An Aha! Moment of White Privilege

August 31, 2017

Most of us know that African Americans are sometimes treated like potential shoplifters. To be honest, I didn’t think through how demoralizing that would be until I saw a friend’s reaction during an incident described below. This was my second aha! moment while reading Waking Up White by Debby Irving.

The FUPC/FPC Ministry Team has been reading Waking Up White  this summer in preparation for a four-week Adult Formation series in October. We hope you’ll read the book, too.

From Waking Up White, page 71: “In her essay ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,’ Dr. (Peggy) McIntosh laid out the forty-six seemingly benign privileges she dislodged from her subconscious. I say ‘benign’ because they don’t seem like big deal until their opposites—the lack of privileges, the discrimination—are considered…I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”

Here’s my aha! moment:

Earlier this year, I was in the Uptown Harris Teeter and ran into an African American friend. We chatted about the store and how it carried so much of what was available at larger stores. But, Grace (not her real name) lamented that this smaller store didnt sell the bags of French green beans that she and I both enjoy.

Walking home, I remembered I had two bags of those beans from the East Boulevard Harris Teeter in my refrigerator. At home, I placed one in a Target bag, tied a knot at the top and trotted back to Harris Teeter. Grace was still in the store.

Look, Grace! I exclaimed. I had an extra bag of the green beans and I brought it to you!

Her reaction shocked me:  You can’t give that to me here.”

In a flash I realized that I was setting up Grace to carry something out of the store that she hadnt purchased there. Instead, she gave me her car keys and I carried the beans to her car.

The idea that Grace, a pillar of her church and community, might be viewed with suspicion is ludicrous.  But even such a dignified and trustworthy African American must have had enough life experiences that shes wary.

I thought about all the times I shopped at CVS, put the receipt in the bag and then went directly to the grocery store. True, I always tied the top and showed the bag to the clerk, saying These are items I purchased at CVS.” But never, ever have I been challenged, nor do I expect to be.

For most white Americans, being treated with respect and trust when shopping is a given.

– Sue Loeser