Archive for the ‘holiday shopping’ Category

How Do We Explain To Our Children?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I noticed the white man wearing sneakers and a blue parka standing nearby.  I first noticed him when I was in the cookware section. I was on the hunt for one of those pretty color Le Creuset cast iron pots that I love to collect, hoping there might be a deeply discounted one on the shelf to snatch up. The white man in the blue parka stood a few feet from me pretending to be studying stainless steel cookware.

I knew immediately who he was and why he was standing there.

And when I looked up in the bath towel section and saw him standing one aisle over to my right I stopped and glared. We looked at each over. His cover was blown and he knew it.

But the process started all over again when I reached the book and magazine area and was searching around for a new magazine. It was a different man this time. But his job was the same.

Am I imagining this?

I’m a middle-aged black woman with gray hair, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Other women in the store — whose color was different from mine– were going about their business shopping with no one seemingly following them around from section to section.

I am a southerner by birth. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Back then I didn’t understand why my mother lectured us kids so about not touching anything in the store every week we accompanied her  on our  Saturday excursions downtown to shop at Woolworth, Kresge, Rich’s, and Davison’s department stores.”Touch something, and I’ll slap you” were her words. It would take years before I understood that fear, not just strictness, was the motivation behind her words.

But I understood my mother’s fear that day as I stood in the check-out line with my purchases and the teenager who lives in my house reached for some item there near the check outline and threw it in the check-out basket. You know those items at the check out counter for impulse buyers and for kids to harass their parents into buying. Those “Oh well, what the hell” store items you pick up because they are right there at your finger tip in your line of vision.

Like I said, the teenager who lives in my house picked up an item from the shelf and threw it in the basket. Except it didn’t quite land in the basket. It landed on top of my purse which was in the basket. And the teenager who lives in my house thought nothing about it.

But I did. Fifty years of being a southern black woman shopping in hostile “white stores” caused me to snap. “Are you crazy?” I muttered under my breath in my mother’s voice. I was trembling. The teenager who lives in my house looked at me clueless.

The world has changed. But not that much. Despite our excitement over what’s to happen on January 20, 2009. In truth, her father and I have protected her, buffered her from the ugliest side of racism. “Why are you trippin’?” she asked.

We had this conversation before, I kept thinking to myself. But it was at bedtime? Or was it in the kitchen when we were cleaning up after a meal? Or was it one of those times in February when she was at her desk working on some obligatory African American history assignment that was due the next morning and instead of looking up the research for herself she’d decided to ask the crazy woman who lives her house who’s always talking about history to rattle off a few names and dates for her. Irene Morgan. David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain. Ruby Sales. Regardless, it wasn’t real to her.   

So there I stood in the checkout line of TJ Maxx looking and sounding  like a crazy woman, giving the teenager who lives in my house a Cliffnote lesson on evil, racism, racial profiling, talking to her about on cameras hidden in department store walls, men (and women) in parkas lurking nearby, people in other rooms looking at monitors following women like me and her as we shop in the store. It must have sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. It did to me.

“Just remember the next time you come to the store with your high fallutin’ friends. The camera won’t be on them. It’ll most likely be on you.” Somberly she removed the box from on top of my purse and put it squarely into the check-out basket. Neither of us spoke after this.  I was spent, trying to hold back tears. She stood stiff and quiet.


Years later, black (and brown) parents in America are still having to have this conversation with our children before going into department stores.

Done Your Holiday Shopping Yet?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Scores of emails show up in my mailbox daily from my favorite stores  promising holiday sales better than the ones they were offering yesterday.  Sur La Table. Nordstroms. Nieman Marcus. Peruvian Connections. Frontgate. “Buy one get one free!” “Free Shipping! 30% off!” “Deepest Discounts ever!” ! I feel guilty about clicking the delete button.  But I can’t let myself talk myself into buying something I don’t need. (I know I’ll be sad come January when one or more of my favorite stores goes out of business, like several are rumored to do, because of projected bleak  4th quarter 2008 sales.)shopping

I’m one of the millions who have kept her wallet shut since the economic slide began last September.  Worries about the economy have folks like me  plan­ning this holiday to buy  fewer gifts and less ex­pensive, more practical items. Odd isn’t it: part of the reason the economy is in the tank is because Americans are in enormous debt; we spend more than we save. But part of the cure, says experts, is for Americans to open their wallets and show their confidence in the economy by shopping more and getting cash flowing again in the economy again. But with the jobless rate rising last month to highest we’ve seen in 15 years who can shop in December when you’re not sure if you’ll have a job in January to pay off your bills?

But the economy is only part of the reason why I haven’t started my holiday shopping.

Sheer laziness and grumpiness are the other reasons. If I didn’t have a child, I wouldn’t bother at all. But the teenager in my house won’t hear of it. “Don’t you just love Christmas” she asked gleefully the other day when we were in the car driving past homes decorated in festive lights. “Bah Humbug” I growled. Later that night she sat on the other side of the house in her room and emailed me her wish-list to the sound of Christmas music blasting from her computer.

The little shopping I’m going to do will all be done tonight. Online.This marks my fifth year doing most of my holiday shopping online. One good thing about shopping online, you don’t have to deal with standing in line for hours and shoppers trampling you to death for a few dollars off on a digital camera like they did a store clerk at a Long Island store this past November. I’ll venture out a little — to the cell phone store and my favorite perfumery– for my fix of Christmas cookies at the store door, holiday music blasting on the intercom, and shopkeeper well-wishes which can’t be duplicated on the computer.

Like millions of American my Christmas list is down to the barebones this year, so I expect it’ll only take an hour and I’ll be done shopping for everyone on my list. It’s a Christmas card for everyone else.

Okay, how many of you anal types are finished with your holiday shopping? Even got your gifts wrapped and under the tree already, you say?

Raise you hand if you’re like me and haven’t even started shopping? That’s more like it.

Now about that 10 feet Christmas tree standing naked  in my front hall since Saturday night. I guess it’s time to drag out the boxes of bulbs and lights and get started decorating it.

One thing I know for sure that will get me in the mood for decorating the tree and for shopping is a new Christmas music cd. Anyone has  a recommendation for great Chrismas cd that will make me climb the ladder and hang that first bulb on my tree?