In Which I Imagine Myself Crawling Through The Computer Screen “The Ring” Style
This week, Ashley Owens shared on Facebook a harrowing tale (Content warning: it’s really bad anti-Blackness!) of being a Black woman in a store just trying to purchase some ramekins to cook with and how everything took a wrong turn in the checkout aisle. Needless to say, in my circle of friends the reactions have been “why does this not even surprise me?” Owens details how a Nice White Lady began by commenting on her hair and ended with getting the manager to try to help her get those ramekins out of the hands of “That Black girl [who] doesn’t even know what to use them for…” (Note: Owens makes it clear in the post she absolutely knows what to use them for, but even if she didn’t, why is that anyone’s business?)
I have a lot of feelings about the entire exchange, not least being all the people who stood around laughing but not actually speaking up or putting a stop to the situation. (Note: the cashier eventually speaks up, at the point when the manager has been summoned, when the manager assumes the white lady is telling the truth in her claim that Owens *took the ramekins from her*, and immediately makes demands on Owens to surrender the ramekins without even trying to ascertain the actual situation. The cashier potentially risked their job, while everyone else stood around shuffling their feet about the “awkward situation.”)
My comments when I shared it on my own FB were about Nice People Who Don’t Want To Get Involved and therefore stand around while this type of violence happens to Black people and other POC (and yes, this can be extrapolated to homoantagonism, transantagonism, misogyny/harassment of women/femmes, and how people treat disabled people in public as well.) I have a great group of friends who “get it” and who were open that they like to think they would have said something but they are afraid maybe they wouldn’t have and are re-examining that in themselves. I also wrote about the delightful elderly gentleman who carried Owens bags for her and cried (literally) about his failure to say something while the shit was going down. I know he meant well, but I’ve both witnessed and experienced a lot of well-meaning white people crying when they have the sudden realization that Racism is a Real Thing and expecting us to comfort them through that realization. I said:
POC — Black women/femmes in particular — are forced to act as midwives to white guilt and awareness far too often.
I also said:
But the thing is, evil as she [the white woman] was, she knew that she *could* be that way, that no one was gonna stop her. She isn’t that way in a vacuum. I really need white people to understand THAT when they read this story. Not to just be like “Ugg, terrible white woman! So glad I’m not like that!” When you see someone behaving like that, DO YOU ACTIVELY STOP IT?
So, this morning a dear white friend of mine shared the story. She messaged me right away to warn me not to look at her Facebook because she knows she has terrible friends who are going to say terrible things. Her plan is to be present and addressing every poor response, excuse, and example of a white friend who needs a 101 (or 202, or 303) level education. She warned me to stay away because she loves me. Because she knows I will “get into it” with people and then get piled on — and inevitably the worst will happen while she is trying to sleep for a few hours several hours after she thinks she has put out the fires on that post, so I won’t have back up.
I joked with her that she should prepare herself for all the typical responses. I was supposed to be working on an exam but procrastinating (it’s done now, thank you for caring) so I immediately started messaging her a list of responses she can expect to get. She said, “Go do your exam! And then compile all of this on Medium!” So that is what I did. Two hours later she doesn’t have a single comment yet, so I joked and asked if her friends are really that afraid of me climbing through my computer screen at them that they aren’t even touching the post.
But here, presented for your enjoyment (and warning to white people — you’re not a Good Person if any of these are your responses) is the list I created of responses we can expect to the story. Now you can just avoid comment sections when your friends share it, if you’d rather.
1. I WOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING AND EVERYONE I KNOW WOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING
2. THIS IS FAKE I’VE NEVER SEEN SUCH A THING HAPPEN
3. SHE’S LYING. I BET SHE CUT IN LINE OR WAS DISRESPECTFUL OR SOMETHING
4. YOU CAN’T KNOW WHAT WAS IN THAT WHITE WOMAN’S HEART, YOU’RE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HER INTENT.
5. [Closely tied to] SHE WAS OLD, IT WAS DIFFERENT IN HER DAY, YOU SHOULD RESPECT YOUR ELDERS
6. WELL THAT’S TERRIBLE, BUT…
7. WHY ARE THEY DESTROYING THEIR OWN CITY THOUGH??? WHY DO THEY VOTE AGAINST THEIR INTERESTS/NOT VOTE? WHY DID SHE GO TO A STORE THAT HAS A RACIST MANAGER? WELL IF SHE JUST SUPPORTED BLACK BUSINESSES INSTEAD OF STEPPING INTO OTHER PLACES…
8. WELL AT LEAST SHE DIDN’T ACT FOOLISH AND GET RUDE ABOUT IT, SHE IS AN INSPIRATION UNLIKE THESE PEOPLE WHO GET PISSED
9. BUT WHAT DOES POSTING IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA DO? THIS IS BEING SENSATIONALIZED AND WE’RE ONLY HEARING ONE SIDE
10. SHE SHOULD HAVE… (proceeds to tell us how Owens should have handled the situation)
11. I DON’T SEE WHAT RACE HAS TO DO WITH IT. THIS IS ABOUT HER RUDELY TAKING ALL THE RAMEKINS.
12. I ONCE OFFERED TO HELP A BLACK WOMAN WITH HER BAGS AND SHE WAS RUDE TO ME! THOSE PEOPLE LOOK FOR CHANCES TO COMPLAIN AND NOTHING WE DO IS EVER RIGHT
And a bonus thought from my (yes, she’s white) friend, which more white people should really think about:
We expect magic from Black people. We expect them to magically handle our shit at all times. I almost wish she hadn’t been so magically funny, but I also know there is NO winning. That woman was gonna come at her no matter how she reacted.
And it’s not winning that she got to ‘keep’ those damn ramekins after that abuse.
God can you imagine everytime she goes to make something spectacular in those!? We will traumatize the fuck out of you so you cannot focus on your tasks at hand.
Don’t be That Person. Be the person who sees stuff happening and says “Hey! Knock it off, leave that woman alone and let her buy her ramekins in peace!” Be the person who offers to walk her to her car for safety, but says it in front of everyone, neither hiding your support nor like you’re a hero. Be the person who keeps it to your own damn self if you have some weird opinion that Black women “don’t know how to” do something or don’t have a right to joy.