BY JEANETTE LENOIR
Last week, I stopped at one of my favorite upscale resale shops in Clinton, NY. Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s on Park Row is packed with old, new and eclectic things. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars there since calling the area home in 2008. During this time I thought I had developed some rapport with the owner and her husband. For example, when we see each other we say hello, and engage in small talk. During the holiday season, I have even brought other family members to the small store to shop.
Unfortunately, my stop-in at Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s didn’t go as expected this time. Her husband was at the register instead of Dawn. I said hello and told him I would be browsing in the back. He was busy talking to two other ladies at the register but greeted me and said, OK. As I’m browsing through the winter coats, and following the departure of the ladies, the owner’s husband walked towards me and started to engage me in conversation. He immediately started asking me about my work. I answered politely but was stand-offish because I wasn’t comfortable with his line of questioning. Not satisfied with my answers, he started asking me about my previous position as a journalist and radio talk show host. A position I had 4-years ago. Still feeling uncomfortable with his line of questioning, his tone and demeanor, I politely changed the subject by asking him how he was doing in his life. He apologized for being controversial in his prying and excused himself when the phone rang. Saved by the Bell! I thought, and kept looking through the winter coats.
As I’m shaking my head internally at the ill-mannered audacity of this man, I naturally made my way towards the other clothing rack in the back. This move to the back rack clearly caused some issue for the man who I then hear say in a rushed tone: “I have to go!” to the person on the other end of the phone call he left me to answer. I immediately thought that it was probably because I was no longer in his view. He couldn’t keep his eye on me anymore when I moved from the coat rack to the rack with blazers. My perception was formed by how quickly he got off the phone when I moved, and his tone in delivering, “I have to go!”
After all my visits to the little shop on Park Row, I was hit with a dose of reality… I am perceived as a villain simply because my skin is brown. It didn’t matter that I had become familiar with the shop owners, spent hundreds of dollars at their store, or recommended their shop to friends and family. It was blatant, painful and thought-provoking. I wasn’t just any shopper. I was a black shopper. Trying to remain dignified in this harsh reality and discovery, I maintained my composure, picked out a few items and made my way towards this man who, after getting off the phone, made sure he had both eyeballs on me the entire time I was in the back of the store.
At the register, he started asking me more of his line of controversial and personal questions. By this time, two other people walked in. I took notice that he didn’t seem concerned about their unsupervised presence in the store. They were white. And besides, he had his villain right in front of him. It was me. As he’s checking me out he started asking me about my previous job again. He was making a face like he was trying to remember some juicy tale about my personal life but couldn’t put his finger on it. I just kept giving him a look that I hoped would ward him off, but he kept attacking me with his prying. I asked him why he was peppering me with his questions and he laughed it off as if it was all just a big joke. He then started asking me about my son. He said, “How’s your son? You have a son, right? Didn’t he have some problems?” All of these questions were delivered back to back, in front of the other two customers. They were judgments disguised as questions about me, the villain, the black shopper.
I kept looking at him with dumb-founded amazement. When he stopped to take a breath after his line of questioning, I asked him if he knew my name. He didn’t. I then told him for someone who doesn’t even know my name you certainly seem to think you know a lot about me and my son. He apologized, laughed and said: “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being so negative. It’s just that I thought you were some kind of disgruntled person and that your son had some problems or something.”
The dismayed look that had developed on my face didn’t go unnoticed, I hoped. However, I backed it up with words that I hoped would teach him something about customer service, and the art of decency. Basically, I told him that I didn’t appreciate his line of questioning and that I take offense to his treatment of me. He gave me an insincere apology, as if I had no right to be offended. I took my items and left. I almost didn’t want to spend that $71 in the store anymore but didn’t want to make a scene, as our exchange was uncomfortable enough.
Days later, I couldn’t get the experience out of my mind. I felt so strongly about what happened to me that I felt compelled to bring it up to his wife, Dawn. I thought if I explain to Dawn—the shopkeeper I normally deal with—how her husband made me feel during my last visit, perhaps she’ll talk to him and advice him not to bombard customers with personal and inappropriate questions.
Today, I went back to the shop while I was running another errand in the same shopping strip, Park Row. I politely waited until she finished speaking with two customers, greeted her and asked if her husband told her that I was in the store last week. I purposely kept my voice low because I didn’t want to embarrass her but felt strongly that she should know about my experience. She answered, no and proceeded to listen to me. After telling her that I was very uncomfortable with the exchange she became defensive. She told me her husband was the nicest person on the planet and if he made me uncomfortable it was not meant to be so. I just took it the wrong way. …It was clear that she didn’t care about me. I was the enemy to her too. She made that clear by being condescending, dismissive and excusing her husband’s treatment of me.
I then told her in a very calm voice that I would no longer shop at her store. I made the decision on the spot because of how she handled my genuine concern about the experience with her husband. She then got angry and yelled out: “I don’t care! Get out or I’ll call the cops!” I told her I’m happy to leave her store and will never return. She then started shouting: “Trump! Trump! Trump!” That’s why we voted for Trump! Get Out!”
I turned around, still calmly, and took off my sunglasses, which I had put on as I made my way toward the exit. I told her that I was actually wearing Ivanka Trump sunglasses and that I didn’t care that she voted for Trump. I threw a rhetorical jab back at her by asking her what she thought her vote for Trump really meant?! …She simply kept yelling “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at me as I made my way out of her shop.
I wondered if she had forgotten about the two customers in her store. I wondered what she thought about me over all these years. I wondered if she ever valued me as one of her regular customers. A lot went through my mind… And then I eased into the comforting feeling that her behavior only speaks of who they are. Not me.
Only a bigoted, racist human-being—in my view—would use Trump as a synonym for the N-word. To describe that moment as shocking would be an understatement. Dawn Marie was yelling Trump at me…because I’m black. There is no other logical explanation for it.
On my drive home the only question lingering in my mind like a bitter after-taste was; Did the word “Trump” replace the N-word?