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Monday, December 21, 2009

Split Decision

Tomorrow, Grandma and Grandpa Campbell are coming up from Virginia for Owen's preschool pageant. We'll all be terribly impressed with his shepherd-ness, and following the after-party (note: buy ranch dressing!), we'll sojourn back to our house for split pea soup (mine), cheese toast (my mother-in-law), and Christmas cookies (again, MIL). 

To prepare for the festivities, I took the boys to Safeway to pick up ingredients. Following the recipe on the back of  the Safeway-brand split peas, I walked over to the Strange Swine section to find ham hocks.

Although I found trotters, ears, neckbones, and yes, snouts, I could not find the hocks. I looked around me, because I enjoy starting up conversations with strangers in the grocery store. Paul has fondly told me in the past, "You believe that the entire world is just waiting to be your friend, don't you?"

Well, yes.

I've always been grateful for the revelations from stranger chit-chat, because I believe that we're already plenty isolated with our Blackberries and our private driveways, and it's a good thing---a human thing---to acknowledge others when going through the motions of the day.

So, I looked around, the words, "Has anybody seen the ham hocks?" poised to leap off my tongue. I opened my mouth, but then closed it again, because the only people around me were older African American women, and I second-guessed myself.

I did not want to be the fool asking these nice women about ham hocks. I didn't want the thought "Oh, you're asking me about ham hocks, 'cause I'm Black, right?" to enter their minds. I didn't want to presume that these women knew anything about ham hocks, or inadvertently stumble into a Great Racial Dialogue when all these ladies probably wanted to do was stock their pantries.

And so, I continued to look, and asked Owen, loudly, "Hey, Buddy? Do you know where the ham hocks might be? What could I use instead of ham hocks?"

Owen, naturally, looked at me and said, "I don't know, Mommy." Nobody else jumped in with advice.

Finally, I saw an employee and she shared with me that they were out of ham hocks, due to the recent blizzard. She suggested pork necks, instead.

One of the ladies overheard our conversation and nodded vigorously. She said, "Or you could use turkey wings, if you don't want the pork flavor."

Having opened the door, she and I talked for a good five minutes about the Strange Swine section, as she passed on some tips involving fat back and black-eyed-peas. She asked Owen if he was a good boy, and he explained that he was, and that we would get a kid mailbox on Christmas morning.

She said, "What are you gonna do with a mailbox?"

"Get mail," he said, "And send mail too! But no bills!"

The exchange ended with pats on the back, and "You and your beautiful boys have a very Merry Christmas, dear!"

I floated away, as I always do when I encounter the gentle grace of former strangers.

And yet---my fears of insulting, of appearing judgmental or racist, almost kept that exchange from occurring.

And yet---I would have probably done it the exact same way.

Liberal white guilt or common sense? What do you think?

17 comments:

AudreyO said...

I smiled reading your post. I've always spoken to strangers, always. So how does a parent teach their child to not speak to strangers when the parent does it on a regular basis? My daughter tells people all of the time, that somehow she just learned that their are strangers then there are STRANGERS and those are the ones to avoid.

Nikia, May and da kids said...

The residents of Wildflower Manor (my family)have ran into some "questionable" situations being in a predominantly Caucasian (88%) neighborhood and city. We are VERY mixed, my husband is black and Filipino, I'm Samoan and my son picked up some strong genes of my grandmother's German blood because he looks half White (or Hispanic to most of the people in our city). So you can imagine how stunned people are when he introduces his dad.

The number of Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders living in Eagan was an estimated 66 people. I know the other two Samoan (married to white spouses) families in our city, the three Micronesian families and the one faux Hawaiian family who are really Filipino insisting on being called Hawaiian.Yeah, that's about 66 of us. We have all been called Black racial slurs at one time or another in this city and we laugh about it. Hey if you are going to be racial, at least get the race right to name call.

With that being said, people are very cautious of saying things that might sound racial or they just say stupid racial things oblivious to there own ignorance.I say just be YOU and if people are offended by things you say, if your intentions were NOT to be racial, you should NOT be embarrassed. if you are feeling sensitive to a situation, I think the way you handle the store "incident" shows you are a classy dame.

When people are bigots and ignorant, the truth always comes to light whether you want it to or not. Don't concern yourself with something so trivial since it doesn't seem you will be getting a position any time soon with the Klan (or one of those cool face masks). Oh heck, even the Klan hates the Klan = P

May

Ms. Moon said...

I'd have asked one of those ladies. But I say this because I am one of those people who, if I see someone confused in a grocery store, will stop and ask what they're looking for. I have often thought that the grocery store I go to should pay me to walk around and help people with suggestions about cooking and where to find the ingredients. I like being asked and often am and I don't mind asking when I have questions. I don't think race would enter my mind in a situation like this, although I could be wrong. I do understand why you would be worried about it but here in the south, we are all obsessed with the pig and its parts and that's all there is to it.

The Rambler said...

I gasped in shock cause I realize we do the same thing. (I'm the loser that thinks I'm the only one who does those things)

The wait, what if what I say makes them think something completely not how I meant...you know.

Corrie Howe said...

Ah? I dunno. But I'm not usually one to talk to strangers. Or, as my extroverted teenage son says, "Even to friends if you're on task."

Unknown Mami said...

I think I might have felt the same way and it would have been liberal brown guilt, but you know I probably would have still asked because I try to question my motives and actions, but not those of others. If I knew that I wasn't asking the people around me simply because they were black then, I'd ask anyway because the discomfort is mine, not theirs. If they were to get offended, I would simply say, "You are the only one around."

adrienzgirl said...

The stereotype thing would have never even occurred to me. I just don't think that way at all. I'm not sure why. I am surrounded by bigots living in the deep south in the middle of redneckville. But, I typically don't "see" color or differences so I just ask unassumingly. I would be the one shocked that I had inadvertently offended her and slapped my forehead after the fact with a that was insensitive Brandee, ya Jackass!

mama-face said...

The same thoughts would have crossed my mind. Actually, I imagine my story would read much the same if I were to ever consider making split pea soup!!

If our grocery store has a Strange Swine Section I know nothing about it.

I so want to be more sarcastic but I'm afraid of being misunderstood.

I love how you tell a story. And there is no sarcasm in that statement.

I can't wait to hear about the program!!!

Cat said...

"No bills!" He can be my mailman!

I probably would've done the same thing. 95% of people would be fine with it, but there's always that 5% who would take it wrong, and to me it's not worth it to risk it.

erika said...

I would have totally asked in happy ignorance, as I had no idea that ham hocks had anything to do with race :) I guess I still haven't accomplished my acculturation process. In consideration of your vegetarian readers, I am not going to tell you in public about our swine-related "traditions" and food :)

Coby Goesling said...

I agree with May - just be YOU! You can't control whether or not people are uptight or easily offended. Generally speaking, I think most people need to lighten up about the whole race issue. If we're going to keep on being uptight and overly sensitive and always claiming an innocent question or wrong look - or whatever - as racist, then we're never going to get past skin color.

I love what Paul said about you - just waiting for the world to be your friend. What a great outlook!

Reading your blog is like opening a little gift every day. It always makes me laugh or see the world differently.

Michelle said...

I'm always overly conscious of things I say, so I probably would have done the same thing as you!

P.S. My brothers and sister and I got mailboxes for Christmas one year and it was the best thing ever!

Nancy Campbell said...

I overthink things. That much is clear. But, I don't have to overthink this: I'm so glad you all read my blog and share your thoughts. Such very awesome people you are.

noisycolorfullively said...

I love it. I just helped a dad fit his little boy for some jeans this afternoon. It was the highlight of my day!

I get your hesitation to start a great racial debate in the middle of the Safeway. I find that having black babies has opened my ability to talk to just about any race. Though I do sometimes worry that black people see me as a stuck up white lady trying to rescue me some black kids. Then I think, that's pretty much right on except for the stuck-up and purposfully picking black kids part. I try to not to think for others and smile on while my gorgeous boys throw their shoes out of the cart and wipe their boogers on unsuspecting passers by completely unaware of color or creed.

noisycolorfullively said...

I love it. I just helped a dad fit his little boy for some jeans this afternoon. It was the highlight of my day!

I get your hesitation to start a great racial debate in the middle of the Safeway. I find that having black babies has opened my ability to talk to just about any race. Though I do sometimes worry that black people see me as a stuck up white lady trying to rescue me some black kids. Then I think, that's pretty much right on except for the stuck-up and purposfully picking black kids part. I try to not to think for others and smile on while my gorgeous boys throw their shoes out of the cart and wipe their boogers on unsuspecting passers by completely unaware of color or creed.

kys said...

I probably would have asked and worried about it later. I'm usually the person at the store that gets asked. All stores - grocery, mall, UPS store, etc - it doesn't matter.

Mrs4444 said...

Maybe a little of both? In Green Bay, I wouldn't say it, because if there were two black women in Festival Foods, that would be a weird occurrence, and I'd hate to single them out any more!

I'm like you; I'll talk to anybody, anywhere. So will Mr.4444 and both of our kids. We pretty much never stop talking...