I was having a beautiful day at work, waiting for lunch to come so that I could go to the fast-food place across the road from my job for my daily portion of potatoes. The road that separated us from the place of heavenly fries was a very busy one, and you risked life and limb trying to cross it. But I was undeterred, tenacious in my pursuit of those lovely triangular potatoes that were always seasoned just right. My enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the reception of the young woman who chose to render me faceless, refusing to acknowledge my dark face in a sea of whiteness.
It was my first time at this location, because my company insisted on sending us out into the boonies where not many blacks lived or worked. This was the 1980s. I did not know what to expect, but I assumed that people in fast-food joints are taught to treat each customer with respect, regardless of race. And as I entered, I saw that the young woman was smiling and offering everyone the same standard greeting, until I reached the counter.
She ignored me, smiling and taking the orders of the people around me, all who looked like her. I was patient, but definitely hurt by the refusal to acknowledge my humanity. I think that she thought that I would get discouraged and leave, and ordinarily I would, not wanting to cause a fuss, but she underestimated my addictive nature, and I was NOT leaving until I had a fix of those lovely golden-fried potato triangles.
As the minutes went by, some of the people tried to say that I was there before them, but she just kept pretending that she could not see my face. I only had one hour to eat, and it had taken me nearly 15 to 20 minutes to cross the street, and it would likely be another 15 to 20 minutes getting back across to my job. But, I had been rendered invisible and faceless too many times, and I decided that I would not let her ignore me, no matter how long it took.
I knew that I was going to be late back to work, but I had to take a stand. There comes a time when each of us has to decide to challenge racism, if we are to make headway on ending it. And, this was my day, for she was the only register open by the time I came in. I guess the rush hour had passed, so there was no other option but her register.
You might ask what made me so stubborn that afternoon, and why was I so adamant about getting those potato wedges? It might seem unreasonable, but I decided that after putting my life on the line for those potatoes and because I was a human being who should not be seem as unworthy of anyone’s attention, I was not backing down. They could have called the police, and I would have just came back another day until I was served just like everyone else.
After nearly 30-40 minutes and seeing my obstinate face, she finally looked at me, minus the smile for everyone else, and asked me what did I want, just like that, with no warmth or enthusiasm in her voice. I gave her my order, and I watched her pick it up, afraid that she would spit on my food, and that would mean no potatoes for that day. But, she brought it to me, and as she handed me my order, I simply said, “Thank you,” and walked out. She looked surprised. I think she believed that I was going to be nasty and start cursing, but I was not going to validate the angry black woman stereotype.
I hope that my refusal to curse her out, and, to be honest, my mouth was nearly salivating to use some choice words, showed her that you never lump people together, decide to hate them without knowing them, and then see them as inferior, faceless, and unworthy. I hope that my behavior that day changed her a little. I know it takes more than one encounter to change people, but I believe her surprised look means that she saw that she was wrong.
In Acts 10, God taught Peter a lesson about stereotypes through his interaction with a Gentile named Cornelius. In verse 28, Peter says, “And he said to them, ‘Yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a Gentile or to visit him. And yet, God has shown me that I must not call any man unholy or unclean.'” Peter learned that the Gentiles were the same as the Jews in God’s eyes. All the negative things Peter thought about the Gentiles were rendered wrong. Before, Cornelius would have been faceless to Peter, but God changed Peter’s beliefs, and it is up to us to help change these ideas, as well. Because God sees me aas equal to others, I will not let someone relegate me to second-class citizenship status, for I am my Father’s daughter.
Since that encounter, racial relationships have improved, but recent events demonstrate that racism is still alive and healthy in America. Once again, people are seem as faceless, and it appears acceptable to hate others now just because of their race, ethnicity, and/or immigrant status. We have to confront this abomination to democracy, refusing to render anyone faceless ever again. I will continue to stand my ground when anyone tries to dismiss me. I hope you will join me.