The issue of race relations in America is awfully depressing and I’m not talking about police or riots or murders or choke holds. I’m talking about simple interactions between two people. I spotted one this past week and was amazed at how quickly (in less than a minute), a normal, everyday exchange between two people devolved.

I was online at a supermarket checkout.

checkout line

As I put my purchases on the conveyor belt, I noticed in the blink of an eye that there was something slightly “off” about the kid behind the register. He was white but seemed more simple than your average kid behind the register. Maybe it was the way he held his hand but my first thought was “this kid is disabled in some way.” Now if you think I’m judging too quickly, I want to point out that countless studies have concluded that the way one sizes up another person in a split-second is often very accurate.

At the end of my transaction, as I was spacing out, the kid nearly put into one of my bags some food from the woman on line behind me. She was a senior and African-American. She put her arm out to stop Checkout Kid from putting some zucchini into my bag (thank God) and, in the next few seconds, the conversation went like this:

Woman: No, that’s mine.

Checkout Kid: Okay (he then lifted up one of those plastic things that separate customer’s items from each other) Next time, please use one of these.

Woman: I didn’t see it.

Checkout Kid: Well, it’s right here next time.

Woman: (now with an edge in her voice) I know where it is. I just didn’t see it.

Checkout Kid: Well, I’m just pointing it out for next time. It’s right here.

Woman: (now very pissed off) I said, I know what it is but I didn’t see it.

You didn’t need to be a genius to know that the woman was about to blow. She was clearly angry at the kid. I don’t know whether it’s because she felt he was speaking down to her (I don’t think he was) or because she felt he was treating her differently because of age or race, all I know is that everyone in the immediate area was very uncomfortable, including me.

Now this kid might have been a bit off but he was savvy enough not to push the point any longer. He said, “Okay” and went into his standard rap (which he had used on me). “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I kept thinking about that exchange for a number of reasons. First off, it went from zero to 60 in seconds and was about to get ugly. I think it had something to do with the woman and the kid being black and white. I think she felt dissed by a young white pup whereas I don’t think he especially meant anything by what he said because, like I said initially, I think he was a bit off and I don’t think the woman was quick enough to spot that.

So who was wrong here? Who was right? And must race affect everything we do? And is that ageless conflict inevitable?

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