And there I was, left in the middle of the streets, in New York City, upset and trying my best to hold on to the tears inside me.
In the Summer of 2017, My family and I decided to visit the United States. I have always dreamed of visiting America. Sometimes, I daydream about roaming the streets, travelling all by myself, exploring the iconic skyscrapers and the tall buildings around me. I imagine being surrounded by picturesque views, maybe taking a walk around Central Park or taking a selfie with the Statue of Liberty!
Little did I know that all of this is maybe just a part of my daydream instead of reality.
It took us about 15 minutes to reach our hotel, called Knickerbocker in Times Square. Such a cool name, such a cool place, I was jumping in high spirits!
It was evening now. It was getting dark and my parents were really tired and jetlagged. They wanted to rest for a while. But I was overwhelmed by the beautiful lighting in Times Square and I wanted to explore and roam around. So I asked my parents to give me some money so that I could go to Walgreens to get something for myself from the supermarket. My parents were hesitant in letting me go, but I pleaded them and promised that I’ll be back in 15 minutes. They soon agreed, especially because the store was right around the corner.
Many people had told me that Walgreens is a massive pharmacy store chain and it is just filled with everything one might need!
I eagerly entered the store and bought all the things that I found interesting, such as some fresh fruits, candies, and some biscuits that I had never seen or heard of before. I stood in the long queue waiting for my turn to get my materials billed. The lady standing at the billing counter was an African-American; her name tag said Raven and she was wearing a floral dress with tall boots, long dangling earrings and a shiny diamond bracelet. She looked tired and done with her job. I was looking around thinking of my trip so far, and suddenly the lady yells at me and says, “NEXT”.
I tried to understand that she must have had a busy day and was just irritated.
Three of my items get billed and suddenly I realise that I really want that bar of chocolate placed on the side shelf in the left corner. I requested her to hold my bill while I quickly went to get that bar of yummy, delicious, chocolate. She looks at me, disgusted as if she loathes me and is going to kill me any second!
“Get out of the store right now!”, the tall intimidating woman said to me in a raging tone.
And this is not even it, later she says, “It’s all because of brown girls like you that I have to suffer at my job every single day. Where do you come from, again? India. Such a horrible place. Well, young lady, I do not have time to waste for a brown girl like you. Either bill your items or leave my store.”
And there I was, alone, with everybody in the store staring at me. Not even a single person stood up and said anything to that woman about her ridiculous behaviour. I looked here and there, and I left the store, traumatised by the whole incident. People watched me as I left, it was almost as if they wanted to say something but they were too scared to.
The door slams shut and I am out on the streets, a tear is about to fall down my cheek, but I stopped, not because I didn’t want to cry, in fact, I wanted to cry my heart out, I wanted to cry until somebody came up to me and said “it’s ok” and that all my problems were solved. But I didn’t cry, because I didn’t want my parents to be upset, especially on the first day of the trip.
I was let down on the basis of my colour and the place where I came from, India. The country that shaped me, and the place that I loved and have lived my entire life in!
This really left a deep impact on me, and I found it really hard to let go of it so I sent an email to Walgreens to inform them about this.
I was shocked to read their reply! This is literally what it said.
From: Walgreens and Co.
Date: 27 June 2017
Subject: Re: Customer Store service: Important!
Thank you for contacting Walgreens and Co. We recognise your situation and appreciate your concerns, however, we, at Walgreens, hire staff that respect and care for our customers. We apologise that you had to be in such a situation. However, we cannot take action against our staff just because of one incident.
We advise you to go to other Walgreens stores instead.
Walgreen and Co.
I thought that was such a useless advice to give me! If you don’t like this store, go to another one. I mean, what if somebody else faced this some other day, then what? It was almost as if they were saying “Deal with it and move on! We don’t care.”
So, a week later, we decided to visit Miami in Florida, and the only supermarket near our hotel turned out to be another Walgreens store. Oh gosh! As soon as I saw that board, I was devastated. I was really nervous, even scared to open the door. But then, I had no choice but to go in.
All it would take was a push through that front door of the store that now traumatized me. Eventually, I went in and got my stuff. I was reluctant, but I made it through. I had mentally prepared myself if anybody even dares to judge me based on my identity, I would actually stand up for myself and tell them it’s not right.
Surprisingly, everything turned out fine.
And there I was again, in the streets of Miami, feeling confident, happy and ready to continue my journey in the States so far.
But that day, I realised how I was letting people get to me too easily. I did not want to be defined by any labels, or my race or where I came from. I wanted to be defined by how I see myself and realised that only I have the power to define myself.