Today I was going into a store — alright, a liquor store — and encountered an awkward moment wherein a man was insisting on coming out the same door, the entrance. I stood still, waiting for him to figure out he should step to the right, to the exit door, but he didn’t. Instead he flung open the glass door in front of him and ushered me in. “You’re welcome,” he said sarcastically under his breath as I walked by.
I circled right out, through the exit door, and shared with him that he was actually in the wrong, using the entrance as an exit, and thus my lack of appreciation. I’m not sure he heard me. I went back into the store once more and picked out my wine — alright, my box of wine — and brought it to the befuddled sales clerk.
Why was I so mad, I wondered? What’s the big deal about using the wrong door? Am I such a rule follower, as a friend of mine once accused? Lugging my box of Chardonnay home I realized that the reason I was so angry, why the encounter felt so frustratingly familiar, was because it was emblematic of today’s society. The person involved did the wrong thing and yet I was supposed to thank him for his willingness to acknowledge me in the process. He was entitled to that. This was all about denial, about arrogance, about seeing those around you as wrong simply because they do not thank you for being you.
As a woman I have experiences like this fairly regularly. People of color, oh pretty much all the time. Is everything about race? Yes. And then gender. And for women of color – well, “major systems of oppression are interlocking,” according to the Combahee River Collective statement. “Intersectional,” we might say these days.
So, the brown store owners requested that their customers use one door for entering and another for exiting; the white man chose to use the door he preferred; the white woman was accused of ingratitude for not acknowledging the white man’s performance of a “chivalrous” gesture as he ignored the directives of the brown people. Way too much reading into the situation, you say? I will respect that opinion. But here’s what I say: it’s a tiny illustration, a shining microcosm, of our culture.
Today I watched the coffin of John Lewis being pulled by horse and carriage across the Edmund Pettus bridge. I thought he looked so all alone; it was a lonely scene. And I thought how his soul must be so tired, exhausted by the work it took to be a Black man in this country. And he spent even more energy, calling out those who believe the country is theirs alone, who think it is their inheritance to choose their doors — and who expect thank-yous when they decide, every once in a while, to let others in those doors.