Grocery shopping (as opposed to clothes shopping – it’s important to differentiate) is one of those chores I hate (along with hoovering, polishing and generally all housework), but it needs to be done. The Absolut won’t buy itself!
Last Sunday, forgetting to take my recyclable carrier bags, as I invariably do, I got ready to go to my local store.
My entire family, however, decided to come with me. Hmm. This was not in my plan. Family + shopping = migraine.
As much as I complain about being the one that does the shopping every week, and bearing in mind it is me that has the car after all, the ‘helping’ hands just make the whole process much more complicated than it needs to be. My youngest is six and, well, he’s six – that’s explanation enough. My eldest is a teenager and, well, that’s explanation enough too! My OH is a great trolley pusher though!
For the first twenty minutes, the expedition (and it’s so much more than a trip when the kids are there) was relatively uneventful. Yes, my youngest insisted on hanging onto the front of the trolley and my eldest hung back as far away from us as he could, but that’s what it’s always like.
Today however, turned out very different.
I noticed him first. A tall, older, bland looking security guard, appeared from nowhere in the soup aisle. Understanding the nature of a security guard’s job, no alarm bells rang and we carried on.
Then he appeared in the egg aisle. Still, I said nothing. By the time we reached the third aisle, however, he was now standing next to us and I was getting mightily hacked off. Had my youngest stuck a multi-pack of Haribo in his Power Rangers rucksack without me knowing? No. My teenage son’s jacket did have a hood though …
I knew one thing. I have never been followed when I’ve been shopping on my own. Never. If I have, they have superior Ninja skills and should be appearing in the next Jackie Chan film, not loitering round the frozen veg.
Today, however, we were all there – as a family, including my partner of eight years, the father of my youngest child. Who happens to be a black man. A man of colour. However people may label him, he’s British. Born in England. Whose skin happens not to be white.
I mention this only as it bears significant relevance to this post. To me, as has always, always been the case, his skin colour is irrelevant. To me that is. To lots of other people, and yes, unfortunately, in this day and age, it is still a major issue.
Whenever I talk to people about racism being prevalent in a supposed ‘post-racial’ society, I know they think I’m being overly sensitive. The phrase ‘chip on your shoulder’ comes to mind. That surely, the micro-aggressions we deal with every day cannot be real. That somehow, for some strange reason, I’ve made them up. But then these are white people I’m talking to, married to white partners, who have white children.
Unfortunately, the town that I live in is just not diverse enough for my liking. It’s a town that I was born and raised in and, thankfully, ethnic minorities have increased, albeit nominally, over the years. I do think though, that I’m in the minority for feeling this way.
I’ve written before about the ‘micro aggressions’ we deal with as a mixed race, blended family (a description, not my choice of label) on a day-to-day basis, but this shopping trip was different. This was very personal, and this was really, really upsetting us all.
Every aisle we went down from then on, the security guard was there. My youngest asked me, “Why is that man following us Mummy?” At that moment, I just didn’t know what to say.
I knew I wanted to shove the guard’s Walkie Talkie up his proverbial though. Sideways.
I wanted to give this man the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to think that I was just being overly sensitive. That I had understandably become suspicious of people and that it was me that was in the wrong.
But I know when I’m being followed.
I was (and still am) so furious. I understand part of a security guard’s job is to patrol the store, but I’m a 39 year old woman out with her family.
WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS!
By the time we’d finished our shopping, I knew I had to say something to him. It wasn’t my OH’s job to defend himself – he’d done nothing wrong. It was my job. So I did it.
I asked my OH to go to the car with the children and I walked over to the guard, who had by now returned to his station at the front of the store as we were leaving. He felt, it seemed, that his work here was done. He’d saved the store from an invasion by a man in an Adidas tracksuit!
Me: Excuse me. Have we done something wrong?
Him: I don’t know what you mean Madam.
Not patronising at all. I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm.
Me: I think you know exactly what I mean. You have just followed my family and I up and down at least nine aisles of this store.
Him: I’m just doing my job Madam. I certainly wasn’t following you. I didn’t even notice you.
Me: Well, it’s not me you were following, was it?
He paused, totally understood my inference and puffed out his chest.
Him: I don’t know what you mean Madam.
Me: You can repeat yourself as much as you like. You know exactly what I mean and I’m telling you this. If I ever, EVER catch you following me and my family around this store again, like you did today, it’s not just the Store Manager I’ll be reporting you to.
His bravado faltered, and his mask slipped. For that moment, as we locked eyes, he knew he’d been caught out. He quickly checked himself and put his mask back on.
Him: I’m sorry if you felt I was following you – I was just doing my job. Lots of people think I’m following them when I’m only patrolling the store.
Me: There is a difference. You know it. I know it.
And with that, I walked out of the store. I could have said more. Maybe I should have. But I think, on this occasion, I said enough.
For the record, I’m not an aggressive person. I’ve never had a fight in my life! And I certainly don’t make a habit of confronting people. However, this situation was totally unfair, uncalled for and hurt my family – so something needed to be said.
Does it change anything? Doubtful. A bigot is a bigot – whether in uniform or not.
I can only hope that by the time our youngest son is a man he won’t suffer the same prejudices as his father has/does. I hope that whomever he chooses to love won’t have to have arguments with security guards because she feels her family has been victimised. I can but hope.
If you’ve reached the end of this blog, I thank you. This was a hard post to write and I’m sure a somewhat uncomfortable one to read.
But let’s not pretend the world is something it’s not. It is flawed. That’s just how it is. Good AND bad.
I hope there is room in the blogosphere for my perspective on things. As a woman in a mixed-race relationship. As the mother of a mixed-race child. As a woman, and as a writer.
If I’ve learnt one thing since I began this blog, it’s that, like in the ‘real world,’ not everyone will agree with me. And that’s just fine. But I write about my experiences and, thankfully, we’re not all the same.
But sometimes, some things just need to be said. Regardless.