Not many of the white folk shop at Walmart in our town. It is too grimy; the lights are too dim, the floors are too sticky, the shelves are too bare and the workers know too little. It is no coincidence that they would rather shop at Whole Foods. However, Walmart is where the deals are at. Mom had us go to Walmart to buy six cans of black beans and five cans of green hatch chile peppers, the whole kind. It is very easy to locate our items in the Hispanic Foods aisle. A mother and her two daughters in the same aisle shopping for similar items stand with us, scanning the endless rows of cans. It is no coincidence that it is the same family we crossed paths with earlier as we sifted through the best deals in the women’s clothing section. We ask the mother for her opinion on which brand of green hatch chili peppers is best to use for tamales.
After skipping the long line and paying at the self-checkout, we make our way to the exit sign and wait in line for the elderly, white man sitting on a stool by the door to check our receipt just like at Costco. It is no coincidence that the same woman and her two daughters stand in front of us. The man takes her receipt, pulls it back in towards his body as if she would snap at his hand if he kept it extended for too long, looks at the woman from the top of her dark hair to the bottom of her chanclas, then to her girls chatting in Spanish, then to her cart full of ingredients for either a tamale or enchilada recipe and then finally to the receipt, of which he held onto with two fingers like it is covered in filth, all as if to make sure she paid for everything in full.
We approach him with the receipt in hand prepared to go through the same TSA pat-down. He gives us a simple glance and refuses to take the receipt and look into the cart we motion him to check. Rather, he waves us along and wishes that we would have a great day with a smile that the family in front of us will never be familiar with. Why did he not wish the woman and her two girls the same?
We resemble those at the door yet we have fiestas with those who barely leave the store unscathed.
But who cares, right? Coincidence or not, we made it out of the store, and mom got her beans and peppers.
Newborns are painfully pushed out from the warmth and darkness of the womb with no intuition of race, right? We are beginning to think otherwise. Could racism be genetic? Yes, we are aware of the multitude of research contradicting this hypothesis. But, how else would they grow up thinking it is acceptable to form a judgment based on skin color? We understand children learn by observation and being in such a community imbeds nonsense at an early age. Yet, when maturing into an adult, shouldn’t there be a point in time where they experience eureka? This “aha” moment has yet to come for most.
Those of us with lighter skin come from a distinct background but are perceived as every other white teenage girl living in our predominantly white town, wait, county. Both parents are self-made and raise their children as the only colored family in our neighborhood. The thing is, when we meet them for the first time, they never guess that our family moved from Jalisco, Mexico only three generations ago. We resembled the other 60% of white students at our high school, not the 15% of Hispanics. And most especially, not the 1% of Native Americans.
Within our own family, we share similar genetic makeup, yet our sister’s tan-brown skin and dark hair are telling of our background. She is treated in unkind ways, some of which are influenced by their perceptions of skin tone. Although looking at two different skin tones in the same mirror, we see the burden that society inflicts upon her.
We are locked in this box where they can only see us. Never will they be able to hear us from the outside. We are said to be “lucky” — we are not burdened by their racist comments and long stares. However, it doesn’t feel this way. When we stand up for our own people, we receive weird looks because why should a white girl like us care? They see our skin and assume we have no stake in the issue. They assume they are safe to belittle BIPOC in front of us since we obviously do not look like we are one.
We walk out of the store inclined to learn what goes through their mind and how they validate themselves. But more importantly, we reach the car in absolute frustration. Not because we earn to be treated with the same prejudice by a community rooted in white supremacy. But because we fight for the balance where our voice is heard and our sister can pass through without their double-takes.
It is not enough to read a handful of books and listen to podcasts. Yet, we are well aware that some deem the posts on their Instagram story every once in a while to be satisfactory for their education and our progress. Fighting injustice is not a trend. It is something that is real and happening yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are here to help it not reach tomorrow.
Now, our Walmart experience might not be considered a racist interaction. It might have been that Walmart has a protocol requiring only those with a certain amount of items to be checked. It might have been that the man was on the last minutes of his shift and wanted to get off early. It might have been that one of his co-workers was approaching, and it was time to switch places. It might have been that he needed to use the restroom. It might have been that he wanted to minimize his exposure to the younger generation. It might have been his lunch break. It is probably just a coincidence.
But what about that other time where our sister was stopped at the Boys and Girls Club by one of the moms in her own community service group? Or that time when the cops pulled Dad over in our own neighborhood in the middle of the day for a broken tail light but made him walk in a straight line? Or that time when the neighbor yelled at our cousin for parking on his side of the street because he had thought our cousin was one of the landscapers? Or that time when the electrician asked Dad for the real owners of the house? Or that time our aunt was mistaken as the nanny of her own children? All coincidences?
In my town, in my skin, there sure seems to be a lot of coincidences.