Was That Comment Because of My Race?

3 years ago

After reading this post by my French yummy mummy blogger friend, Muriel Jacques, I felt compelled to analyze what had happened to me yesterday at the post office. At the time, I simply brushed it off and was able to convince myself to just let it go. However, I knew deep down it bothered me and reading Muriel's post sort of gave me permission to admit to myself that it was something and not just nothing.

I went to our local USPS office to send a small package for a friend on the East Coast. I had a small envelope with a card, and a few small makeup products to ship to her. When I got to the tiny office, there was a line of maybe five people, and I had to excuse myself for cutting through in order to get to the back wall where all my packaging options were. There were regular envelopes, padded envelopes, boxes of different sizes, flat-rate, military and express.

Image Credit: tales of a wandering youkai

Now, if you know me, you'd know that even before driving to the post office, I'd have already checked out my options online. I had mentally chosen which packaging would suit me best and knew the differences between the services, except for the price.

However, when I got there, I didn't see everything I saw online and also found one that seemed like a better option. It was the express padded envelope. It was clear to me that I needed the quickest delivery time possible, although I wanted to make sure I had grabbed the correct size for what I needed to ship. Naturally, I stood there staring at the shelves, going back and forth as I tried to weigh my options and decide on the most practical one, cost-wise.

It was then that this voice blurted out behind me, after seeing that I had an express envelope in my hand.

"The express is if you want next day delivery".

I knew the voice was addressing me, so I turned around and found that the voice came from a bearded 50-somethingman. He looked at me in a way that made me feel he perceived me like some lost little girl.

I was a bit caught off-guard, but knew that I had to say something back to 'defend' myself, to clarify to him that I knew what I was doing. I tried really hard not to snap and say, "I figured that much when I saw 'express', you know."

Politely and with a smile (as always) I instead opted for, "Yeah, I know. I'm just figuring out the sizes for my package. Thanks!"

I felt quite conflicted after that. The ego part of me felt insulted, suspicious. Was he really just the type who loved offering unsolicited advice with the pure intention of helping others? Or did he feel the need to speak up because I stood out in this small town of ours as one among the very, very few non-white people, and it was easy for him to assume that I wasn't familiar with the system? I couldn't help but feel that there was something condescending about the way he said what he said. Was it so hard for him to believe that I could be fully capable of asking the USPS staff myself if I had any questions at all? Was it even harder for him to give me the benefit of the doubt that I knew exactly what I wanted, exactly what I was doing, and that I really was just in the process of choosing and shopping around for my options? I wasn't in line slowing any one down. I was minding my business. Why did he feel compelled not to mind his?

We often complain that in our modern society, people are losing touch and have become extremely impersonal. We often ask where the helping hands have gone and what ever happened to acknowledging each other instead of passing each other by like fog or smoke or some specter. But at the same time, we (or is it just me?) don't like it when someone offers unsolicited help and feel quite offended or insulted.  

This balance is tough. Like I said, I feel conflicted although prefer to give this man the benefit of the doubt, if only to keep myself from feeling pissed off. I just really wish he had opted to wait and see if I really needed help and would ask for it myself. I guess some people just can't help themselves.

Have you been in a similar situation where someone wrongly assumed that you needed assistance?  How did you feel?  How did you handle it?
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