“There’s a white guy outside…”

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

“There’s nothing illegal about asking people for money.”  This is the answer I began to repeat again and again as people started complaining about David.

Sporadically over the past six months, outside the Starbucks I manage, a man has been approaching people and asking for money.  Being the manager, I am naturally the question and comment magnet for both employees and patrons.  To expedite needing to deal with this apparent “nuisance” I would very matter-of-factly repeat my line: “There’s nothing illegal…”.  To be completely transparent, I knew this because two years ago I called the Bellingham Police Department to report someone else asking for money outside our store.  I was told that unless he was harassing people or on a property where there is personal policy against doing so, he was well within his legal rights.  Lesson learned and I was given space to think more broadly about the situation.

I didn’t think much, though, about this man or all the “concerned” reports from customers at first, but then it started getting annoying.  Not him, but the customers’ comments, and having to tell people over and over that unless he was doing something illegal there was nothing I could (or should) do.

But then I got mad.

A customer came to the counter and knocked the wind out of me.  I never expected it to hit this hard.  Maybe my patience was already wearing thin with the frequency of comments–if so, this comment crushed the proverbial camel.

“There’s a black guy outside begging for money.”

If you read this quote and do not understand what was wrong with it, please keep reading and join those who would wince at such statements.  Somehow, David being black was notable and was linked directly to the fact that he was “begging” for money.  Not “there’s a guy in a red jacket…” or certainly, had he been white, no one would comment “there’s a white guy outside…”.  The first time this statement was made would not be the last time.

If you ever cite your own ignorance it should always be past tense.  What I mean is this:  we have all been ignorant in some matter at some point.  But when that ignorance is confronted we should dig it out by its very roots, throw it on the burn pile, poor on the gasoline, and strike the match.  We then walk forward with new awareness.

I was angry, but knew just being angry is unproductive.  I must thank several influences in my life for making me aware of ignorant speech.  I can now pay it forward.  Pulling someone aside and asking them how much it matters that David is identified by his race is a dangerous task.  (Quick note:  there is never more that a half-dozen people outside the store, so identifying one person through the huge windows is a simple task.)

Next, I’ll dive into the other conflicts that arise when someone (race aside, of course) asks a stranger for money.


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