The rejected invitation
There is nothing like the pain of being discarded.
It doesn’t have to be dramatic. Most dismissals happen in everyday moments of life. Like going to the grocery store.
I’ve been having difficulties at the grocery store recently. Things started ramping up in 2016. I’d walk up to the counter to order some meat, and as I’d approach, the person behind the counter would leave their position and head to the back of the store when they saw me coming. Or the service would be delayed, cold or distant. My meat would be sloppily packed. And there was a general air of palpable disdain; it was clear that this person would rather not serve me. I tried standing my ground. I tried waiting patiently. I tried avoiding this employee. Then, I tried asking them their name to cue them in to the fact that I knew what they were doing. I remember that day with clarity. As I pushed my cart around the store, I debated whether or not to complain to the manager. I decided not to.
I had no desire to get this person fired.
I understand struggle; perhaps there are people who depend on their income. I also had no desire to validate the story this person was clearly telling themselves about who I am.
I wondered what would cause a person to be in so much pain, that they genuinely believe their best option is to belittle a person they don't know, whose only known difference is skin complexion. I feel pain behind my eyes when I think of how desperate someone would have to be to believe that their life would be made better by making someone else’s life feel worse.
This problem hasn’t abated. In December 2017 I woke up on a Saturday needing to head to the store. There are tiny humans in my house, and getting through the weekend is a real problem if we’re all hangry at once. I didn’t want to go to the store, but I needed to go to the store.
Low-grade discrimination is part of my everyday existence.
But there’s something different about these interactions I’ve been having at the meat counter. There’s a heightened level of aggressiveness and directness beneath the surface. A heat, waiting for the right trigger to bubble over, seemingly justified by the current state of things.
On this particular Saturday morning it happened again; the service was cold, robotic, and distant. It was a general air, a clear vibe, meant to put me in my place, clearly directed towards reminding me that wherever my place was, it wasn’t on the same plane as the human serving me.
These actions have comprised an invitation. An invitation I refuse to accept. It’s an invitation to demean the humanity of the people who mistreat me, belittle me, insult my intellect by convincing themselves that their actions do not matter, that their choices do not affect my life.
It is a perpetual invitation to reduce my character to living a tit-for-tat existence. One where my values are not determined by my individual choice and autonomy, but rather surrendered to the reactionary control of people who believe that my lesser status elevates theirs.
It is an invitation that disturbs me, and one which I fundamentally refuse to accept.
The moment I choose to insult and reduce someone else’s humanity because they have attempted to reduce my own, is the moment that I open the door to doing whatever I want, whenever I want, whenever it suits me to another human being.
Violence is often not dramatic and sudden. It is incremental. It is in the creeping reduction of certain people while convincing others that they are the exception, the protected rule. It is in the minute, momentary interactions, like purchasing meat at the grocery store, that are afflicted with a disgust designed to make me internalize someone else’s fear and discontent with their life as my own responsibility. It is in the invitation to respond in kind, to give disrespect instead of manners, to extend disdain instead of kindness.
Instead, I choose to give the feelings I wish to receive. Rejecting this invitation preserves my choice to decide who I will be as a human being. In doing so I extend another invitation in its place, an invitation to meet as peers, as equals, as beings with shared humanity.
I refuse to discard your humanity because you have demeaned my own.
About the Author:
Krystle Cobran, Esq., MPP helps individuals and organizations have conversations about race that create connection.