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Moment Of Clarity

The Moment I Remembered: I’m Black

“Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” ~Shirely Chisolm

Last year, I wrote about my Black Friday moment when an older woman thought my daughter was trying to get in front of her in the checkout line. This year, we opted to skip the Black Friday frenzy and shop earlier in the week to purchase gifts. Besides, who needs another television when you have each other, game nights, and books – right?

While I avoided the crazy lines, little did I know that my moment this year would be a lesson in the invisibility of racism and prejudice–both as an observer and participant.

In full disclosure, I know that my experience was heightened by the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers in Ferguson and New York as well as the killing of the 12-year-old boy in Ohio. What I experienced was humbling and showed me the role I played in reinforcing the negative and untrue stereotypes of African-Americans.

CHRISTMAS 2014

My favorite place to shop is Orland Park Mall and the surrounding storefronts in the suburbs of Chicago. It was in the mall and at one of the storefronts that I experienced the invisible racism described by Chisolm in the quote at the beginning of this post.

EXPERIENCE #1: My husband and I were walking through the mall and two older, teenage Caucasian girls were yelling and sprinting haphazardly through the mall. My first thought was, “What the hell … what’s wrong?!” Then I noticed that the girls were laughing and no one seemed surprised.  The girls had gone about their way doing what teenagers do.

But when a group of African-American young men were “walking” together in the mall, I noticed the look of irritation on the faces of not only Caucasian patrons, but African-Americans, too.

Then, I took a page from the movie, A Time To Kill and did a mental experiment. I replaced the two Caucasian women with African-American women and I could’ve kicked myself if the butt!

The first thing that came to my mind was: “Why are they out here acting like a fool?!” I remember feeling strong condemnation and judgment and never wondered if anything could’ve been wrong. I never thought they were being normal teenagers. How revealing and pathetic was that? I still feel ashamed.

But life is full of irony and lessons.

EXPERIENCE #2: A few days later, I went to the sporting goods store located down the road from the mall to have the sensor taken off a pair of shoes I ordered online. I called and they were “super” happy to take care of it.

I happily walked into the store and explained that the shoes were just delivered but they had neglected to take off the sensor. I gave her my shipping receipts and asked her to take off the sensor. Easy peasy, right? Nope.

The woman looked up every number on the receipt and matched it with every shoe part and box. The cashier even stated to me that one of the numbers didn’t match up with the number inside of the shoe. I re-explained the situation to the sales associate and she said they just wanted to make sure that the shoe wasn’t really taken from the store.

WTH?!!!

My cheerfulness quickly turned to “Chile, I am NOT the one.” Another woman came over to figure out what the problem was and lo and behold, everything matched up. If only had they begun with the written item description which was prominently placed in the middle of the receipt. Sigh …

While all of this was going on, several Caucasian people were entering and leaving the store. One Caucasian woman set off the alarm and said, “Oh, this must be from the senor I left in the coat.” The same woman who was worried about one item number not matching up on my receipt happily waved the woman through.

After they discovered that the item did, in fact, match EVERY number on the shoe and receipt, she removed the sensor. She smiled and tried to spark a conversation with me – none of which I was having.

Instead, I told both women that it’s good to know that they were committed to making sure certain customers didn’t take anything from the store. They looked utterly confused. And, that’s when I knew that they didn’t get it; ignorance is truly bliss.

I called the corporate office and told them what happened and they said it was normal to review the receipt and asked me if they took off the sensor. I told them that they did eventually take off the sensor but that it was not normal to ensure every number matched while they waved the patrons through who were actually setting off the alarm with their sensors. I also mentioned that the other patrons happened to be White and I am Black.

After a pause, the woman offered an apology for my experience and said she would forward my complaint to the store. That was mighty nice of her. I mean, what else could she have done?

In any event, I left the store feeling some kind of way. After getting grounded, I realized that I wasn’t really angry; I was hurt.

I was hurt that I experienced it.” I was hurt because the workers’ lived in a homogenous world where they never had to learn how to interact with me the way I had to learn how to interact with them. I was hurt because I had to explain to the corporate person that this wasn’t about a simple sensor. I was hurt because in that moment I realized that it doesn’t matter what degrees I have, that I graduated from college, how nice I am, or how closely I follow the rules … I will always be judged and treated as if I am suspect of doing something wrong because I am Black.

In the end, I am hurt because I’m tired of having to navigate in a world where people with privilege and power are not responsible for taking care of others the way others take care of them. I’m hurt because I do to us, what was done to me and for that, I am sorry.

I have been more conscious of how I talk to myself about “us” and it has been an interesting experience. I see how I played a role in reinforcing racism and self-hate and promise to do better.

Please know that I understand all Caucasians are not racist. These are just my thoughts and feelings about a singular experience that occurred during a tougher racial time in our country.

With love and light …

Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW

Do you have a question for our “Moment of Clarity” JET Therapist, Jinnie? Email us at talkback@jetmag.com. We’ll be sure to keep it anonymous and confidential. 

Jinnie Cristerna, affectionately known as “The High Achievers Therapist”, works with talented people to help them release emotional pain and psychological roadblocks so they can achieve their personal and professional goals. Specializing in psychotherapy, heart centered hypnotherapy, vibrational energy, meditation, and personality development, Jinnie has a nearly 90 percent success rate with her clients.  Sign up for Jinnie’s High Achiever newsletter here or join her on Facebook and Twitter!