Small vic­tory af­ter su­per­mar­ket en­counter

A chance en­counter at a gro­cery store unites three women against dis­crim­i­na­tion

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - HEATHER PERS­SON

“Do you have enough money to pay for what you are get­ting?”

This is not the usual greet­ing for cus­tomers whose turn has come at a su­per­mar­ket check­out. It was the first thing Crys­tal Stone and her sis­ter Odera Wa­pass heard when they started putting items on the belt at the Saska­toon Su­per­store on Thurs­day.

The clerk was curt and de­mand­ing, Stone says, and in­sisted she lift heavy items to be scanned, even though a nearby cashier said they could be en­tered us­ing a code.

As the in­ter­ac­tion con­tin­ued, Stone felt sure the way she and her sis­ter were treated was be­cause she is In­dige­nous. The clerk said she asks every­one if they can pay for their items, but Stone did not hear the ques­tion posed to ei­ther per­son in front of her or be­hind her.

The stranger be­hind the reg­is­ter was act­ing in a way that was hard to ab­sorb. Her hos­til­ity was con­fus­ing. But Stone would soon meet another stranger who would help re­store her faith that there are also good peo­ple in the world.

Wanda Friesen was in front of Stone in the line. As she packed her gro­ceries, she heard the ques­tion asked by the clerk, was shocked by the tone used and de­cided to take a stand against what she also saw as a clear ex­am­ple of racism.

“Be­cause I hap­pened to be born with white skin and blond hair, the cashier didn’t ask me if I had enough money to pay for my gro­ceries. But be­cause the lovely lady be­hind me had brown skin and brown eyes, the cashier did. She asked this lovely lady if she had enough money to pay for her gro­ceries — twice. That woman hu­mil­i­ated her, and she in­fu­ri­ated me,” Friesen wrote in a Face­book post shar­ing Stone’s story on­line.

“Yes­ter­day, I ex­pe­ri­enced what it means to have white priv­i­lege — and it brought me to tears.”

Friesen was look­ing for the pair when Stone and Wa­pass came through the exit.

“Af­ter our pur­chase we walked out of su­per­store, up­set and shocked ... it didn’t make sense. Here was Wanda wait­ing for us out­side,” Stone says. “It gave me a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive right there ... Not every­one is a racist.”

Af­ter clar­i­fy­ing what hap­pened, Freisen of­fered to go with the young women to re­port the in­ci­dent to store man­age­ment. To­gether, they walked back into the store to take a stand.

The selfie the trio took af­ter re­port­ing the in­ci­dent shows they had found joy in spite of the dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion they en­coun­tered. Freisen has one sis­ter on ei­ther side of her, and they are all smil­ing widely. As a team, they bonded quickly.

“We hugged each other,” Stone says, adding this was the first time she had ex­pe­ri­enced this kind of ap­par­ent racism first hand, al­though she knows it oc­curs ev­ery day.

“I gained a life skill and a les­son,” she says. “It has to mat­ter to every­body.”

Stone hopes that hear­ing this story will help oth­ers be willing to step up and take ac­tion in the face of in­jus­tice. She ad­mits she did not fully re­al­ize this her­self un­til go­ing through that check­out on Thurs­day. Loblaws, the par­ent com­pany of Su­per­store, was asked about the in­ci­dent and is­sued a care­fully worded re­sponse ex­press­ing re­gret.

“We are com­mit­ted to di­ver­sity and to be­ing in­clu­sive, eq­ui­table and ac­ces­si­ble in our in­ter­ac­tions with each other and with our cus­tomers, and the ex­pe­ri­ence as de­scribed does not re­flect our core val­ues,” the state­ment reads, point­ing out that a man­ager apol­o­gized im­me­di­ately af­ter the in­ci­dent.

“We are tak­ing this very se­ri­ously and us­ing this op­por­tu­nity to re­mind all staff of our pro­to­cols and pro­cesses in or­der to en­sure we con­tinue to learn and im­prove our in­ter­ac­tions with our cus­tomers.”

This story gives us all a chance to check our own “pro­to­cols and pro­cesses.” What will we do when faced with this kind of sit­u­a­tion? Racism ex­ists, and rather than sim­ply be dis­cour­aged, we need to be­lieve tak­ing ac­tion will make a dif­fer­ence.

Crys­tal Stone, left, Wanda Friesen and Odera Wa­pass pose to­gether af­ter tak­ing a stand against what they saw as dis­crim­i­na­tory be­hav­iour.


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