I think I just got called a racist

“I hope it’s not because I’m African-American!”

With that parting shot, the magazine salesman slunk off across the street in search of more quarry, while I’m stuck explaining to my three African-American kids why this stranger hurt my feelings.

And poof…the rainbow snuggles of my week re-enacting the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery were toast.

So today, I’m hanging with my kiddos. Our front door is open, and I’m making snacks, chatting with the baby, and waiting for Miss H. to walk in from the bus.

A fellow in a tie comes up the walk and waves at me, so I stand in the doorway with the two littles while he gives me the spiel.

Let me be clear: the only people who have any luck selling or converting me to anything have Tagalongs. I’ll tell the old lady who had a tough time making it up the steps with Watchtower, thanks, I’m already a believer. I’ll chit-chat with the Mormon missionaries for a minute before explaining that we already have a church home and sending them on their way.  I’ll thank the campaign canvassers going door-to-door for causes I believe in. Mostly, I just figure that folks who go door-to-door deserve my courtesy, if not my encouragement. Plus, I’m not really one to turn on the confrontation in front of my kids.

But I’m not a signer-up. I’m not a giver-out of info. I’m not somebody who buys anything unless I’m shopping.

It didn’t go so well for the last dude trying to sell print subscriptions to me a couple months ago. He was kind of a scruffy fellow for starters, and the newspaper sales apron that looked like it had tangled with the office shredder didn’t exactly add much to the look. I was explaining we already got a Sunday paper…he was too busy insisting that I would love the coupons. I was trying to think of a strident response to advise him despite my new baby and rather casual post-partum grooming that I actually had a brain in my head and on occasion, could read and digest news about, like, civics or, like, current global events.

When my husband came up the walk, the scruffy newspaper dude thought he had to defend my coupon-fetishizing femininity from the puzzled black guy coming in and kind of Galahad-ed his way betwixt my husband and the door. Maybe he saw the headlines: “Selfless Subscription Manager Saves Bargain-Shopping Mom from Home Invader.”

Awkward.

Suffice it to say that my snappy feminist rejoinder never made it to press when my husband shooed Smock Man off the steps (“I live here!”) while Mr. Subscription angrily told me that people like me were killing the newspapers.

So now you know who to blame that on.

Yesterday, it was magazine sales. Some kind of Urban Center program that rehabilitates ex-felons by teaching them door-to-door sales. I wasn’t really paying super close attention, and there was no way I was going to buy a magazine (not that any publications were mentioned in the pitch.)  The seller got a little confusing about him earning points and then donating magazines to charity.

I explained that we’ve already made our decisions about charitable giving, to which he took serious umbrage. He wasn’t a charity. He was out working hard selling magazines to support his daughter. I could simply choose to donate the magazines to charity.

I apologized for misunderstanding him.

“I know I speak good English,” he protested. “I hope it’s not because I’m African-American.”

I wished him luck. I don’t think his has been great thus far.

I’ve come to this conclusion: it was the easiest thing for him to say in his disappointment. And effective; it certainly hurt.

Was it OK to intimate that I’m a racist in my home in front of my kids?

Nope.

But here’s the thing. It led to some learning, some reflection in our house.

As Miss H. observed, “You wouldn’t have married Daddy if you didn’t like Black people.” While that’s a big simplistic…it’s not like  because I have a Black husband that I can’t have or harbor racist thoughts…it’s reassuring to see that the allegation didn’t hold water for my kids. And reassuring that my daughter has a grasp on logic.

I talked to my girls about always having a choice about how we spend our money.

We talked about how words can hurt grownups, too. And that one doesn’t make the allegation of racism lightly.

And now we’ve got a great example of why you shouldn’t give in to pressure from someone because they claim that you are hurting their feelings and the only way to fix it is to do something that you don’t want to choose or don’t feel comfortable doing.

Can you imagine the revolution in this world if every girl grew up knowing that you don’t have to give in to pressure from a man or that the only way to make him stop insulting you is to do what he wants?

My kids got to see me sit with my discomfort at his words, but didn’t see me give in to stop them. They didn’t see me try to backpedal about “No really, I am a good person.”  I just had to sit with those words and work through them.

I’m not angry. I’m not tempted to take this to his superior at the outfit he works for (which has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, interestingly). It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to say, when you’ve been out pounding the pavement all day and another white woman in a comfortable neighborhood refuses a magazine subscription.

But I think that at the peril of my immortal soul and access to Samoas and Thin Mints, another-creatively worded, hand-lettered “No Soliciting” sign is in the works.

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