Let 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 Ta-Nehisi Coates. 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
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.