. 😉Cheers,Marjorie

  3. Anonymous

    Sorry to hear you felt like the woman was suspicious, specifically because you’re an island girl. None of us know whether that’s true or not. Could be.Regardless of what was going on in the woman’s head while she was observing you, it hurt to feel your anger. It hurt to feel your hatred.No matter whether that anger and/or hatred is seemingly justified or not, don’t forget there are many folks out there who only have love in their hearts for you and yours; who would never see you as lesser than anyone else.

  4. I didn’t realize I was so blessed living in metropolitan areas of California. I think the worst experience I had was when an older person (in their silver years) behind the counter of a candy store in Bodega Bay assumed I couldn’t speak English. She proceeded to ask if I needed help through my blond friend. Really that’s like a stubbed toe compared to your hard right hook. Can you go back armed with more expensive bags and bling and a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman say, “Big mistake”? Jusk kidding.

  5. Dear <>Joanne<>, howdy! I’m so sorry it took so long to respond to this comment! I must have been asleep when I checked email that day. Grrr.Anyway, it’s one of those situations where you just never know exactly what triggers the event, you know? Was the clerk just overly cautious? Ignorant? Was there really racism involved, or am I just overreacting? I suspect that there was <>some<> element of racism, but at this point in my life I’m so used to it that I’ve since learned to just, well, deal. I’m actually surprised that I don’t get more of that, given where I am. Western Colorado is a very, very white place.It would be quite fun to march back there dripping in expensive accessories, but, uhm, a) I don’t have the latter, and b) it doesn’t really work well in a thrift shop, ya know? Besides, I always had an uneasy feeling about that scene in PW. I don’t know what it was, but something about it just didn’t sit well with me. Oh well.Thanks for commenting!Cheers,Marjorie

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