Anatomy of an Uncomfortable Moment
By Chris Churchill
DATELINE—Lenexa, Kansas. Casey’s General Store
An ID check goes wrong.
As my wife and I were waiting to pay for our 32oz. chemical beverages, we found ourselves drawn to an uncomfortable moment.
An older, white, female cashier is taking her next customer. This young, black, male customer was buying either alcohol or cigarettes so she asked for his ID. In my opinion, he looked well past twenty-one but not past the twenty-seven that was suggested on the nearby sign, “If you look younger than 27, we will card you.”
Okay. These are often uncomfortable moments. Think of a youngish, no-nonsense, business woman who has fought for respect all her professional life because she has girlish looks but adult skill and ambition in a world run by lusty, power-driven men. She has been dealing with being underestimated all day and now she just wants a glass of wine.
“May I see your ID?”
This woman might sigh. She might be annoyed.
That’s pretty much what it felt like this young black man was feeling. Mild annoyance. That’s all. The cashier couldn’t bare to leave it there. Maybe she was protecting her own self-image as one of the good white people, and she felt that this young man thought he was being singled out because of his race. Could be. It was uncertain. But you know, some people just can’t let uncertainty remain uncertain.
She said, “Sorry. You just don’t look twenty-seven. You should take that as a compliment.”
He didn’t. I feel like he didn’t take it as a compliment because of what was coming next. I say that because we all knew what was coming next.
“Black people just age better than white people,” she said, laughing in an attempt to get him on her side. The tiny self-image monitor inside her was reaching slowly toward the alarm trigger.
So remember, this guy just came in to purchase something an adult is allowed to purchase. Maybe he didn’t want to explain anything about white people to white people today. Maybe, he was already feeling other-ish when he walked into this convenience store, and this folksy stab in the dark made him feel even more other-ish. Maybe he didn’t like it.
Maybe the cashier started to notice. In fact, I know she noticed. Because the self-image alarm was pulled at that moment.
“I know my mother-in-law looked good until the day she died.”
So with the alarm pulled, the cashier casually (I know. I’ve done it.) brings up that her mother-in-law looked good too. Obviously, it was a thinly veiled disguise for “Its okay. I can say that. I married a black guy.”
Have you noticed that the young man hasn’t said anything in this story yet? He may have nodded or smiled. I didn’t see that. I only heard the woman talking. Digging herself deeper. That should tell you something.
Having paid for his items, he grabbed his merchandise and, without much of a goodbye, he left the store.
Back in our car, Cathy and I checked in with each other. “Was that as uncomfortable as it seemed like it was?”
“I know my next piece for Literate Ape.”