Soon after the pandemic hit I went to Danny’s hot dog stand on the Brunswick mall. There was a long line, all six feet apart, and when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making hot dogs was wearing masks or gloves. Weren’t food providers supposed to wear masks and gloves?
I was not courageous enough to confront the woman taking my money. Yet after I got my hot dogs I dropped them into the nearest trash can. Then I called the police. Not 911, but the office just to see if I was right about the law. I was a little freaked out I guess. The virus was new and scarier to me then.
That same evening I ordered take-out from Lisbon House of Pizza. I know! Basically I eat hot dogs and pizza; that’s what it looks like. Anyway, when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making pizzas was wearing masks or gloves. While being handed my pizza I said to the woman at the counter, “So no one is wearing masks or gloves in the kitchen? I probably won’t eat this.”
She was taken aback; insulted. I explained that I was perfectly happy to pay for it, which I did. I thought that would make things okay.
In the first instance I turned my discontent away from the hot dog clerk and to a third party, the police. In the second instance I vented directly to the pizza clerk. Why did I handle these two instances differently?
I’m sick to admit it but I think it’s because the hot dog clerk was white and the pizza clerk was black. I guess I thought it was more okay to directly disrespect a black person than a white person.
Make no mistake. My comment to her was disrespectful. I told her to her face that I was rejecting the food she was handing me. Paying for it did not make things okay.
I have this awareness because the Black Lives Matter movement inspired me to read two books about racism by black authors, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo and How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. I’m starting to see things I didn’t realize before. Systemic racism is in my blood, sick to admit it or not.
Without this awareness I would have justified my poor behavior on many other grounds.
As a white person I have to be more aware and call myself out. This post is me trying to do what the books are asking me to do. This is me trying to be an example for other white people. It’s not fair to put the burden on black and brown people to bring this stuff to light.
And notice the title of my post. It’s about a behavior not a person. It’s okay to catch oneself doing racist things without defining oneself as a racist. Just because I did a bad thing doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I choose to define myself as a white person who grew up with systemic racism trying to learn to be anti-racist.