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Shopping While Black

patbooneva February 16, 2017
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Last week I watched a CNN series titled The first time i realized i was black, about  Black Americans’ childhood experiences. It was sobering, but it made me realize that I am lucky.  Unlike most of my American born Black friends, I grew up in Jamaica and so I never had to come to a realization that I was Black. I always knew I was Black, and I loved being Black.  I remember when my husband (American born) visited Jamaica for the first time.  He was taken aback by the fact that every billboard, every magazine, every TV show was primarily (if not completely) Black.  I hadn’t even noticed, because it was such a norm for me, but it great seeing it through his eyes. It wasn’t until I moved to America that I realized that no matter how much I loved being Black, not everyone saw it as positively as I did.

My moment, not of realization of my Blackness, but more of how my Blackness impacted how others saw me, actually happened during my adulthood. I remember going shopping at an upscale department store a few years ago with my then 3 year old and a couple of friends.  It was their annual sale and my friends and I were just walking around, perusing the aisles.  All of a sudden, a white woman walks over to me and says to my daughter “Awww, is your mom teaching you all about layaway?”  I was shocked at first, then speechless, then angry.  What was it about me that led that woman to think that I even knew about layaway?  Was it the designer bag I carried?  The designer shoes I wore?  The fashionable way I was dressed?  No, it was obviously the color of my skin.

There was so much I wish I had said in that moment, but I was truly speechless.  It was at that moment that I realized that regardless of me having done everything “right,” the color of my skin still affects the way I’m seen.

I haven’t let that moment define me, but it has affected me, and to this day, I still think of that moment and all that I could have said.

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  1. James Warren February 16, 2017

    Thank you so much for sharing. This is a powerful and courageous statement. The trick, if there is one, is in not letting such moments define (as you point out). Still, the reflection is not always easy.


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