Stolen Chicken and Racism

chicken_thieves_040613Let me come clean right off the bat:  I stole $8 worth of chicken from Kroger last night.  Here’s what happened…

I got home from Kroger at 7:30pm, frazzled and tired.  As G and I were putting away the groceries, I noticed that the brown shopping bag was missing.  I knew I had taken it with me.  It was nowhere in the car, the kitchen, anywhere.  I tried to figure out if we were missing anything, so I opened the meat drawer.  There was the pound of ground beef and the turkey pepperoni.

“Where’s the chicken?”

G shook his head and said, “I didn’t see any chicken.”  I fumbled through the freezer and checked the countertops.  No chicken.

I cussed a good bit then stomped off to Kroger to claim my brown shopping bag and my missing chicken.  Grrr… grumble grumble grrr.

I trolled the parking lot in search of my chicken.  No luck.  I walked in through the out door, right past the security guard and started checking each bagging station for my chicken.  AHA!  There sat my brown shopping bag, camouflaged by the brown plastic bags.  But still no chicken.  I grabbed the bag.  The cashier who was now working that lane (not the one who had rung up my stuff) asked me if she could help.  “I found my bag but I can’t find my chicken.  I paid for 2 lbs of chicken tenderloins but they weren’t in my shopping bags when I got home.”  She couldn’t help.

The cashier who had helped me came up.  I explained to him and he took me over to the customer service counter to check for returned items.  Nope, no chicken.  At this point, the store manager walked over and I explained it to him.  He said, “I’m sorry about that.  If you’d like, go grab another pack of chicken and we’ll stick it in a bag for you.  If you discover other things that you’re missing, just bring back the receipt and we’ll fix you up.  No problem.”

I did exactly that.  I walked to the back of the store, grabbed another 2 lb pack of chicken and took it up to the front.  They slapped it in a bag and handed it over.  I thanked them then waved a thank you to the store manager.  Home ten minutes later with chicken in the fridge.

This morning, I discovered that I was a chicken thief.  While fixing breakfast, I reached in the deli drawer for some cheese and there sat a 2lb pack of chicken, right on top of my havarti.  I held it up to G like it was a bloody glove and cried, “What’s THIS???”  He ducked his head and mumbled, “I must not have recognized it.”  Dude.  It says “TYSON” and “CHICKEN” right here on the clear wrap that contains a whole bunch of CHICKEN.

It’s not like I could return the pilfered chicken to Kroger this morning.  Or donate it to the Food Bank. So I guess we will eat the Chicken of Shame and move on with our lives.

But the whole incident got me thinking.  Last week, in the midst of the turmoil after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder for shooting Trayvon Martin, a friend shared an intriguing quote.  It comes from a one-year-old article that was published in The Atlantic–“Fear of a Black President” by .  I recommend the entire article, but these are the words I’ve been carrying around with me:

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”

Sympathy and skepticism.  I’m speaking as myself here–a middle-aged, middle-class, European extraction white woman from a small town in the Deep South.  I walked into Kroger as an unwitting chicken thief and I got sympathy.  Another woman, say with a Spanish accent or darker skin, could have walked into Kroger with the same story about missing chicken and gotten skepticism.  At least she might have been asked to show a receipt or maybe sign something.  Or the skepticism she had faced in other situations would have stopped her from even trying to go back to Kroger to ask for her chicken.

The friend who shared the quote is a middle-aged, middle-class, African extraction woman from the same small town in the Deep South.  She’s a lawyer, dresses a whole lot better than I do and probably has more money to spend.  But she and her daughters have been followed around in department stores due to skepticism.

Sometimes it’s hard to participate in the discourse about racism because we look for simplistic hatred and DON’T SEE IT.  I don’t know many people who treat others with simplistic hatred, but I know well this sympathy/skepticism divide.  I don’t treat people with simplistic hatred, but I certainly waver between sympathy and skepticism based on my snap assessment of them.  If a young black man in a hoodie approaches me in the parking deck at night, I would be more prone to skepticism.  If a young black man in a white lab coat approaches me in the parking deck at night, I would be more prone to sympathy.

Photo credit: Nikkolas Smith via Van Jones

Photo credit: Nikkolas Smith via Van Jones

So that’s what I end up thinking about when I accidentally steal chicken from Kroger on a Sunday night.  I appreciate the sympathy that I received, but I also understand that it isn’t handed out evenly.

“I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

16 thoughts on “Stolen Chicken and Racism

  1. Rondi Wellum

    This reminds me video: When a white man is trying to steal a bike, people ignore. Nobody called police. Different story when it was black man. Our sympathies and skepticisms also factor in beyond race and include gender, beauty, etc. But I’ll just leave the chicken stealing to you omnivores. A vegetarian would never steal two pounds of chicken (unless it was a live chicken we’re trying to set free). I won’t comment on my accidental score of 5 pounds of tofurkey from Whole Foods. But sympathies could be given to the frazzled cashier ringing up my groceries day before Thanksgiving.

  2. Amanda Harris

    We had a long discussion at church on Sunday about exactly this: sympathies and skepticisms based on skin color. The hurdles that whites never even THINK about having to jump. Well-written thoughts again, Ashley.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Thanks! I think traveling makes us more able to see these hurdles, because being an “Other” in another society brings it to light. I’ve been the babbling idiot who couldn’t speak the language. I’ve been the person who dressed differently. I’ve been the woman with the wrong color skin.

  3. Heart To Harp

    You’ve written a profound assessment of the subtleties of racism and how we participate unwittingly. I am thinking of how a lifetime of being accorded sympathy instead of skepticism creates my sense of confidence and safety in the world. And, of course ,I am imagining how a lifetime of receiving only subtle skepticism creates such a different sense of self and safety.
    I will be happy to create a diversion if the chicken police come looking for you.

  4. Chris Antenen

    Since I can’t think of anything profound, I’ll just say something stupid. I worked so hard in the sixties that I thought I had cleaned up all this racism stuff.

    I remember going to the old railroad station in D.C. in the 70’s. It probably isn’t there any more, but at the time, there were printed boards, just words, (I even remember the colors, ivory on blue walls.) of significant acts of Congress in the country’s quest for equality. It was amazing how many times a large step forward was followed by one or two steps back. It’s a journey and we have to stay on the train.

  5. Chris Antenen

    Oh, I forgot. I stole a bottle of maple extract that way once. I went back, I needed it, they gave it to me. I found my little bottle about a week later in the bag. I used my dilemma as a lesson for Emma by asking her what I should do about it. She passed the test but I didn’t because I kept forgetting. I don’t know about two pounds of chicken, and I think I owe Kroger two-fifty.

  6. Stephanie Sykes

    This one hit close to home. As a fair skin Mexican-American I too get sympathy, but my children will not. My children will get closely looked at when they walk into a store. Even though both Reggie and I work very hard to teach our children morals, people will look at the color of their skin and assume different. And that makes my heart hurt.

  7. Rachel Marsh

    Love this and it is absolutely on point. I’m the ultimate sympathy earner – white, blonde, blue eyed, 5’9″ (wow, I sound a lot better than I actually look!). I understand this all too well. I will say though, that my look also receives a stereotype. Many times, when I’m shopping, I encounter this: I walk up and say “Hi there. How are you?” to a cashier or store assistant. I’m often treated not so friendly back. If I walk into a store (or as is often the case with me, the airport) with an issue (such as yours Baddest Mother), I often get eye rolls and sighs as if I’m high maintenance and expect to be handed everything because of the way I look or who I am. It typically takes 3 or 4 times of me seeing the same person for them to actually be nice to me. I hear this a lot “When I first met you, I thought you were going to be a snob.” I understand – there is a lack of trust there built up from years of people like me being what they expect, and they aren’t going to open up to me quickly. But, it sill bothers me. I want to scream “I’m not what you think I am! I’m not wealthy, I scrimp and save, I paid my way through college, my dad lives in a double wide, I’ve been jobless, and I am definitely not a racist etc.”. And whenever I bring this up (like now) typically people say to me, “Tough. More times than not, your “look” gets you what you want, so we don’t feel sorry for you.” That may be true, and probably is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, but I want you to give me a chance, just like I’m giving you a chance. I thnk that’s what most people want from other people, regardless of the color of their skin or the way they look. In general, I think we’d all be a lot better off If what Dr. King wished for were true across the board – that all people were judged by the content of their character. And, learning someone’s character takes more than a brief encounter. I tell my daugher all the time, “Be nice to everyone, you don’t know what they’ve been through today. If you start off this way, you’ll see their true character emerge more quickly than you’d expect.”

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