This weekend, we had another church, Windsor Crossing, who we’ve been partnering with in ministry come to our facilities and basically take over for the whole Saturday to do a “Christmas Store”. The point of the store is to offer low-income folks in our church community an opportunity to purchase new toys for their kids at a reduced price.
I thought we could just plan to have our rehearsal in the youth room and everything would be fine. Everything did work fine for us, but there was a little awkwardness. As I pulled up to my church -where I am a member and on staff – I was met with a “can I help you?” from a few unfamiliar men directing traffic in my church’s parking lot. After parking, I passed by a bunch of unfamiliar folk, wearing name-tags and Christmas sweaters. They looked at me with an expression that communicated that I was not one of them, so I must be one of the “low-income” people. I must be a person in need. Emotionally, I felt very uncomfortable.
The next day, I was sharing my feelings with my friend, Darwin, who was also on the music team this weekend and shared my experience. Darwin, who is black, responded to my feelings by saying basically that I (a white person) got a little taste of what it’s like to have black skin in America.
Let me say at this point that I am very thankful for Windsor Crossing and all the volunteers that came out this weekend. They did an excellent job and I don’t think that there was anything wrong with how they interacted with me. Everything that I’m sharing with you was an internal experience that was an emotional (not very rational) experience. Feelings, not facts.
So what were those feelings? No one accosted me or anything really overt. For about 10 minutes, I just felt a sense of alienation in my own community. I felt like I was not one of the tribe. I was cheerfully welcomed but still an outsider. Perceived as a “shopper” at the store, I felt like the object of charity and not like a peer. (Again, I didn’t actually participate in the store, I’m just describing my feelings). It’s amazing how the phrase, “Can I help you?” is so offensive in certain circumstances.
So have you ever felt that way?
If you are black in the America, is this a true description of what can happen in stores, churches, or other institutions?
The innocent volunteers were unaware of what they were communicating to me; am I as unaware in my own interactions?
Is this an example of me just being hyper-sensitive? In a situation like this, I am the one at fault for reading too much into nonverbal cues?