A Short Story of White Privilege

I needed a suit – I think it was for an interview. Maybe the one I wrote about here. Anyway, my wife knew a place that sold decent clothing for a remarkably small amount of money. I encouraged her to lead the way.

The inside of the store was rows upon rows of clothes and shoes, belts and ties, displays of socks and underwear. The suit section was pretty good – and I got a nice suit for less than $100. Your standards for formalwear might well be higher.

When I tried on the suit, I found something surprising in the pocket: a court summons. The last person to wear this suit had been going to a child custody hearing. And then, presumably, he brought the suit back as he didn’t need it anymore.

It didn’t feel like a good omen, but I only believe in good omens in a theoretical sense, and I liked the suit, so I bought it. We spent some time in the store. Take that, superstition!

I got underwear because it was cheap. I think I also got a pair of shoes.

We paid for my purchases, packed them into an enormous plastic bag, and headed to the door.

At the door, my wife went through then, as I followed, the alarms went off. I, immediately, felt guilt and embarrassment. I turn around and see everyone is, of course, staring. But then I notice something else. I can only see brown faces. My wife and I are the only white people in the store. And then, a saleswoman is beside me. She’s apologizing, taking my bag, cutting off the offending tag that had set off the alarm. She apologizes again and sends us on our way. The whole process took less than a minute.

And I wonder if, had I been any of the other people in that store, whether I would have been treated so politely and so efficiently. And I can’t be sure, of course, but wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of the other shoppers watching my interaction with the store manager were thinking exactly the same thing.

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