Friday, January 18, 2013

Stereotypes and Race: Why I Only Write Checks at the Grocery Store

               I wanted honest experiences that tell the reality behind stereotypes and racism because too often, personal experiences are dismissed or undermined as being "overly sensitive" or perception-based.  If you think this after reading this piece by Melissa Matson, check yourself.  Melissa's story expresses the raw emotions of how anger and embarrassment turn to fear.   I was reminded of the significance of dignity when faced with the ugliness behind stereotypes, and I'm thankful Melissa was willing to tell just one of her stories.   Here she shares her reality, and I really love her bright wit!  (She's this way in person, too.)  Read for yourself . . . 

Hi, my name is Melissa Matson….and I am a single mother. A proud, single, Black mother. I have the most beautiful little replica of me walking this earth; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I found out I was pregnant the week before finals during the last semester of my senior year of college. I was scared. Terrified, actually. Then I gave birth and I discovered single moms (or maybe just parents in general) kind of give up their rights to most fears once they have a child. I was scared of driving; then I took a nice little ride on public transportation with my infant, her stroller, a diaper bag, and my big purse. I quickly got over that fear. I was scared of bugs….and maybe I still am a little. But, I have to be supermom and save my kid from the bees and spiders and scary ants. I was scared of being a mother. But, the nurse said, “There’s a baby in there!” So I had to suck it up and figure it out. I’m a work in progress…so is my kid. But, we’re getting there.

I still have one fear though. This dreadful fear that sends chills down my spine and despair to my heart every couple of weeks…..the grocery store. Oh gosh….grocery shopping is my least favorite chore. I hate it. Passionately. And it’s all because of one guy. We’ll call him Tim. Tim was the manager at a large grocery store here in Madison, WI. One day a few years ago, my daughter and I were doing our shopping. She was being a little angel, only begging for everything at eye level. I was being the great mom that I am, telling my three year old to get a job and she can buy anything she wants. Normal mommy-daughter stuff. I get to the check area, which is horribly backed up, and stand in the shortest line. Up walks Tim, about a minute into my wait. And Tim, probably believing he is going to save me some time and make my day and win himself a customer service accolade, looks at me and says, quite loudly, “I’m sorry ma’am, but the card scanner at this check out line is broken, so we aren’t able to accept EBT cards. You can follow me over to this line.”

Why you little….such and such (mommy’s don’t curse). If looks could kill, little Timmy would have fallen right then and there.

You see, Tim had been informing people that the card scanner didn’t work in that line. I had heard him as I walked up. I wasn’t worried about it. I had my checkbook. What he hadn’t done to the other people that walked in that line was tell them that their EBT card wouldn’t be accepted. Guess what made me different from those other people? I was a Black woman with a cart full of groceries and a little kid begging for candy. Black woman with a cart full of groceries and a little kid….of course EBT is involved. Why? Because there is a group of people that believe that any Black person that eats well probably gets government assistance. Don’t believe that group exists? Go check out Rupert Murdoch’s Twitter feed. I don’t follow him. I’m not a masochist. But he posted an interesting tweet after the 400 pound woman in New York fell through the sidewalk. He tweeted, “How did fat lady who fell thru street get to 400lbs? Welfare, stamps, etc? Then leave us all with 20yrs immense health bills.” See, the 400 pound woman was Black. And of course, Murdoch, in all his old man wisdom, knows that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a Black person to afford food. The government HAS to be helping them. Duh. And because of overweight Black people, healthcare is unaffordable for all. Double Duh.

Why you little……such and such (no cursing, mommy).

Murdoch is so blinded by ignorance that he forgot to check the facts presented by the media company he founded. Ulanda Williams, the woman that fell through the sidewalk, is a social worker. She works. Meaning she probably buys her food with the money she earns from the job she works. And she probably receives healthcare benefits, which she more than likely pays for, from the job that she works. I can’t help but wonder if people stare in shock as she pulls out her wallet and pays for her groceries with *gasp* money? I can’t help but wonder if when she walks into the doctor’s office, people stare in anger and blame her for their high health care premiums?

I want to be clear. I support the Foodshare program provided by the state. I support most government assistance programs. I believe sometimes people fall on hard times. It’s not a hand out; it’s a helping hand. Big difference. I also know there are some people that use the system inappropriately. And I believe they should be punished. But I don’t believe people should be made to feel shamed if they need help. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not a bad person. I also know that everyone that uses the system is NOT Black. I suspect everyone knows that. But some people need a scapegoat. See, my fear of grocery shopping is not that people will think I’m on welfare. My fear is that people will use me as a way to affirm their delusional beliefs about Black people. That we’re all lazy. That we’re all on welfare. That we all have kids just to receive some kind of government assistance. I don’t want to be THAT person. Because we’re not all THAT way. Trust me.

Is my fear a little irrational? Possibly. But, so are some people’s beliefs.

Little Timmy, the grocery store manager….I just smiled at him, and politely informed him that I would be paying by check. Then I rolled my eyes so hard my contact lenses almost fell out. And I decided, since I can’t forego grocery shopping for the rest of my life, from then on out I’d only write checks at the grocery store. It’s my little way of protecting the virtue of my African American brothers and sisters.

Melissa received her bachelor's degree (and Jada) from Lakeland College where she majored in psychology.  Her masters in psychology is from Walden University.  She works for the Department of Workforce Development as a senior tax specialist, and before that, was the ever-so-loving nanny to John-Pio and Misa in their early years of living.  In her spare time as a proud single mother, she likes journaling, wacky dance contests with Jada, practicing yoga, and urban line dancing. 


  1. Wow! Thank you Melissa for sharing this story. I live in my own little world sometimes (OK, let's be honest, most times) and like to believe this kind of (mommy's don't swear) doesn't happen.

  2. I live near Maple Bluff and occasionally spend time at restaurant bar where the Maple Bluffers hang out. Most folks have been cordial to me and even talk to me some. about a year ago, I started dating a man from Maple Bluff. He had the Maple Bluff Golf Country Club membership, and his father had been a well known physician in the community. The fact that I was dating this man disturbed one 'gentleman' in particular and he started treating me cruelly and asking friends if I was - well let's just say a 'night worker'. It took me awhile to understand what had happened, but it finally dawned on me that I lived on the wrong side of the street and I had no right to be dating a man from Maple Bluff. It's been awhile since I have dated the Maple Bluffer and said 'gentleman' has gone back to treating me as just another loser from the other side of the street.

  3. This is an important and revealing pair of guest posts. They leave me more than unsettled, angry for sure, but also grateful Bethany and Melissa's shared their infuriating experiences. Racism, whether blatant or subtle is very real, ignorant, always evil. For things to continue to improve it must be addressed in every way possible as often as possible. Thanks Vera, Bethany and Melissa for addressing it in your way.