I brought my car in for an oil change (in the predominantly black area I live in) and they told me that it’d be an hour before they could get to it. ‘No big deal,’ I though, ‘There’s a shopping center across the street.’ As I made my way down the sidewalk, a man cat-called as he drove past. I didn’t think much of it as I crossed the street and headed towards Big Lots. However, he had turned around and was now pulling into the parking lot.
“Hey,” He said, getting out of his vehicle. “I don’t wanna come on too strong, but you’re really beautiful.” At this point, I was flattered. I had recently had my daughter, and was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin due to the weight gain.
“Thanks for saying so, but I’m married,” I replied.
“He’s a lucky man. Are you happy?” He asked, following me up the parking lot. His remarks began to get invasive and personal, making me extremely uncomfortable. I gave him a more stern ‘No’, and he had seemingly gotten the message. He hung back and didn’t follow me as I walked into the store.
Less than five minutes after I entered the store, he came in. I told myself that I was being paranoid, that he was probably planning to come in regardless. Not really wanting to face him again, I made my way to the back aisles and tried to focus on shopping. He soon found his way to the opposite end of my aisle, basket empty. I tried to pretend that I hadn’t seen him, and went to the furniture section. Yet again, he had somehow ended up within 10 feet of me. Even though it could have still been an uncomfortable coincidence, I decided to just purchase the phone charger in my basket and head to a different store. As I was handing the cashier my card, he came up to the register next to mine, only a pack of gum in his hand.
There was a grocery store attached to the Big Lots, so I made a bee-line for it. He entered the store soon after I did, and I was beginning to have a hard time believing he wasn’t following me. Despite my obvious attempts to lose him, he managed to be in or near every aisle I was in. I was beginning to get frightened, so I went to the women’s bathroom at the front of the store. A female employee saw the look on my face and asked worriedly, “What’s wrong?” I explained the situation to her and she asked for his description so they could call the police.
The moment I mentioned his skin color, her eyes dulled. Suddenly, her responses to me were short and a bit annoyed, as if I was wasting her time. She told me to wait and she would see about getting her manager, so I did. I sat in that bathroom for thirty minutes before I realized that no one was coming. From a different perspective, I understand that I might have looked like a racist white woman (who is in reality half Mexican) wanting to cry wolf about a POC harassing me. At that moment though, I didn’t care how I looked. I sat in the floor and cried, terrified of the possibility that the man was still in the store. Sad that the employee (who was also black) saw me as a racist, not a frightened woman who genuinely needed her help. Angry with her for leaving me alone while he might have still been out there.
Thankfully, the store manager (who was also black) happened to walk in on my sobbing. After explaining to her what happened, she informed me that no one had mentioned the incident to her at all. She called the police herself and sat with me at the café area until they had arrived. Luckily, he left, but the manager didn’t leave my side until the police officer confirmed it. As mortified as I was at the situation and the employee’s inaction, I’m forever grateful to the manager who saw the problem and not my race, and helped resolve the situation.