Posted by: Singh Is King | Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Subtlety of racism not lost on eight-year-old

My daughter and I were in a dollar-type store on the weekend scouting birthday party goodies when another customer began asking the storekeeper about the lack of blank greeting cards he had in stock.

Uncomfortable about the way she continued to fire questions at the soft-spoken young man, we moved to another area of the store. But we could still hear her, now speaking in an annoyed tone about a certain balloon she needed.

“So you don’t have one like this that says Happy Retirement?” she snipped.

My eight-year-old glanced in my direction, raising her eyebrows, and we quietly agreed the lady was being rude.

It was about then we heard her beckon from a far corner for the gentleman to reach something for her – shouting again when he didn’t arrive quickly enough.

She finally left the store. We never did overhear a please or thank you.

After making our own purchase and returning to the car, my daughter brought up the lady’s behavior again.

We talked at some length about her bad attitude and her apparent feeling that it was okay to treat someone – anyone – with such disrespect.

Then my kid hesitantly expressed what I’d been trying hard to deny.

“I know this is probably … totally not something… not why… but remember in the olden days … when white people would be mean to people with brown skin just because they had brown skin?”

My stomach dropped. In that moment, she had recognized – and possibly witnessed – racism.

Indeed, the bearded fellow working in the store was in his early 20s and wearing a patka, a common Sikh head covering. The woman was middle-aged and Causasian.

I had to explain, in elementary terms, that racial discrimination remains alive and well – that even today, people with different coloured skin treat each other differently based solely on appearance.

We talked about how mad that made us.

We talked about how silly it seemed to judge someone so superficially.

We also wondered if the customer in the store would have behaved the same way if a white woman like herself was tending to her needs.

People treat one another poorly every day. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be and it would be rosy thinking to believe folks could be well-mannered and courteous to one another each and every day.

But to base that unkind approach on skin tone really should be something relegated to the “olden days.”

I hope the woman we saw at the store was simply a mean person – one who treats everyone equally badly.

Or that she’s usually quite pleasant and was just having a particularly bad day.

I’d hate to think it was anything else.

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