Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wake up

One summer in college I worked at a grocery store. I was hired as a cashier and then asked to be a kind of manager of the cashiers and other staff people who would gather carts, etc (for the same amount of pay as a regular cashier). Basically the most important part of my job was that I had a key, and when one of the cashiers had to do a return or something else "not run of the mill" they would turn on their flashing light and I would come over and use the key to unlock their drawers and they could proceed.

Once I walked over to answer a flashing light, the cashier was an older Asian woman, who had an accent but was always very smiley and nice. She showed me her dilemma. Two young boys had come to her lane with a cart full of groceries and they were about 60 cents short. The older of the two explained to me the problem, they were asked to get everything on the list and were given the exact amount of money it should have cost. But he said they got everything off the list, but they didn't have enough money. I looked at the boys and the cashier and didn't hesitate to pull some change from my pocket and cover the rest of their grocery bill. Never mind that I had just recently started earning money that summer and just recently stopped living off of soup cans that my mother had brought over during the school year. Sixty cents was still worth a lot to me, but I felt bad for these boys. Very young, small children and I thought that I could have been them. No, my parents never sent me and my sisters to the grocery store to buy groceries for the family. But many times we were left on our own. I didn't know what circumstances these boys had at home, but I know they had a lot more responsibility at that age than anyone should.

The cashier flashed a huge smile and finished up their purchase. The older boy thanked me and prompted his brother to head home. I walked away, with thoughts racing in my head. I was glad I was able to help, but I wanted to do so much more, I wanted to tell them that they were doing a good job and that surely with perseverance and hard work they would go somewhere in life. And it wouldn't always be like that.

 I don't know exactly why this experience came to mind, in light of the Zimmerman verdict, it just came to me. The color of my skin and of my families skin has always mattered in both small and big ways. And we are just Filipinos, in one way or another it's mattered. And how could it not, it's the first thing a person sees. My own mother will make comments, especially when I've been out and about in the summer and even though I use sunscreen daily, she will say, "I would have never believed that I could have a daughter as dark as you."

It mattered when I was a little girl and decided to hang with my Dad while my sisters and Mom went to the grocery store. Which was a major decision, since my sisters and I were pretty inseparable as children. But for whatever reason I decided to walk with him and wait for them to finish the shopping. It was at the little shopping center closest to our home in Glen Burnie, the first place I remember living. We had been there countless times, and while my sister and my mom went in the large anchor grocery store. My dad and I walked leisurely around the shopping center. It was very small, and there was a small liquor store. My father meandered in and put $5 on the counter and asked for a pack of Marlboros (this was back in the day when cigarettes were quite affordable, there were even some vending machines that sold them, so needless to say five dollars was more than enough). The man behind the counter told my father he did not have enough money. My father not skipping a beat quickly took back his five dollars and we walked out.

He didn't say anything to me, and I didn't quite understand what had happened. I was just left with an indescribable unease. I stored this incident away and didn't let myself process it til years later. We were always reminded that the color of our skin mattered, from the idiot boys who would taunt us with Japanese/Chinese insults to the man who wouldn't sell my father a pack of cigarettes. I can only imagine what its like to be a young black male.

My heart goes out to Trayvon's family. My heart goes out to those two little boys who bought the groceries for their family. My heart goes out to anyone that has been prejudged because of the color of their skin. And it makes me sad and angry when those that have never walked in my shoes much less the Trayvon Martin's of the world to say that this has nothing to do with race. It means that we can't even begin the discussion to make things better when you won't even acknowledge that it even exists.

It's not just ignoring that race matters, but the complete insistence that "people" blow it out of proportion. I am a girl and I definitely enjoy benefits from being a girl, but there are prejudices too. Everyone does it, the important thing is to acknowledge your prejudices and try your best to be decent to everyone. The worst thing is to discount what others are feeling over the tragedy of a full grown man killing an unarmed teenager, or even more telling is ignoring it all together. I guess some people are thinking it will all just go away if we just ignore it, and maybe it will for some...but I think that really depends on how dark your complexion is.