I used this real example in class at NCP the other night for a reason. It is imperative that practitioners who have the desire to become antiracist understand the depths of internalized racism and oppression. The same expectation should be in place for any service providers for true decolonization.
Before leaving on break I stopped by Footlocker near NYU. I was carrying a couple of items on my way into the store and approached the seating area, where you try on shoes. I put the items down and pulled my sweatshirt off. I was wearing a graphic T shirt and jeans. I quickly peruse the space when I see two things happening because we always have to be on alert.
In front of me I see a young sista in “the Footlocker uniform”. The standard black and white referee shirt and black pants. As step toward her I notice this woman, who is white presenting watching but not watching. I didn’t want to assume this woman was watching me because she also appeared overwhelmed by some of the Footlocker energy.
I proceeded to make eye contact with the Footlocker employee, who was standing directly in front of me, about three feet away. I asked about the size I was looking for and she let me know that she’d come back around with the sneaker, if they had my size.
I waited for her to return as I looked around from where I stood. I didn’t wander too far from my things that were on the bench nearby. As I took one giant step forward the white presenting woman approached me, like it was choreographed. She asked me if I could help her. I was perplexed but I asked what I could do for her. To no surprise it was the same thing on a different day.
We were standing side by side and the white presenting woman goes on to ask if I can get a shoe for her in a size, as she held it towards me. In retrospect I saw her hovering in my peripheral vision and chose not to make eye contact because subconsciously I knew what I knew.
Let us review, there is a Footlocker uniform and they all wear microphones. I had on a graphic t-shirt and jeans. This woman didn’t notice their uniform or my shirt because she only saw one thing which was our Black skin. I paused intentionally, made eye contact and why are you asking me about a shoe.
In the vain of upholding white supremacy she did not pause and unapologetically explained. She said, “I saw you talking to the other woman so I thought you worked here”. I asked if she happened to notice their uniform vs my shirts and jeans. She didn’t hesitate to exhibit the standard fragility where I became the perpetrator as she scurried away.
Upholding white supremacy is so deeply engrained in whiteness that there is no consideration. There is no forethought because the commitment whether conscious or not, is to what it has always been. Blackness means “certain” things and there is no differentiation. White bodies see our Black skin first and they react to it in specific ways so don’t ever believe the “I don’t see color” rhetoric. We have to be the “finders of truth” if change is to ever really happen.
Listen, for the record I’d have no problem being a Footlocker employee, except I am not and I was not wearing the uniform!