Adventures in Being Black in Public

Shannon Barber
Jan 12, 2019 · 5 min read

A wallet, some tears and some terror at Whole Foods.

Image for post
Image for post
[image description: my Star Wars comic book style wallet]

To the left is a photo of my beloved wallet. My partner bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago and I love it. Inside is the usual crap, cards, my lucky dollar, notes, my keycard for work, ID and bus pass.

Last night, I had a great idea for dinner and headed to Whole Foods to pick up a few supplies. I got through the store and at checkout realized my wallet was gone. My immediate thought was that I’d been pickpocketed. I had to wade through a group of men going in who wouldn’t move and got jostled in a way that felt pick pockety. I panicked but, when the cashier took me to customer service I calmed down a little bit. The staff was friendly and helpful, I got calm enough to try and go search for it.

I lose things pretty often so I knew to retrace my steps, I was able to go through the store fairly quickly and checked places I’d reached in to pick out produce or pick up some crushed tomatoes. It wasn’t there. As I went through the store, as it is every time I shop there I realized that while there are other POC in my neighborhood,I am invisible to them. I was jostled by groups of non Black poc men, one of them muttered something about “Blacks being gross” and he made a show for his friends of bumping into me then veering off like I’d farted in his face.

I was already so upset, the microaggressions felt huge. I was visibly upset, my mouth was trembling and as I left the store after searching outside, I started to cry. I wasn’t sobbing, I don’t really do that But, it was light enough to be visible. I felt so afraid and vulnerable I saw the looks. I felt the weight of the glare of a white woman because I didn’t move out of her way as she went past. I saw the suspicion of a white man who as I passed a few feet away from where he sat, yanked his little dog into his lap like I’d kicked it.

The weight of that look, the look Black folks who are in situtions where they are the only Black person there, or are visibly in distress know. The curled lip, the purse clutch, the sneer, the loathing. It is the look when you are both invisible and hypervisible. I was already panicky, trying to text my partner through my tears, terrified that (not logical but….) immediately the money I’ve been working so hard to save would be gone, that someone would fuck up my credit I’ve worked so hard on, everything.

I headed to a less populated area above and about a block away. There is a bench on the sidewalk and I sat down to try and collect myself. When I sat down, I started crying again and it wasn’t quite as quiet as I’d have liked. I was fumbling around in my purse for my Kleenex, I felt hysterical but wasn’t. I felt exposed and was. While I was trying to get it together so I could walk home, a white woman about my age walked near where I was sitting.

She was on her phone and started talking loudly while watching me. “I HAVE to go inside and tell them people are LOITERING AGAIN.” Her tone hit me like a punch. I looked up at her and as she saw I made eye contact, she made sure to say loudly and clearly to whomever she was speaking to that the “homeless problem” was getting so bad she’d have to start driving to the store. My tears dried instantly and my panic was replaced with an instant wave of pure terror.

I did not have my wallet. I really need to get a new ID. I had keys, my purse with all my crap and that’s all. I was upset and knew that this woman was going to call the police. She didn’t say so but, I felt it. When she was out of my line of vision, I got up, blew my nose and hightailed it home. About a block away, I saw a cruiser go by slowly and figured it might’ve been looking for a dangerous person loitering. Luckily, I was walking near a group of tall men and I wasn’t visible.

It wasn’t a long walk and I calmed down when I got home and was able to talk to my partner and some friends. Amazingly, one of my regular drivers found my wallet and got a hold of me so I could meet his bus and get my wallet. After getting my wallet I went back to my apartment and had a little panic poo, finished my little bit of booze and was fed a nice dinner.

I spent some time treating my skin. At one point my hands were shaking because I couldn’t stop the runaway train of panicky what ifs going through my head. What if I’d clapped back at the lady? We all know, white lady tears win. The police would’ve gotten there quickly. In my exhausted panic brain, I knew if I’d been confronted by cops, I probably would’ve started crying again.

Black people get shot when we display humanity.

I had nightmares for the few hours I slept. Every time I woke up, I had to remember that, I was okay. I had to feel my body twitch, this morning on my walk to the bus, when I saw a cruiser I started to shake and willed myself to be the least visible.

Last night, I was reminded again of the ways in which I am not allowed to be human. The things I risk when I have the audacity to not be silent and invisible. I know what could have happened.

This morning could have dawned with #sayhername and likely a photo dug up from my instagram of me giving the finger, links to my work that is hard on white folks, I know.

Because I know, today I have good plans. I’m going to make a delicious dinner. I drank some fine coffee and took a lovely walk this morning.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store