I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd again recently. The book is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of the Grimke sisters who grew up in Charleston in the early 1800s. They fought for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. The book looks at the lives of slaves, their owners, abolitionists, churches and others during that period of time. Being a native Charlestonian, I know the history of the South and this city. I know that slavery was real but reading stories like this one opened my eyes to the raw, painful truth of the cruelty and inhumane treatment of the human beings that were owned as slaves.
I was reminded today that our world is divided by color, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or anything that makes one person feel superior to another. I don’t have an answer to the problem. It sometimes seems too big to fix, but I can’t allow that to stop me from trying to make a difference.
Today at Walmart, something happened that made me angry and sad. As I walked into the store, the “greeter” was holding a receipt and looking into each bag in the shopping cart of the couple leaving the store. There was nothing unusual about that; it happens all the time although it usually happens when someone has something in the cart that doesn’t fit into a bag.
I made my purchases in the self-serve checkout lanes. I purchased two large Tupperware type storage containers, one smaller one, and one small single item that fit into a bag. The other items were simply thrown into the cart. I walked towards the door with my receipt in hand ready for my cart to be checked by the greeter. She was already checking the cart of another customer, so I stood next to her as the greeter was opening each bag to check the items on her receipt.
The greeter looked up and saw me standing there. With her hands still on the bag of the customer in front of me, she said, “You are fine. Go ahead.” I stood there for a second wondering how she could let me leave with unbagged items randomly sitting my cart. She said again, “You can go.”
The customer whose bags she was checking looked at me with a scowl. I realized in that moment that both customers who had their bags being checked as I walked into the store, as well as the customer who was standing next to me having her bags examined, were very much alike. They were all black or Hispanic. The greeter was white. I am white.
I couldn’t walk out. I asked the greeter why she didn’t want to see my receipt and check my cart. Her eyes almost popped out of her skull. She was indignant that I had questioned her (or so it seemed). “I don’t need too,” she snapped.
“That’s really confusing since I don’t have anything in my cart bagged. There really isn’t a way to know if I paid for them or not. And I have stuff inside these storage containers just loose in there.” I waited for a reply.
She wouldn’t look at me or respond. She finished with the customer next to me and stopped another woman of color with two young kids asking for her receipt. Her items were all bagged.
I was frustrated and didn’t know what else I could do, so I left. I felt angry and ashamed that I didn’t know what else to do. Then I imagined how it must have felt to the customers being scrutinized so closely. I imagine they felt angry and embarrassed. You have to understand that I am making an assumption about why my cart and receipt wasn’t checked but there was nothing other than the color of my skin that separated me from the others.
This incident, just as the reading the book, opened my eyes to raw, painful truth of the cruelty and inhumane treatment of one human being to other. Maybe I should have asked for management and voiced my opinion right there. (I will be sharing this article with the corporate office of Walmart and the local manager). Perhaps I should have been more vocal.
In the book Invention of Wings, Lucretia, a Quaker minister has a conversation with Sarah Grimke one evening and she tells Sarah,
God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world—but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.” She cut her eyes at me and smiled. “I think we know that’s men’s doing.” She leaned toward me. “Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.”
Today, I made a feeble “try” to do something. I don’t think I accomplished much. I do have a yearning to go against the grain of the world. I want to make a difference. I want to be a catalyst for change. Perhaps next time, my try will be a better one.