“It’s okay; I’ll go this way”

Erica Campagnaro
Cleveland, OH

I heard these words as I was briskly walking down a main aisle at a market, looking over my right shoulder as I crossed each side-aisle, trying to find the shampoo. At first, I didn’t process that the words were spoken to me. Then, bit by bit, like when your brain processes a fall in slow-motion, I put the scene together. A black gentleman, who seemed close to my age, had been walking slightly behind me and to my right, and seeing my behavior, he thought I was nervously looking over my shoulder at him. He had tried to be reassuring by changing his path from the main aisle to one of the side aisles, so he wouldn’t be walking behind me any more. After I put together what had happened, I found the gentleman and apologized, and tried to explain that my actions were not aimed at him. He apologized to me for being “overly sensitive, since these things happen all the time.” I can’t stop thinking about that misunderstanding. As a white Gen-Xer, I like to think that in my generation we’ve been successful at stopping racial stereotyping. I guess it’s easy to think that when you’re white.

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