(Having trouble viewing the video, yeah Facebook videos are still in beta, click here. https://www.facebook.com/graduate.fasttrack/videos/735829266476287/?pnref=story)
Okaaaay sooooooo, there are going to be a few that take my view of this video as my being overly sensitive about racial issues, if you are one of those people, stop reading now…. The women in this video look like they have 15 grandchildren between them and that they both could make a mean round of homemade lemonade. But don’t be mistaken. This video is quite telling of what happens very often in this country, yet goes undetected while those of darker complexion are treated with apprehension. So I write this in tribute to myself and others who have never offered reason for people’s suspension, yet receive it anyway.
Just two personal experiences with what I call “thug suspect,” or ways I’ve been treated like I’m some type of criminal, I could give a few thousand more… these are the two I’ve chosen to share.
In early 2014 I lost my home. We had no safe and respectful place to go so we started a journey of homelessness by moving into church makeshift shelters. We along with many other families without homes would sleep in these churches for a week at a time, and then move to another church and do the same. I found it very interesting that one day after a long day of work as I gathered my son’s and my belongings to prepare for bed, there sat a heavy set white woman by our bed partition. She was sitting in my curtain doorway with a scowl on her face. She had a question for me, had I seen her flip phone? Accusation was all in her tone, and all in her body language. It was clear that she assumed that she already knew the answer to that question. She believed that I’d taken her phone. Although this was a church setting, and we as families sat and congregated over meals, and I’d interacted with her and others in this setting with laughs and good conversation for several weeks, she still sat in full swing accusation of me taking something that belonged to her. I gave her the truthful answer that I hadn’t seen her phone and then asked if she’d asked some of the others staying that night. She shrugged her shoulders and flippantly said, “maybe I will.” The answer to my question was clear, she brought this issue to the one person she suspected, and that was me. Then there was that awkward few seconds as I tried to get past her to my sleeping quarters that she did not want to move. It was a standoff of sorts, as though I dared to give her a quick answer and go about my merry way. I owed her no further explanation and was not going to entertain her suspicions any longer with further conversation. I had a good cry that night as I attempted to get comfortable in my cot. My son and I were the only chocolate drops in this program, the only that were newly homeless, but it was clear that we were still viewed differently by those who we shared this experience with.
A couple of days following I got word that this dreadful woman found her phone in a pile of her own belongings. I found out also that the phone that she had lost was what was deemed as one of those “welfare flip phones.” You get one for free while receiving some type of government support like food stamps or cash assistance. I’d never even heard of that program at the time. I’d always been self sufficient and was one of the very few working people in this church shelter homeless program. I suppose it didn’t matter much that although each night I checked in wearing my business casual attire, speaking the king’s English, and using my fairly new smartphone, (which happened to be a Samsung Galaxy S3), still somehow I wanted her government issued flip phone with limited minutes. None of the obvious truths mattered, only her perceptions of me were present, and I was someone to be treated with contempt. I was deemed someone base enough to steal this chick’s stuff. Of course when she realized that she’d wrongfully accused me, no apologies were offered.
One thing I was taught at 19 that most white people will live their entire lives and never come to know is the real stats on who steals in great numbers. In 1993 I worked for Sears and we were required to go through theft protection training. We were trained to watch for people who would come in and steal from the store. A life changing moment in this training, they told us that statistically the greatest demographic of those who steal from department stores are middle aged white women. These were their nationally video recorded stats. They then told us that we as employees should not refer to stereotypes of who people “think” are more apt to steal. Being gullible and youthful I assumed that this would be a leading thought in Corporate America and in my adult shopping life. Nothing could be further from the truth. So when I saw this video of these gangster grandmas who not only jacked a family’s picnic planning beach funware, but then had the audacity to physically attack the man they’d stolen from, I had to post this footage, as this video is shocking but statistically more common than most assume.
I am to this day, at least 90% of the time, while in grocery stores, malls, and department stores, watched and followed by retail staff in the assumption that I somehow am wired to steal. It is one of my lifelong greatest peeves. I have never stolen a thing in my life, and better yet I have never had the desire to do so, but the assumption that I will and do is ever present. I personally believe that suspicion of theft is the greatest showing of racism in the daily. And the idea that white people are so unaware that it happens everyday, all day, all around them, is the greatest showing of white privilege present in this country. I can come in simultaneously with a similarly dressed white woman and I will be followed 8 times out of 10 through a store. That white woman will not be unless she is noticeably homeless or on drugs. Did you catch that? The professionally dressed, God fearing black woman in a suit is treated the same as the white crack head standing outside begging for change. Okay, part of my writing style is humorous, but for serious, this is the reality. For a while I thought maybe it was my son’s stroller being pushed through the store was the reason for the watch, but then I noticed other strollers being pushed by new moms in adjoining aisles that did not have a security guard on their tails. I’m waiting to get to a point of being use to this in my life, but I’m not sure that will ever happen.
So for all of those fair skinned thieves out there that use their lack of looking suspect to your advantage, good for you. But if you’re gonna steal someone’s beach tent, stay away from me as I could be the one accused! And no I don’t want any of your lemonade!
Ohhh and about that homeless and welfare thing, the national stats on both are much higher among whites than among black folk, but you would never know that by watching the nightly news… A conversation for another day…