Classism & Shoplifting Accusations: Why Intersectionality Matters

I went to a popular/famous bookstore here in Portland yesterday to find some thank-you cards and a gift for my friend. The device to enter my debit card password was acting up and the cashier treated me like it was my fault.

This reminded me of the time I was accused of stealing by one of their managers...I had been reading in the café there for my anthropology class and when I left, the security system went off. The security guard stopped me and the manager went all passively apeshit as they are wont to do here. She was very condescending and the security guard kept trying coerce me into admitting that I knew him. I was adamant in my refusal and denial. The item in question was a  book that I had bought at my college bookstore. It even had the sticker from that store still on it and was filled with my reading notes! It wasn't my fault that they couldn't find their only copy. It was humiliating.

I am aware that I am very White-passing, so I do not think that race was playing a factor. I do think that class was. When I was in college I dressed gothy or grungy (because it was cheap) and favored hoodies. I also had prominent piercings. I don't wear expensive looking clothes. I dress differently at work, but when I'm on my own time I dress how I please. What I notice is that people definitely treat me differently depending on the context and the clothing I'm wearing at the time. You never see well-dressed people being accused of stealing. This is why intersectionality matters. We have to be aware of all these things and how they work together.

Needless to say, I don't shop at that bookstore very often now.


Microaggressions at the Grocery Store

Hello World, Happy Chanukkah! Although it is a fun time, it’s always this time of year that I’ve got to have the inevitable awkward conversations with clients, colleagues and total strangers that I don’t in fact celebrate Christmas but that I celebrate the festival of lights, Chanukkah. I don’t usually find this notable and I just file it away in my cognitive box of unimportance. Last Friday however, I felt the need to write about my experience at the grocery.

Last Friday was the day before Chanukkah and of course I was running late on everything due to exams and commuting back and forth from the city. I rushed over to Safeway in the evening in an attempt to procure some candles for my hanukkiya. I couldn’t find the kosher section, which was unusual; normally it is in the pan-ethnic section of Safeway. I managed to catch the attention of an employee in the produce aisle.

He didn’t know where the kosher section was, and took me over to another employee in the meat section who “knew where everything was”. This gentleman then took us to the kosher section which had inexplicably moved to the soup and beans aisle (!!!), all the while talking about how all the kosher food had to have it’s own shelf and be separated from other food (as I understand it this is not a requirement of Kashrut in non-Jewish grocery stores, it can sit on the shelf next to other items so I didn’t like the implications).  He kept states this to his co-worker and me multiple times and how interesting he thought it was. I was starting to get uncomfortable and pressured for some reason. The section didn’t have what I was looking for and the employee voiced how he couldn’t remember where the Chanukkah items were. He then wished me a happy Chanukkah and they both went back to their departments.

I gave up and looked around the store a few minutes longer trying to find a spot featuring some Chanukkah stuff: gelt, candles, kitschy wrapping paper even. Yet there was nothing! There was an entire AISLE dedicated to Christmas items yet not a single magen david or chocolate coin to be found for me and the other yehudit. I admit I was frustrated at that point and still a little perturbed by my previous interaction. I left.

Upon later reflection I realized I felt unsafe identifying myself as Jewish to two strangers in a public space, especially after one of the men having shown a weird aggressiveness in his description of the kosher section. I think I was probably the only Jewish person either of them had ever met and the implications of the meat department worker’s speech still make me uneasy.

I’m going to look past this incident and continue to celebrate Chanukkah.