“You better behave, girl.”
That’s what the old, white haired lady said. Not to my child, to me. She said that to me.
It all began with an innocent trip to the grocery store. It’s a quaint little neighborhood store, in a diverse community, made to look and feel like a country farm market in rural America. When you enter the doors, you really do feel like you were plopped down in the middle of rural Kansas.
Now, the staff here is amazing, and they work really hard to give you that neighborhood feel. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit I’ve had a few uncomfortable encounters where the shoppers must have momentarily gotten confused about the city in which we actually reside. More specifically, there have been several times where I received looks from other customers that seem to say: “you are not welcomed here.”
So back to the showdown.
On this day, I ran in for a few quick items. My son was in the shopping cart seat and I headed straight for the fresh fruit aisle. As I looked through the produce display for a nice carton of berries, I felt a slight bump on my cart. I looked up to catch a tiny senior woman knock into my cart a second time. She couldn’t have been more than 5 feet tall, and her blond hair, turned white, peeked out from under a knitted cap. Now the way this particular aisle was set up, only one cart could park between displays at a time. Two carts could not share this narrow aisle. And yet, she angrily jammed her cart into mine for a third time to basically say, “MOVE.”
I did not. And by this time, she had my full attention, and I was livid.
Clean-up on aisle 7!
I gathered my composure, stood up straight up and gently asked her, “can you please go around? There are other open aisles to get to the other side.” She glared at me and said “you need to move your cart.”
She looked at my son, whose innocent eyes stared back up at hers. She softly and carefully placed her hand on top of mine, which was holding the bar of my cart and repeated her demand: “you need to move your cart, NOW.” After summoning my God, Angels, and prayer warriors on how to best handle the catastrophe which was about to unfold, I went through my mental Rolodex of options. I chose a cool and collected approach and calmly warned her “don’t you ever put your hands on me, ever again. Go around.”
She removed her hand, a tad slow for my personal comfort, narrowed her blue fiery eyes and warned:
“you better behave, girl.”
The pregnant pause was deafening in our stare-down. She slowly turned her cart around and sashayed away down the other aisle I initially recommended she use.
She took me back. Way back.
In this moment, anger boiled up and took residence on my face. My thoughts drifted aimlessly through timelines. The Ghanaian Slave Castles. The Middle Passage. The plantation. My great great great great great grandmother as a wet nurse. Harriet Tubman. The Underground Railroad. Sharecropping. Jim Crow. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. The black water fountains my parents had to use. The Lorraine Motel.
My thoughts fast-forwarded and double-dutched through Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Sandra Bland.
Let’s say her name. Sandra died because she didn’t “behave.”
So what exactly did she mean when she told me to behave?
We aren’t that far from where we started and I found myself transported back to picking ripened fruit on a plantation disguised as a grocery store.Time stood still as I processed what she really meant. Because when she said “behave” she was saying, “don’t forget your place, gal.”
In that moment she was the madam of a plantation house telling me to behave. She was a white lady on a Montgomery bus telling me to get up and give her my seat. She was a current-day community resident telling me I couldn’t attend school in her ritzy neighborhood. She was a white woman telling a black mother to not forget her place in society.
You see, she wanted me to be seen, not heard. Like Gumby, bending and twisting to accommodate her very presence. “Yes’m.” As she approached me with her cart, the vision in her head was that I would see her coming, quickly grab my cart, back up, and gracefully swerve to the side so she could elegantly saunter through the aisle. But that didn’t happen. Not that day, not in that store.
We both learned something that day.
The more disheartening piece was that she chastised me in front of my own child in a public display of shame. She had no respect for my motherhood, just as slave masters disciplined and berated women slaves in front of their own children.
But she didn’t know me, and that’s OK! You see, we both learned something that day. She learned that I don’t reside on the plantation, and I learned that I have unimaginable strength. Because that same God, Angel, and Prayer Warrior told me to let it go. And because I’m crazy about my God, I did. I collected myself, kissed my son, and moved on down the aisle.
What would you have done? Tell us what you think!
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