The brain constantly makes humans think (one hopes), analyze, rethink and reassess residual and new information.  An incident described below made me think about how human communications depend so much on the surroundings in which the communication occurs, the history, culture and behavior of the persons effecting or being affected by the communication, and the inclusion or exclusion of certain words that affect how a communication is received. 

For example, if a person stood in a shop where one must verbally select a product, one could point and say, “One of those.”  The phrase/communication would be understood and acceptable.  But if one said, “One of those, please,” not only would the communication be acceptable, it would gain the distinction of being polite. 

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced an incident in an Evanston grocery store that made me think about how the perception of the phrase “one of those” can be negative even if the phrase is not said out loud. 

As I entered an aisle with my shopping cart, a foreign, non-black mother holding a baby and removing a product from a shelf looked at me and rushed to her cart and grabbed her purse.  Her behavior immediately made me think that she was thinking I was “one of those” black people and therefore a thief/criminal. 

Was I angry? 

You bet I was. I was seething inside. 

Did I say anything?  No. 

I (and she, too) would have regretted anything I would have said to her at that time (assuming she would have understood enough English).

Have I experienced this let-me-grab-my-purse-because-one-of-those-black-people-is-approaching reaction before?

Yes, I have, but mostly with non-black Americans.

What made me so angry in this case was that this foreign woman showed how pervasive the attitude is toward blacks all over the world. 

So…I guess I need to plan what to say when I encounter this negative behavior again. Maybe I should grab my purse and shout, “Help, help, please.  I’m being traumatized by one of those racist ignoramuses.”  For a lighter treatment of this subject, read “The Pocketbook Game”by Alice Childress.


Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...