I was inspired by Jen Hatmaker, who wrote THIS ARTICLE for the Washington Post last week.
Disclaimer: Race is not something I'm comfortable talking about. Please, give me grace if I don't word what I say below eloquently enough. Know my intentions are good. And know without candid, real conversation about race, it will NEVER be comfortable. So I'm going to try.
Before I start, I want to give you a quick background on myself. In 2008, I graduated from North Kansas City High School, one of the most diverse schools in the state of Missouri. Walking the hallways, I frequently heard languages I didn't understand, coming from a variety of people with different skin tones and facial features than myself.
I never realized how lucky I was to be immersed is so much culture until I was well out of high school. I remember my first weeks at The University of Missouri thinking "Everyone is white." Well, not everyone. But I was suddenly part of the "majority".
Fast forward several years. Trent and I move to Topeka, Kansas. I spend the first few weeks trying to figure out the boundaries of this confusing city. Our neighborhood is fine, but where is a "safe" laundromat around here?!
I start grocery shopping west of our house, at what some Topekan's refer to as "White Dillon's" -The shopping center it sits in has big white columns and a built in Starbucks, and un-ironically, is primarily filled with white shoppers.
East of our house is another grocery store, lovingly referred to as "Ghetto Dillon's". People around our area know which one you are talking about when you call it this. It's smaller, a little more run down, and a month before moving to Topeka, two cops got shot there. Primarily, it's filled with black shoppers.
Ghetto Dillon's is significantly closer to our house. The few times I went by myself, I felt uncomfortable.
Sometimes, I am the only white girl in the store.
Sometimes, someone will whistle at me from their car.
Sometimes, a homeless dude sits outside.
I haven't been to Ghetto Dillon's in months.
But on Saturday, I was running late. I had to pick up a "side" for our potluck Worship Night at church. Me, obviously being the most organized person in the world, didn't make time to whip something up in advance. So I went to Ghetto Dillon's.
I park and walk in. By the time I enter the store, I already feel eyes on me. I grab some cookies and head to the front. Standing in line, I notice me and the bagger are the only white people there. It's not like I intentionally took a head count, it was an unconscious observation. One in which I'm only conscious of now, as I look back.
I head out the store and pass a big, black guy coming in. As I pass I notice he turns towards me and stops.
"Please don't say anything," I think in my head. Please please please just let me walk to my car in peace.
He didn't. He yells straight across the parking lot "BABY COME HERE! COME BACK HERE!"
Of course. The one time I come to this place.
I walk a little brisker, clutching the pepper spray on my key ring. The last thing I want to do is use it.
"COME BACK HERE BABY!" He is absolutely screaming.
I notice his voice isn't getting any closer. He must just be standing by the door. Yelling.
The entire front of the Dillon's is surrounded by windows. I wouldn't be surprised if everyone in line could hear and see what was happening.
"Just jump in your car, lock the doors and get out of here," I think in my head.
As I get closer to my car, a man comes up to me. He was a big, buff black man. Someone I wouldn't want to mess with. I'm taken back by a second, and he softly says "I'm so sorry. Don't listen to him."
Another black man, loading his car next to me "He won't hurt you. I'm watching him."
An older black woman, who is parked in front of me, "Don't be scared of him, baby. He's just crazy. You're fine right here."
I loosen the grip on my pepper spray.
A mixed man, catty-corner to me says, "I can't believe he's doing this. He's just a nut! I'm sorry."
I open up my door, throw my groceries in and thank them. I genuinely thank them.
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was so impactful to me.
A part of the American majority (me) came into a minority store, and they DEFENDED me. They didn't just defend me, they wanted me to feel SAFE there. They didn't tell me I was in the wrong part of town. Instead, they wanted me to know they were looking out for me. That I didn't have to be scared. FOUR PEOPLE went out of their way to make a blonde middle class white girl feel she could come back to that store.
In a metaphoric way I felt like those four people yelled at my unconscious, and every other white majority unconscious out there, saying "STOP BEING SCARED OF US." "STOP MAKING ASSUMPTIONS OF US."
Stop avoiding this grocery store that is clearly a closer drive than your white girl store.
Maybe I am being stared at because Ghetto Dillon's shoppers NEVER see middle class white girls.
Every white majority says they want equality for blacks but NO white majority is willing to come to THEIR turf to show the black culture that "YES, I am accepting of you." You just sit there, wait for them to join your culture, and say you will be accepting when you see them there.
But have you ever CHOSEN an environment in which you are no longer the majority?
Obviously, it's not always comfortable.
You don't have to shop in the ghetto to prove you are in support of reconciliation with blacks in America, I'm saying to JUST. DO. SOMETHING.
As for me, you'll find a group of black high school kids in our living room every Wednesday night. They've been coming since August for our YoungLife "Real Talk". I love them here.
You'll see me at Ghetto Dillon's again. I'll probably still feel super uncomfortable, and I can't even guarantee you'll find me there after dark. At the very least, I hope that by shopping there, I can show just ONE PERSON that this middle class white girl isn't too good for you and your "Ghetto" store.