Untainting Color

Untainting Color

by Katherine A. Rayne


The controversy and racial tensions over the Ferguson city police shooting of Michael Brown took over our emotions for days and days. We weren't there and can’t judge or decide what happened that night, but most of us have witnessed racial discrimination. It’s born and reborn. It can’t be snuffed out as long as it exists in even the smallest of amounts.

The color of our skin shouldn't make a difference any more than the color of our car does. I won't judge someone for having a blue car just because I have a white car. We are born into our skin and it serves the same purpose for everyone; to keep us healthy and to protect us.

So why then, does the color sometimes hold someone back, limit them and hurt them in some way? Why, for so many people, can they not look past someone’s skin and instead look into their eyes to see them?

I worked as a cashier at a local grocery store during my high school years. One of the bag boys that was African American often bagged groceries for me at my counter. He was teenager-shy enough that I never got to know him but he was always quiet and kind to customers and co-workers.

A family known only by sight shopped at our store often. In my line one day, their soggy-diapered almost two-year old son sat in their cart behind me as I checked out their groceries. Half way through their order I heard his tiny scratchy voice yell the “N” word out in anger, and when I turned, he was pointing at my bag boy with his barely two-year old disgust and accusatory stare. It was loud enough to draw the stares of the employees and customers at the front of the store, not towards his target, but at his parents standing in front of me. Everyone silently piqued a need for their reaction.

They yelled at their son to quiet down. His confident anger dwindled into his pale, mosquito-bitten skin as he dropped onto his swollen diaper, hidden now within the large section of the cart. He was immediately a toddler again. The parents stood closer to one another in discomfort and unity. There was no apology for the employee. Only flushed skin, dirty hair and two smirks.

The stares followed the family out the doors. I heard the sounds of solemn mumbles among everyone while I stood nearest to my bag boy, his head down while preparing more doubled paper bags for our next order. His skin not showing red embarrassment under the darker tones.

“Someone had to teach him that,” escaped from my teenage lips. “I know,” he said, with an air of having had it happen before.

They were that “smallest of amount” of racism. Someone that believed that color was to be judged.

A two-year old hating before he could even understand hate. It was ugly. Two-year old's are supposed to be cute and lovable and mischievous, which he went right back to being when he sat down.

He was oblivious to the discussions he’d perpetrated. The emotions felt. The unity of a crowd it created. The memory carried forward even decades later.

I have no memory of the bag boy after that day. I can’t remember if that was his last day or if he continued working there. But I can still see his grace and peace behind me getting ready for the next customer. I pulled from it and moved forward, too. I let it go as they left our parking lot. They continued to return to our store, now with the void of any grace or class or dignity. A tainted memory of low-class behavior and my thoughts of their son’s angry future that was well on its path.

Who would he meet one day that might change his mind and undo the anger and hatred?

There was an opportunity for it to change that day if the parents had only watched and witnessed how ugly it was. How is it that they saw color as something uglier than their behavior?

The parents of Michael Brown asked for peace to return to their city after the rioting and looting began. A city swimming in bitterness wasn't going to help anyone. I saw no bitterness around me in the grocery store that day. I saw disgust and shock and then quiet and dignity. Everyone kept calm instead of adding their anger. But everyone there that day felt the moment and took it home with them.

Katherine A. Rayne is a mom, preschool teacher and author. Find more about her (and about yourself) at her personal website, www.KatherineARayne.com. She is the publisher of Back To Being A Woman on Facebook and tweets #DailyChallenges on Twitter at @BeingAWoman.

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