I remember working at a farmer’s market, selling eggs. I had some ‘pre-orders’, folks that had already paid and were going to pick up their eggs on the way back from work. These eggs were neatly packed into cartons, each with a post it note denoting their owner. In front of me were two large boxes filled with eggs of various sizes and colors. Customers could choose which eggs they wanted, and optionally pay 50 cents for a carton, or bring their own. They could even bring a few extra and receive a 25 cent discount on their eggs. This particular day, nobody had brought extra cartons, and most folks had purchased a carton.
A white man came up, purchased a dozen eggs, and a carton. It happened to be my last carton.
As he was living, a black woman came up, wanting to purchase a dozen eggs…. and a carton. When I was unable to provide a carton for her, she got upset, and demanded I give her one of the set aside cartons. I couldn’t do that, as those were already the property of someone else. She got upset, and accused me of not wanting to sell her a carton because she was black. She then stormed off.
I was angry. How dare she ‘play the race card’! How dare she make the ‘racist’ assumption that my motives had to be racist.
And then… I got some fucking perspective.
How many times, in her experience, was it racism? She was playing against loaded dice. Sure, now and then things would come out even or in her favor, but the common, and thus expected, result was she lost. She’d just seen me give a carton to a white man. It’s admittedly a very odd occurrence for me to run out of cartons. We live in an area in which minorities are rare (she was the only black customer of the day, and for that matter, I think she was the only black person I’d even seen that day) and thus more easily othered and discriminated against.
The fact that for this particular set of circumstances she was wrong – it was an honest mistake that had nothing to do with her race – doesn’t mean her conclusion was irrational or illogical. And for all I knew, she could have been discriminated against 9 times that day already. Was I really justified in being upset because she concluded from the available evidence that this time was the 10th?
She could just as easily have been right. There is another person who comes to this particular market and sells eggs. That person refused to sell to a same-sex couple. Bigotry is not unknown here.
I was Schrodinger’s Racist.
Her accusation cost me nothing. The sad truth of the matter is that her accusation probably drove a couple customers to me.
Do I feel like a victim of racism due to this event? I suppose I could stick my head up my ass and make some sort of claim that she was the racist in this situation. Or…I could try to make sure there are enough egg cartons for everyone.