SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Alysia Jacobs

Changed My Perception

            I had been a cashier at two different Harris Teeter grocery stores. Harris Teeter is a very popular grocery store in Greensboro, North Carolina and gained the reputation as being one of the better grocery stores, frequented most by those of higher social classes. There are other grocery stores in the area, but most shoppers comment a lot on the quality Harris Teeter guarantees with their products. Since I am African American I wanted to be sure that I did not come across as a ghetto teenager looking for a job. I was hired and soon I saw firsthand the race and social class differences I had only heard about before. When I had shopped there with my mother the differences weren’t apparent. Many view WIC and food stamps as government assisted programs for only minorities. Now I was able to see Caucasian women who drove nice cars using WIC vouchers and paying for their groceries with food stamps. Such examples illustrated how social class is not always determined by the car you drive, the place you shop, the money you have, or your race.

Working at Harris Teeter did expose me to some negative people of different races and higher social classes who clearly felt they were better than others. Once I noticed a Caucasian customer put her money on the counter instead of in my hand. On a previous occasion I had seen that same customer place their money in the hands of my Caucasian co-worker. So I concluded she didn’t do the same for me because I am African-American. Not puzzled by the look on my face, I could only gather that the customer could care less how I felt. There were many white customers that didn’t understand the concept of a WIC voucher, and didn’t appreciate having to wait in line to be checked out because of the lengthy process a WIC voucher created.

I was left thinking everyone has hard times, WIC today did not mean poor always. I did not let those negative comments affect me, but I do remember going home wondering why some people feel they are better than others. Typically, customers buy as much baby formula as their voucher allows, and they also buy other essentials with them as well. Certain vouchers allow the purchase of fresh produce for fruits and vegetables. Racism still exist in the South regardless of what the law states, so  while watching African-American customers pull out their twenty plus vouchers, I always heard smart comments from customers waiting behind.

 I also can remember a time when an African American customer was buying her baby formula with a WIC voucher. The next customer in line, who I assume was quite wealthy and white, was frustrated for having to wait and said “I don’t know why they keep having babies they cannot afford”. I wondered about the “they” she spoke of. Were the “they” young mothers, or African Americans or those that used government assistance? Was she addressing me too, when my name was clearly in her view on my magnetic name tag? This customer paid for her items with her credit card and walked away, almost with her nose in the air. This is a new generation; yes she was a young mother, yes she is black but she is providing for her daughter. Was the credit card user mad because of the multiple transactions this young African-American mother needed so that her child could eat that night? Or was she upset because in her mind she shouldn’t have had a child if she needed government assistance? Or maybe she was just upset because she just didn’t want black people in her world.

The murder of Trayvon Martin, February 26th, 2012, was still very new during the time of my incident. There were rallies held to support the cause and information given to African-Americans so they could understand their rights. Whether or not the young lady I was checking out could afford to take care of her baby without assistance didn’t mean anything. This young lady had the right to ask for assistance as well as the right to use it in any grocery store that would accept it.

After my incident accord, I really thought about the different things in our society that needed to change. In 2008, the first black President, Barack Obama, was elected. Re-election was coming around and all I could think about was Obama staying in office to help implement those changes. July 12th, 2012 a report was released announcing that one out of thirteen African-Americans were not able to vote because of their felony background. President Obama was reelected but I could only imagine the number of people that weren’t eligible to vote for that very reason. Electing the president affected everyone’s life, whether they are on parole or not. They should have some say about those that are representing us and setting laws for us despite their criminal background.

People today need to realize that African Americans and Hispanics are not the only races using government assistance in any shape or form. The young African-American mother’s WIC vouchers don’t make her any less of a person than those who receive disability or veterans benefits.  People shouldn’t assume that because she accepts extra help that she cannot provide for her child. There is a limit to the assistance that the government provides, it comes with strings attached and it is not eternal. Don’t pass judgments on someone else’s situation when you are unclear of their trials and tribulation.

Having an opinion is not against the law, but one should always keep negative comments to themselves. In the grocery industry customers often assume they can speak to cashiers in a disrespectful manner and because they need the money, that cashier won’t correct them. North Carolina is still considered the South, but in the 21st century I expect those of other races to address me as they would expect me to address them. I may have the same skin tone as other African-Americans but we are not all the same.

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