A few weeks ago I was shopping at Zara with my mom (the sales right now are amazing by the way). I had already visited the fitting room and was quickly browsing the floor for the last time before it was time to pay. The line was eternal and I wanted to ask someone if the men’s floor upstairs had an open register that would speed up the process. I found myself in front of a young woman who sort of looked like a model. She was skinny, had beautiful long black hair and legs that seemed to go on forever. She was also carrying A LOT of clothes and had a plain black shirt on so I wondered if she worked in the store. As I stared she was talking to an older woman and telling her that the polo shirts were hanged right behind her. I couldn’t really tell if they were related or not because there was a certain looseness in the way they were talking to each other.
She looks so chill. Is she an employee? Is the other woman her mom? Maybe she knows if the other register is open… Gosh, she’s so pretty! I wish my legs were that long and skinny. She would be perfect for ballet… STILL STARING! STOP STARING AT HER! Too late. She walked away taking huge but slow steps and said in an annoyed tone “Let’s go mom, we’re either being too loud or too black because people are staring again” My eyes opened wide and I blushed. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want her to think that because it wasn’t true.
“Miss I wasn’t staring because you’re black or loud, you’re just pretty and I also thought you worked here! I’m SO SO SORRY. I’m Mexican, I’m loud as hell too!” I wish that was an actual quote. I wish I had chased her to the fitting rooms to apologize for staring and maybe just MAYBE show her that her black skin isn’t the only reason why people might be staring at her.
Then I wondered, has that ever happened to me? Do I know what it’s like for people to stare and think that it’s because of my race? I would think that I have something between my teeth or that my shirt is upside down. But you know what? No wonder. No wonder she thinks I’m judging her, that’s all that we do in this country to people who aren’t white. No wonder she can’t think I’m staring because she’s beautiful. That’s probably on the bottom of the list of why people are paying attention to her under layers and layers of racism. This is where hatred comes from. That stare can join thousands of others that lead to a feeling of being out of place or not belonging. That feeling separates them from society and it can make minorities resent their own country, one that stares, one that discriminates.
I didn’t apologize to the young woman. I should have but I didn’t. It might’ve been shame that stopped me, maybe the thought that doing so would disturb her even more held me back. I didn’t apologize to her but I’d like to apologize to every other non-white person because I know I’ve stared. I’ve stared at the person in the bathroom because I can’t tell if he or she is a man or a woman. I stared the first time I had dinner with a black girl in college because she talked like black people did “in the movies” and it was the first time that I interacted with a black person (I’m not proud of this but in Tijuana, Mexico there aren’t many black people). I stared, I stared, I stared. Maybe I didn’t judge but staring is enough to make someone feel uncomfortable and out of place.
I apologize because I think that’s the least I can do. And I apologize because I know what it’s like to be the shortest, tannest, fattest girl in a ballet class full of skinny, blonde, tall americans. In a society were the most common response when we see something unfamiliar or different is staring, the second step should be walking to a mirror or following the stare with an honest smile. To the woman in Zara, I’m sorry. From me and from everyone who has slowly made you think that your skin color is the only reason why we would stare.