Friday, September 14, 2007

black esteem

i went to ikea today, here in portland. i had tried once before when they first opened and it was a zoo, so i went right back home. things have calmed down a bit there so i decided to give it a try. it was cool.

so the strange thing that happened was this: i was standing in the self checkout line and when it finally came to my turn to check out, i scanned my items. there was a sign on the side of the counter that said that they charge five cents per bag. that was okay.

so as i was finished checking out, but before i bagged my things, there was an option on the pinpad for me to select the number of bags i would be using. i selected one. as i reached for a plastic bag, some white guy-in the OTHER LINE (who was obviously watching me closely) called over: "um, those are five cents!!"

i gave him the dirtiest look i could muster and stared at him for a second. i said, "i know that", with a what---you-didn't-think-i-could-read? look. i finished bagging my stuff and then started the payment process. i then looked again at him and said, "it SAYS that right HERE" and rolled my eyes.

he got all defensive , and stumbled out the words: "well, uh, oh, um, i just was letting you know......"

my FIRST inclination was that he must have assumed that because i'm black i was trying to steal a plastic bag!? or couldn't read? i'm not sure what his deal was. and then i decided that maybe it wasn't anything about ME at all, maybe he was on meds, or psycho, or mental, or whatever. but it still really irritated me.

and then, as we stood in the food line to get some of their meatballs, i started thinking about the reasons for my first inclination was about me being black. and then i started thinking about my blog, and how i'd definitely have to blog about it.

i also thought how probably most of my readers would say that i must have low self esteem. actually i have very high self esteem and i'm pretty confident, believe it or not. but i think i may have low black esteem (is there such a thing? well, there is now). yeah, i think that's it.


another anon said...

Yes you are black. But no you should not have low black esteem. Easier said - I know. What with all that history.
But to continue to feel bad about your colour is to continue to agree within yourself and support the meaningless theories that caucasians are somehow superior, better.
The fact is that there was great injustice done and the scars remain - the injustice was (is) not so much about colour but about economic power and dominance. It was (is) also about fear. And ignorance.

Anywhere we go we will encounter ignorant people - either we try and educate them or we dismiss their words and actions completely.
There might me a truckload full of innocent reasons why this man said what he did. It could also be that he does indeed think any black person out there is ..fill in the stereotype..poor/on welfare/a potential thief. If so - it speaks far more about himself than he knows. What kind of man is so petty he worries about the potential theft of a paltry 5 cents? What kind of man has so little of value or interest in his life he spends time watching others and deriving HIS value and excitement from their lives? What kind of man had made it is business to police blacks (or asians, indians, mexicans etc) to prevent unlawful acts among them? How powerless or inconsequential this man nust feel so he decides to pick on a woman alone. What kind of pitiful man is this?
Remember he is merely a man. One man. In the great scheme of things it means precisely nothing. It CAN hurt ..yet only for a little while. Later you move on secure in your esteem, surrounding yourself as much as you can with positivity. And he moves on - shamed and exposed perhaps to himself for the first time as a bigot and what is there to be proud of in that?
I'm glad you spoke up. I would have said more - politely, without raising my voice - I would have asked him to clarify his statement, what he meant. I would have put him on the spot. So that next time he will think twice before opening his mouth and involving himself where he has no business to. And maybe..just maybe he will go and think hard before trying to offload his prejudices on other human beings.

Baltimorean said...

i feel your pain. keep your head up, sister.

Baltimorean said...

oh...and one more thing: it is not your responsibility to always teach whitefolks about their ignorance, so don't feel that kind of pressure. it's your responsibility to teach yourself and the people close to you about respect. it's THEIR responsibility to teach other whitefolks once they see the light (if ever). if it were our responsibility to call every white person out...then i don't even know.

i'm only 22 but i've been through enough living in Baltimore and going to a white school in upstate NY to learn that. perspective may change, but i don't think that one rule ever will: it's not our responsibility to teach every single one of them! there are plenty enough whitefolks out there to call each other out. you have enough that you're responsible for, so let that white boy at Ikea be stupid for just a little while.

Anonymous said...

I totally have low black esteem. I wish that I didn't and I am ashamed of it..

another anon said...

as I made very clear earlier..

you can CHOOSE to educate or you can CHOOSE to ignore. Whatever you are personally comfortable with.

another anon said...

And one more thing..
It takes a village to raise a child. I could spout so many wise sayings but you get my drift.
It is so easy to say in anger and resentment - "let others do the hard work, the teaching. I have been through enough". We may not know it but we are educating people everyday - our actions, our words, the way we relate to people around us. You taught that man in ikea a lesson - at the very least he will no longer assume that every black person he sees is a potential criminal. And just as vitally he will hesitate before voicing his stupid assumptions. And he was hardly "every single white person" was he? Just one lone male. Who knows - he may have taken away more than you or I can imagine from that encounter.
Each of us - black or white has a responsibilty to themselves and society to learn and we can and should do our bit - no matter how small - to contribute to this learning process. If not for our sakes then for our kids. We really cannot sit back and expect some mythical perosn out there to fight our battles for us - we need to step into the fray and do our share. Some white people need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new status quo. And whether it means giving a quick, friendly lesson to the girl at work who assumes black people don't comb their hair or it's the film producer who lobbies to get decent non-stereotypical black characters on screen, or signing a petition in support of the jena6 to boycotting programmes such as "a hot mess" we CAN in our various ways create change. NOONE else will willingly do it for us and NOONE can be as effective or passionate about it as we can.

Aly Cat 121 said...

Gurl I swear some of the stuff you write in here really does crack me up. And I'm not even trying to be funny, but I guess neither are you. But I do chuckle. You soooooo remind me of my home girl.

Well I hope you all had a great vacation hon and I'm glad you didn't hurt ol' boy too bad with the eye roll. (cuz I know we can get wicked)

a said...

Well said, 'another anon'.
TBG, I would have loved to see the the look on that guy's face. I bet he doesn't do that again. What a butthead.

The Letter K said...

Karma: He's judging you the way you judge black women you don't even know.

Take the lesson and learn from it.

Cheers! :)

Ridwan said...

So a white man is obnoxious peering and obviously aware of your blackness and you have low esteem?

Forgive me but you should have asked him whether he thought you were stealing.

Watching black people and correctiong them is generally a white hang-up.

Another one I encounter on my blog from time to time is some random white person looking in to correct my grammar ;0)

Put the blame where it belongs. That fool was acting on his race radar.

And you should not be feeling anything, and certainly for 'low black esteem' whatever that may feel like.


Anonymous said...

The whole point of charging 5 cents per bag is to keep lower class people out of the store; some people have the tendency to see black people and assume that they are in a lower class based on nothing but the color of their skin. They are trying to maintain a certain "environment". I run into this all the time when I am in a nicer part of town no matter how i am dressed. They figure, "lower class people are going to throw a fit when they find out that the bags cost money and won’t come back", as if you can't afford 5 cents for a bag... just more proof that racism still exists.

The Letter K said...

The bag price is because it's plastic, not because of some sort of built-in-racism toward poor people.

If you get brown bags, it's free where I live. If you get plastic, it costs you money.

BeautyinBaltimore said...

This is clearly a case where it was not you! This idiot was acting on his inner thoughts about black people.

MadameK. Located in said...

"The whole point of charging 5 cents per bag is to keep lower class people out of the store."

Uhm, No. The point of charging is to make people less likely to use plastic bags in the first place. It's called being environmentally responsible. In European IKEA you don't even get the choice to buy bags. You bring your own fabric shopping bag from home.

(Sorry to go a bit off topic.)

Anonymous said...

Girl, I don't know how you manage living there day in and day out. I had the unfortutnate pleasure of living up-up-upstate New York in a little town called Watertown for about 4 years due to military service. I swear, a lot of your stories remind me of that place. I couldn't wait to get way from that place.

Janice said...

I have always been curious about watertown stories please!

Anonymous said...

Oh for God's fucking sake, get over yourself, Black Girl! I've been perusing your blog and you clearly have a problem with race issues. Haven't you got anything better to do with your life and your time and your MIND?? What the hell are you teaching your child? To see the world in black and white? Why don't you pay attention to those race issues that really matter and stop manufacturing imaginary ones.

By the way, on your post from way back about all them white folks moving to Alberta and "takin' over" cause they're rich? Listen, you stupid dumb ass -- the white people who move there are TOO POOR to afford to buy a house in any other part of Portland.

You are fucking pathetic.

Grata said...


I am new at your blog. We probably have crossed paths else were. Brief intro. I am E. African and been here 4 years.
Firstly, I still can't believe that AAs have to live like this all their lives. I have encountered enough prejudice to write a trilogy. I is unbelievable. How do I or would I deal with such a situation? I have developed a killer freeze to death look. Those who get it, understand instantly what the message is. I hold the stare, its not an eye roll. It is a very piercing through your soul kind that wishes one bad. My advice is develop one for those moments. Eye rolling is very obvious and readable. A killer frozen look will actually make someone tremble. I know, coz I use it. And with it hold intense feelings for that person and they can feel them during that tense moment. That is the best way to educate them. They will think twice next time before trying to patronize a BP.

I have developed a strange way of not recognizing people around me while out shopping, coz this kind of behaviour is everwhere. Sometimes you want to just ignore people, even if they speak to you directly simply shut them off if you feel they are being the usual nuisance.

Sorry for going on too long, I feel your agony.

learningtolive said...

your response/thought process wasnt odd at all to me....socialization seems to the word of the day for me...but its very appropriate...when you're inundated(sp?) with images and new stories showing highlighting so much of the bad being done you cant to internalize it and be a little on edge..i try my best on daily basis to not let other people's attitudes and ignorance still my human-ness from me...i just try to breathe and ignore a whole bunch of nosy white people lol...

the low black self esteem concept is interesting though--i think thats a good way to put it and it takes effort to not absorb it

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