Sometimes the simplest stories lead to the biggest lessons. Ashley Owens of Charlotte, North Carolina discovered that for herself when she went shopping for some kitchenware in her neighborhood.
The young woman shared a story about getting into an argument a racist white woman — and the incredible events that followed — in a lengthy Facebook post that’s going viral both for it’s content and the beautiful way it’s written. The story is everything you need to know about everyday racism that bubbles just below the surface, what it means to be an ally for Black folks and how just one racist encounter can disrupt the mind.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. The anecdote about the ramekins pays off, we promise:
I was in a high-end store yesterday, and picked up several ramekins and other home wares that were on a serious sale. Like 90% off sale. This story isn’t really about ramekins, but I will get to why the ramekins are of GREAT pertinence later. As I was in line, the lady behind me complimented my hair, and attempted to strike up a conversation about the “rioting” happening in uptown. I thanked her for the compliment, but hesitated any further banter with her because I DID NOT want an isolated incident to support any perpetuated beliefs about people that look like me. I let her slide with a “It looks so soft and shiny, not coarse at all…” comment -__- I kindly stated that was a misconception most people have about “black hair” and continued to “fake examine” my items. She went on… “Oh I just love “black hair!” I would love to have some. I would be so happy if my hair would do that.” Again, I swallowed the lump in my throat, smiled at her, and said “Well, you can always get extensions! Then you too can have “black hair.” I turned around swiftly, and my eyes could SERIOUSLY not roll any further in the back of my head. Why me, Lord? Why? I prayed that was the end of her attempts to engage. And it was…until she inquired about some of the items I was purchasing. “Are those ramekins? How great are those colors! I didn’t see those back there.”
She went on, and asked me how much they were. This time, I fully engaged with her. Sure! Ramekins! No way that this can go south. I let her know the price, and she stated, “Oh that’s a good price for those- let me go get some.” I politely let her know that I took all of the stock on the shelf (10 of them) but there were others back there, however they were not like the ones I selected. It was my intention to let her know up front, as not to waste her time. I even suggested she ask an associate to see if they could be ordered, found at another store, see if there were some more in the back, etc. Her face immediately changed. She looked confused…Then sad….Then angry. Homegirl didn’t want those other ramekins; She wanted MY ramekins. She then asked me “Well what are you going to do with all of them? Do Black people cook with ramekins? I’m sure yall aren’t using them properly… How many is in your family? Do you actually need all 10? I just need 5….” I stopped dead in my tracks. My ears were on fire. I could see myself as that cartoon character who’s head was about to blow and ears had steam coming out of them. All of these things were rolling thru my head…Should I curse her out? Let her know that black peoples ramekins matter? Punch her in her God-forsaken trachea so that she would never be able to utter another insatiably racially-charged syllable? NO. She wanted them, and I had them. End of story. There was nothing that she could do to change that. Her desire for something that she wanted so badly allowed her TRUE self emerge for all to see. Here’s where the ramekins play such an interesting part: Ramekins are used for various baking purposes, pastries, casseroles, breads, mixing cups, etc. Ramekins are a culinary staple for anyone who cooks. This lady was convinced that a person of my background would not know what in the hell a ramekin is! So instead of going off, or being belligerent, I played the game! “Oh, I’ll probably only use 1 or 2 at the most. I may plant some flowers in them, store my lipsticks in them, use them as cookie cutters, use them as change holders, sip soup like Belle and the Beast did for dinner one night, or probably just let them sit in the box in my cabinets collecting dust. SHE WAS PISSED. There were laughs, chuckles, and giggles coming from all sides of the store, as I continued to ponder what I would do with the world class ramekins. The other customers were quite amused by my responses, as it was clear that everyone expected me to react quite differently than I had. The lady stepped out of line, and honestly, I thought she was leaving. The gentleman behind her gently tapped me on the shoulder and confirmed my feelings with a side-mouthed “She’s so rude…What a nutcase.” I nodded, and rolled my eyes in agreement. By this time, I’m at the cash wrap, and the associate is gently trying to express his sympathy for the lady’s comments, and dipping into some conversation about what is happening uptown. The store manager emerges from some secluded door and asks me to step out of line. I gave him 3 good blinks, then I refused and asked why. The lady of the hour is tucked closely behind him with her arms crossed. He said “I just want to allow this customer to purchase the items she had in her cart that were removed by you.” Before I could say a word, the associate shouts, “I CANT TAKE THIS ANYMORE! This lady is just trying to purchase items that she has selected, and not be questioned, or accused! This lady has caused nothing but grief for this poor lady the whole time she has been in line. She has done nothing wrong, so please do not question her about anything.” The manager looked so confused, and didn’t know what to do. There was an awkward moment of silence which was broken by homegirl saying “I just want a fair chance to buy some ramekins, and that Black girl doesn’t even want them.” I looked at the SM with a long, slow side eye as he apologized for any confusion. He walked over to the lady, said something to her inaudibly, and she walked out of the store saying “That Black girl doesn’t even know what to use them for…” I paid for my items, thanked the associate for his role, and exited the store. As I was leaving, an older gentleman asked me if he could escort me to the car and carry my bags. At first, I thought that this was a set up, and that he was going to jump me for my ramekins. In my head, I’m thinking, Buddy got me messed up! I will tag you over these good ramekins…they have lids! But then I looked in his eyes, and he had tears. Big ole, shirt staining, cry into your grandmother’s apron tears. He said, “I’m so sorry. I just stood there. We all heard her, and we all just stood there. We knew it was wrong, we knew it wasn’t about the ramekins, but we couldn’t find the words to tell her to stop.” He cried a while. I stood there, silent. He held my hand, and squeezed it from time to time. At first I thought this may have been for show, but what did he have to gain? After a while, he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his eyes, and kissed me on the hand. Nothing else was said. As soon as I got in my car, I was numb. I was upset, and yet comforted by the kiss on the hand from a stranger. I knew what he meant, but wondered if this would actually cross over in his daily life. As I have shared this story with a few friends and family members, the responses have been VASTLY different. Some agreed with my behavior, and some thought I reacted a little too eloquently. BUT the best part is that everyone is touched by the associate, and the gentleman that made an effort. An effort to stand up for what is right, show kindness, ask for forgiveness, and move forward. All of this over a ramekin…
To see another example of a Black woman facing discrimination in everyday life, watch the video
about Chastity Jones