I said (on Twitter) I would post about our Tuesday night incident at the grocery store, but then I changed my mine because of some of the issues involved. But I cannot stop thinking about it and with a whole 48-hours distance, I’ve decided to post what happened.
Tuesday night, Daniel and I were walking into the grocery store to buy cookies for a class project they were doing the next day.
Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Why did you stick out your tongue at me? And why are you making such ugly faces?” I turned around to see a man behind us. I bent down to Daniel and asked him if he stuck out his tongue at the man because I was going to tell him to apologize and then Daniel, who is going through quite a rude phase, said, “You’re going to jail” to this African American man. Let us all cringe at this unfortunate, poorly-timed comment.
The man replied, “oh I see you have been watching TV. That’s right…start them early.” Then he shook his head and walked past us.
I was in shock and fuming because this man had just called my child racist when in truth, he was being an asshole.
We bought the cookies and Daniel was helpfully acting up in the cashier’s line and wanting all the candy. The man was by the customer service desk, observing all of this. I looked at him as we were leaving and he raised an eyebrow and shook his head at us.
I should have let it go. Maybe I should have walked over and apologized for my child sticking out his tongue and try to explain he was being an asshole.
Instead I walked over and asked him if he had anything else to say to me. He told me that what else could he think when my child said things like that other than it must come from the parents. I tried to explain that Daniel is 5 and loves his Lego police set and that he would tell anyone to go to jail. He said I didn’t even apologize to him. I said I didn’t have a chance and that he doesn’t know anything about me. He says all he knows is what he sees, a mid-30s white woman with a child who knows hate.
Our voices are rising as you can imagine and Daniel, who doesn’t know what is going on, starts flailing an arm at the man. I drag him away and the man shouts, “see? You have a horrible-ass kid with terrible parents.”
I shake my head and leave.
I was pretty devastated after that and Daniel was upset too. That night he kept saying he was going to put that man in jail forever and all I can think is how that exactly what that man has to fear.
I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry that 5-year-old kids being assholes can be an unfortunate trigger. I’m sorry that this incident has shocked me to my core when as a privileged white lady, this is rare for me while likely a common occurrence for many others. I’m sorry it is a challenge taking my child out right now when he is too often rude, sassy and defiant despite my best efforts.
Mostly, I’m just sorry.