As a treat to myself, I decided to get some ice cream that I could eat for dessert. Because I was in an unfamiliar area, I used Yelp to find the nearest ice cream place and was pleased to find a frozen custard shop a few blocks away. I was in a pretty good mood. After all, it was still light out, I had my dinner in the car, and I found a great parking spot right out front. When I went in, I only felt happier because I saw a pair of cute twin babies in their stroller and the entire store felt a little like an old school candy store, complete with desserts in glass cases and candies in jars. Guys, they had Necco wafers. How much more old school can you get?
However, my good mood deflated a bit while I was waiting to be served. An older couple was chatting with someone I assumed was the owner and there was a kid ringing up the mom of the twins on the other side. There were a couple more employees busy on the other side of the counter, but I couldn’t see what they were doing. I was looking at the menu and when the garrulous couple left, I looked right at the older man, to see if he would acknowledge me, but he didn’t. By that time, the mom had finished paying, so I glanced over there and was ignored there, too. I was literally the only one standing at the counter and I started to feel a little awkward and embarrassed. After a minute or two, when it was obvious that I wasn’t going anywhere, the cashier finally looked over and said, “Can I help you?”
The older man had moved farther down the counter. Not once did he greet me or even acknowledge my presence, despite the fact that I was a customer.
I’m sure this could be attributed to any number of causes, but that little voice thinks, “Is it because of my race?”
Again, there is no proof that this is the cause in this instance, but it’s hard to shut that voice down when it has been the cause of many other instances in the past.
I really hope that the problem is that, despite the cute interior, the staff isn’t well-trained and that the older guy, if he is the owner, is socially incompetent and not that they were unwilling to notice me because of my ethnicity.
Know that feeling all too well. There’s a great scene about this in one of the Locke & Key books, where the characters change race from white to black and they notice people’s behavior is subtly different, colder, and they wonder. And another character, a little boy who’s really black says something like “the not-knowing is the worst part.” I’ve definitely felt that way. Knowing a situation is because of your skin color presents its own difficulties, but not knowing can be just as painful. I wish I had better skills to describe it, but this situation paints a pretty clear picture.