See Something? Say Something.
Sometimes I am completely oblivious in my day-to-day life about things that happen right in front of me to other people. I suppose this is the privilege of being white. I’m still ‘just a woman,’ so I witness the injustices served upon women on a daily basis. Heck, I even experienced the injustice personally.
But that’s a different kind of prejudice and what I’m about to talk about is obvious and blatant racism.
During this past summer I was standing in line at the cashier of my favorite grocery store, waiting for my turn to pay for my food. I had already placed everything on the conveyor belt and was casually staring at the person in front of me but not with any focus. I’m sure I was daydreaming about being anywhere but in line at a grocery store.
The guy in front of me was an older gentleman, maybe 70 or so. He was white and doughy with short, white hair, and although I can’t recall his clothes, I got the impression he was rather conservative.
The friendly male cashier said to the man, “That’ll be $36.75, please.”
The guy looked at the cashier, looked disgusted, and fumbled through his wallet for the cash.
The cashier waited patiently. I was getting less patient, but that’s my lot in life — to suffer behind people in line who aren’t ready with their cash or credit when it’s their turn to pay.
The customer finally retrieved his money, placed it on the check writing counter and said nothing, the bills blowing in the A/C.
The cashier waited.
The customer grunted and looked down at the money on the counter.
I looked from the old man and then to the cashier and tumbled to the realization that the reason why the old man didn’t want to hand the money to the cashier directly was because he was of Middle Eastern descent. The old man didn’t want to accidentally touch the cashier.
The young cashier seemed to understand at the same second as me, and asked, “Is that money for me?”
The man grunted his affirmation, refusing to speak directly to the cashier.
The cashier smiled and picked up the money from the counter. It seemed he had been through this particular dance before.
Then the cashier got out the dollars for change and tried to hand it back to the man but he nodded that the money should go on the counter.
I was horrified at what was happening right in front of me but I’m not a confrontational person — I will do anything to avoid confrontation but I didn’t want the event to go unacknowledged. It was just so horrible.
The cashier put the man’s change on the check writing counter, and then the man picked up his change, grumbled some passive-aggressive bullshit, ambled toward the exit door, and then it was my turn with the cashier.
The cashier looked at me and greeted me like he didn’t just have a horrible experience, his eyes twinkling, ready for more abuse. His eyes were almost daring me to do something similar.
I gave a hard glance at the old man as he shuffled off and decided not to give the event any credence by talking about what I had just witnessed. Instead, after looking at the cashier’s name tag I commented, “Hey, what a cool name — Sterling. Makes you sound like a movie star.”
Sterling smiled broadly, fully comprehending what I was doing, and we began to chat. I didn’t care how many people behind me had to suffer for my nonstop talk — I just knew I had to make this young man feel better.
He asked me my name, and I replied.
After paying and bagging my groceries, Sterling said the usual, “have a great night,” but with gratitude in his voice.
I smiled and told him to do the same, and then I walked out of the grocery store, knowing I had done my best. Sure, I didn’t talk the old man out of his racism, but I let the young man know that not every white person is an asshole.
A few days went by, and I had to make another trip to the same grocery store. I saw Sterling and waved because it would have been awkward not to — it seemed he remembered me but I wasn’t sure.
He waved back and said, “Hi, Catherine, nice to see you again.” Yep, he remembered me. And he remembered my name every single time I returned to the store, even months after the incident.
All it took to make a difference in one person’s life was to see something/say something, and I didn’t have to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I’m not tooting my own horn here, all I’m suggesting is that even if you can’t imagine yourself creating a scene with some racist jerk, you can still make a victim feel a tiny bit better. We all have that ability.
What can you do today that will make the difference in someone’s life — could be a stranger or a friend. We all need connection and the more often we make a connection, the better it is for everyone.
If you see something, say something, and if you can’t say something, then do something.