A few days ago, I was walking from my badly-parked, snow’s-on-the-ground-so-the-lines-don’t-matter truck into Walmart when a group of teenage boys passed by. And when I say “passed by,” I mean the hyper crowd of skinny giants moved in run-away bouncy ball formation until I stepped off the sidewalk so to not be shoulder-checked.
Instead of saying thank you for moving over, a boy leaned across his friend and yelled into my face, “Shalom!”
But I kept walking and they kept bouncing and then all they were was hyena laughter behind me.
I tried to catch sight of myself in the store’s sliding doors. Did I look Jewish?
This was a sincere question, even though I know there isn’t really a particular ‘look’. It is believed that my maternal grandfather’s biological mother was a Jewish woman. Baby Gaga (we call my grandfather Gaga) was put up for private adoption in a community newspaper and picked up by seventeen year old Josephine, who would become his adopted sister and, eventually, my great aunt. But he was brought into a large Irish Catholic family, so Judaic culture was never intimately introduced into our lives and it’s not something I think about often.
But now I was thinking about it! Could that skinny white boy read the supposed heritage of my unknown great-grandmother in my face?
Probably, the kid was just being rude and dumb. Probably, he only just learned the word shalom that very same day in Social Studies class and was being a smart ass. Wait, what did shalom mean? I pulled up Google. Yes, ‘peace.’ A holy word sometimes used in greeting or farewell. I knew that. Peace. Yelling peace. Stupid teen doesn’t even get his own stupid irony. Pfft.
He almost definitely wasn’t being a racist fuck… to me directly.
My phone buzzed and I was brought out of my thoughts to realize I was all the way back in Walmart’s baby section and had thrown tearless shampoo and bum wipes in the cart without remembering that my babies are now kids. I would have to walk back to start at the produce aisle to begin again because that’s how I do the hell that is Walmart.
Sounds like a crazy teen, the text from Husband read.
Yes. My thoughts confirmed.
But still, I was annoyed. Not at Husband, but a “What!? Really?! That stupid jerk” text would have been welcome. I wonder how often Husband was randomly yelled at by teenage boys or grown men. I hope it’s zero times a day, and save from the distressed patients he assists, it probably is. From conversations with other men, it seems like boys and men don’t yell at other boys and men without reason. Which is good, but frustrating for women who do get yelled at randomly from about the age of eleven onward, and whom men often disbelieve. I remembered a conversation with one (not Husband):
“I dunno, I don’t see it.”
“Well maybe you don’t see it because the yelling men aren’t yelling when the non-yelling men are around.”
“Maybe… I dunno, are you sure they were screaming at you? Maybe they were looking for a lost dog.”
“Maybe, but Nice-Tits and Breastfeed-Me-Mommy make pretty inventive pet names.”
“Well, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do about it if we’re not there. Besides, it’s just words.”
I wanted to pull my hair out. I wanted to yell. Just believe us! We don’t want you to do anything except maybe say, “Oh my god, really? That’s awful.” But I didn’t want to get shrill and bossy and emotional and totally psycho, so instead I tried to calmly explain how words do matter and that when disheveled young men roll out of their mother’s rent free basements to comment on my ass as I run the neighbourhood where I pay taxes, it makes me change my favourite route (when I say ‘neighbourhood,’ I do not mean ‘street.’ The people on my street are THE BEST). That when a stranger yells from the window of a vehicle in the grocery store parking lot where I’m opening a juice box for my kids, fear and confusion flash in their big brown eyes. That when a teenage boy inexplicably shouts the Hebrew word for peace in my face, I end up lost in the baby section.
And then I thought, this isn’t even a big deal for me. And I’m pretty sure this isn’t even something as I, as a white woman, experience half as much as women of colour.
I thought about a friend of mine who is First Nations. She recently shared on Facebook how sometimes racist store clerks stalk her as she shops. This friend is a hilarious bad ass, and how she deals with these stalky clerks is she treats them like personal assistants. She hands them item after item until their arms can’t handle anymore and then she asks them to keep the items on hold for her at the front. If they come back, she continues to hand them more stuff.
I do not get stalked by clerks in stores. Never.
But I believe it happens.
And I can imagine how such a thing, and so many other seemingly-small things, can mess up a person’s day, steal their energy, and cause them to change behaviour.
But sometimes, in the same way many men feel helpless in how to approach women’s truth that they have not experienced, me and women like me ‘don’t know what we’re supposed to do’ about the challenges faced by others that we do not face ourselves.
But I know it starts with this:
believe them, believe them, believe them
And admit, these things matter.