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Are blacks misinterpreting normal defensive behavior as bigotry? [Jul. 20th, 2013|03:21 am]
I break this silence to bring a special thought, one which I don't really want to place on my journals on an art site, it's a pretty intense concept that I find only Livejournal can really handle. Racial topics can always be somewhat contentious, there are a lot of wounds that come with it.

This mainly has to do with a question that came to mind after I had read the President's speech to his reaction on the Travon Martin case. I thought the speech was very thoughtful and a necessary dialog that needed to be said, and if the president can't say it how is anyone else going to? His timing was decent too as he waited for the jury to decide the case before coming forward.

However, as the words kind of sloshed around in my head for awhile as they always do a statement he made popped into my head. It made me laugh.

Why laugh?

Because I realized the President, while bearing his emotions may have revealed something that is absolutely necessary to understand for our racial dialog to take the next step forward.

That feelings can betray the facts.

What do I mean? Well this is the quote from Barack Obama on how blacks see the world around them:

"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often."

I realized something, I too have experienced these things. And I'm white.

The car door locking as you're crossing the street? Well you're approaching the vehicle, it's only common sense to lock the doors if someone is approaching the door, black or white. I mean, if you're going to learn anything from Grand Theft Auto games it should be to lock those freakin' doors. Most newer cars even go so far as to lock as soon as they start moving. It's a standard security procedure.

The elevator... that was the one that triggered this realization. Who HASN'T had that awkward elevator silence? When it's just you and some other person and you're both just holding your breath waiting for your floor. It's not just blacks that have experienced this, I as a white American have experienced many an awkward elevator ride.

In fact here's a tutorial on how to make those elevator rides less awkward... it seems it is a big enough problem for people to write articles on it: http://www.ehow.com/how_5190650_avoid-awkward-elevator-rides.html

So of course when the president says. "Very few African American haven't experienced the lady holding her breath until she gets off" it's going to ring true, because it happens to not only them but to all Americans, the problem is merely bigger than the President seems to realize.

And the department store thing? As I was perusing the pricing information and scanning the boxes on electronics in a Best Buy, an employee came up and asked if I needed help finding things. Now, many lay customers are going to interpret that as being helpful. However, as a cashier in a grocery store I was taught that if a customer is acting suspiciously and you think they're pocketing things to approach and ask if they need assistance. It reminds them they're being watched.

It seems to me a symbiosis of paranoia. You have people wanting to protect their things, and their property, and protecting their 'personal space'; in response others interpreting that everyone around them thinks they're a criminal as a result. I've sensed this in certain social situations, I'm sure every American has at some point felt that the stranger they coincidentally shared space with looked at them with an eye of suspicion. Say you both are walking along a side walk at a particular time and they step off the sidewalk onto the grass to keep you at arm's length... Yes that happened to me when I was walking around town at night once.

So I think the important message to send to the country right now is not only that we need to be less paranoid of blacks, but in effect less paranoid of EVERYONE. Or if we are to treat all strangers as dangerous, then to let everyone know to expect to be treated with distrust and it has nothing to do with how you're dressed, or your race, or your mannerisms. It's just human nature. It's just "STRANGER DANGER!"

In a world where we are paranoid of everyone equally, everyone will believe it's only their kind that people are paranoid of.

[User Picture]From: archadia
2013-07-20 12:35 pm (UTC)
Even I have been followed in a clothing store. It had nothing to do with my race; I've had people mistake me for everything from Latino to European Surprise. I did not look well-off, but not homeless. I was not too tall. In fact, I was shorter than the floor salesperson stalking me.

So why did she suspect me over anyone else?

Because standard US clothing stores carry size 12 women's clothing and below, even though half the nation's females are above that size.

So she was paranoid that I had to be shoplifting, since nothing would fit me in the whole store.

I got my friend a birthday gift from a /different/ store, then, after that, if a store doesn't even carry my size, I don't even enter it.
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[User Picture]From: sonious
2013-07-20 03:49 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised people would come right out and say such things... but I guess if you're being biased towards the overweight there's not discrimination laws against that.

In fact, it seems the government is going the other way in that case. Making statements that indicate they believe overweight Americans are a burden on society, and even pushed to have it called a disease.

I'm all for promoting a healthier populous, but humanity will always look for the excuse to act disgusting towards another. The way the government is going about dealing with obesity I feel, is going to lead to the overweight being treated worse over time unfortunately.

It's a fine line between trying to help someone improve their life and belittling someone based on who they are currently. But there is a line.
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[User Picture]From: archadia
2013-07-21 04:40 pm (UTC)
She didn't say it to /me/, she said it to her associate, thinking I didn't hear.
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[User Picture]From: sonious
2013-07-21 05:32 pm (UTC)
I see--

Yeah, this person is pretty inexperienced in customer service I'd say. If one is suspicious it's important to information gather first before publically making accusations.

She could have came up and did the "Can I help you?" thing however she could have done so in a way that went along with her knowledge of the store.

For instance: "How are you doing today ma'am, is there anything in particular you're looking for today?"

You would have to answer in one or two way:

"I'm looking for something new for [myself]" or "I'm looking for something for a friend."

If it's the former, she could then very politely inform you (if you were looking for clothing). "I'm sorry to inform you of this ma'am, however our store doesn't carry anything in that would fit you, so you may not be able to find what you're looking for here. There is no offense meant, I just wish to save you time."

If it's the later then hey, she then knows that you're there to buy something and maybe can help you find what you're looking for for your friend, make suggestions and stuff.

Customer service is not as easy as many people like to think it is. It really is knowing people to such an extent that you have to know how to make everyone feel comfortable. Unfortunately, the bar for entry is pretty low, and it doesn't pay well. However, it's those on the front lines that can determine weather a company sinks or swims.

That being said, don't be afraid to talk about the experience and name drop the store that did it. It could draw attention to the issue, and more often then not the higher ups don't know about it.
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