July 15, 2016
By Mary Holt
Being discriminated against because of the melanin in your skin is a tragedy that still plays out on the stage of America every day. I have been discriminated against numerous times, but one particular time stands out in my mind as the worst.
I was working in a store called Meijer’s (Michigan’s equivalent to an HEB store). I was a bagger at the tender age of 14, and,to be honest, I knew what racism was but had never experienced it directly. After clocking in and talking to my manager, I went to the lines to start bagging the guests’ groceries. Greeting every customer with a smile and asking if they needed any assistance out to their vehicles, I helped a few people and then came back into the store. Once I returned to the line, my mother walked past me headed to the deli where she worked, with a big smile she mouthed “I love you” and kept walking. I smiled and returned to talking to the cashier as she started to process the next guest order.
A white gentleman, with a Black Sabbath t-shirt and red shorts, was sitting in a motorized scooter,. Hair slicked back into a messy man bun. He seemed to look past me when I said hello to him and asked if he would prefer paper or plastic. He looked at the cashier and said “Tell the girl to bag the groceries in plastic bags.” The cashier looked at me with sorrow and mouthed “plastic”. I was wondering why she looked so sad. Obviously, I was oblivious to what was happening, but she wasn’t. Let me tell you this was in the middle of Mt. Clemens, Michigan, an affluent suburb of Detroit. It has a mostly white, middle-class population and this was first my summer job. What was coming next was the shock of my life.
The man was paying for his groceries and soon found that he didn’t have quite enough to pay for all that he wanted to purchase. He started to turn bright red with embarrassment slowly spreading across his cheeks. I looked at the cashier and waited for a response on what to do. The cashier looked at him and said “Sir, do you want to put something back or do you have another method of payment?” He looked at both of us and replied to me only “Don’t be over there judging me, you little n-word b-word! Your momma probably has enough of you all to get food stamps for life.” He laughed and, as the tears began to roll down my cheeks, I heard a familiar voice say “No, sir, I work for a living to support my four children. There is no need for you to call my daughter ugly names, just because you’re having a bad day. You ought to be ashamed!” My mother gathered my melting soul and body in her arms and told me not to cry because hatred only exists in those who have no love or tolerance for people. The store’s general manager came over and asked what happened. After hearing what my mother, the cashier, and I had to say, they banned the man from the store. I never went back to the store after that day. However, I learned a very valuable lesson on always being proud of who I am and never succumbing to someone else’s stupidity.