I know this title is dramatic, but it’s a raw representation of my feelings right now. Maybe I’ll revise it in a few days when I’m feeling wittier.
* Ring-ring! *
“Hello, Mrs. Grant? This is the manager at PnP. I’m so sorry to tell you this. I know what a close-knit family you are and how much you and your husband value and love your children. I can see it in how you interact with them. I’m sorry to tell you this…and I think it will be a valuable lesson for your daughter. I think she was just so worried about disappointing you guys that she couldn’t bear to tell you the truth…”
What was this man going on about? Why wasn’t he just telling me that my daughter was innocent of the crime for which she’d been accused? What was this long introductory speech about the obvious love I had for my kids?
“Mrs. Grant? Are you there?”
“Yes, I am,” I said stoically. “I’m just listening.”
“Well, I’ve reviewed the footage as you requested, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but your daughter DID in fact steal the chocolate. I’m so sorry. You can review that footage any time you like… IF you want to…”
“What time do you close today?” I asked.
It was not 2:34pm. “I’ll be there in 30 minutes, if not fewer. Thank you.”
* Click *
Marshall and I called the child in question – the very same child who had sworn that the chocolate in her waistband had been given to her by a friend the day before and tearfully defended herself against the egregious crime levied against her – and asked her ONCE AGAIN if she had stolen the item.
Marshall was direct with his questioning. “The manager says he has you on video stealing. Did you?”
“Just tell the truth,” I encouraged.
I was confident that she would stick to the original story – the obvious truth. That the chocolate was a gift, and the manager and his security guards were liars who could go to hell, and we could ALL race down there right then and there to view the footage which would surely vindicate her. Instead, what I heard from the other side of the room was a tearful, “Yes. I stole it…!!!”
The admission was mortifying for several reasons, the clear one being that my daughter was a (reluctant) admitted thief. What was not apparent was how I was feeling at the moment, having all but blasted the PnP manager ( a white male) and his guard (a black male) for being racists who pick on little Black girls at the grocery store for having the gall to meander down the aisles in possession of items that they happened to be selling at that particular store. While she stood next to me sobbing – I assumed in the aguish of being falsely accused – I demanded that the footage be reviewed and if it was NOT seen that she had taken something from the shelf and had indeed first removed it from her waistband as she asserted, then both the manager AND the guard owed this child an apology!
Oh, I was in rare form. And if this child had been innocent, you would be cheering me on for my assertive Mama Bear stance! Instead, she was in fact guilty as the raccoon is of rifling through one’s garbage and it was my turn to go to the store and render the same apology I demanded not an hour before.
I could not fathom that my daughter could be a thief. My children have not suffered a downgrade in living in moving to South Africa. Like most houses in this part of the country, they have access to a pool on the property where we live. Their school is situated just a few hundred yards away from the beach. Just two weeks ago, I treated each of my kids to FitBits so that they could track the number of steps they could take; not for fitness’ sake, but for the sake of fun. And at least once a week, I bake them sweet treats. So no, my children are not starving or suffering for Christ’s sake. How then could I imagine or accept that one of them could be a thief, especially this particular child who understands consequences well enough?
Part of my denial was due to ego. I didn’t want to believe that I could raise someone capable of theft. We are a family that instills “good values” in our children.
When I worked in retail, Black people were always subject to suspicion, depending on who the manager on duty was for the day. If a group of white people walked in, and a group of Black people walked in right behind them, two managers in particular would put us on high alert. They called it “hawking” and they would always send one of the Black employees to that area of the store to make sure “everything was alright with that group of customers.”
And we would.
And we would be sent back again, and again, and AGAIN to check on the Black folk. And yeah, a couple of times, Black people would steal stuff; but for the most part, it was the elderly white women who wanted a new pair of Grasshoppers or a Tahari umbrella who were responsible for shrink. You know…the women we rarely bothered – or more importantly – believed when they said they said they were “just in the store to browse.” Naturally, I bristled when my very privileged, very articulate, very brown and very noble child who had just come from church had been accused of stealing chocolate from a grocery store. I recalled bits of the conversation I’d had with the manager at the store a little earlier.
“Now, ma’am, I understand you are upset about the situation…”
“Oh, I’m not upset,” I said, eyes flashing, “I’m FURIOUS.”
Why furious? Because I was sick of people stereotyping Black kids as thieves and treating them poorly in advance for it.
Amid all these thoughts, I heard the child blubbering silliness.
“…I’m so sorry!!! You can beat me, you can take my computer…I’m so sorry!”
“Oh keep quiet,” I snapped. “We don’t need your permission to punish you. We are your parents!”
Marshall was more measured (as usual). His voice barely rose an octave.
“So you mean to tell me, you made me a LIAR down there at the grocery store? I defended you against that man! And then you had your mother go down there and fuss at those people?”
“You could’ve stopped this at any time,” I bellowed. “You could’ve said: Mommy/Daddy, I’m sorry to have disappointed you, but I did take the candy. You had a chance to tell the truth at the store when the guard confronted you. You had a chance on the way home. You had a chance when I hopped up off the floor in a rage, and you certainly had a chance on our way BACK to the store!”
So basically, if I hadn’t demanded video proof that my daughter was NOT a thief, she would have gone on living the life of an un-confessed, unrepentant one. How can you repent for something for which you have not confessed?
The fact is, she was probably caught because she was a kid in the candy aisle and therefore already suspicious. Even before we knew of her guilt, Marshall and I were compelled to give all the kids the talk about Black bodies in retail spaces.
“You have to conduct yourself as though you are above reproach,” he said. “You can’t act in a way that would give anyone reason to suspect you of wrongdoing. You have to be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”
That the child is a confirmed thief does not change any of that advice.
I shared the story on Facebook, where my friend Kelly said that she had been accused of stealing chocolate when she was 15.
“Nothing came of it though. All the footage showed was that I was lingering in the lane too long.”
Privately, she shared that her son had stolen something from the store once, and her husband cried like a baby when he admitted it. (I share this story with her permission.)
So how did the Grant family resolve this? First and foremost, we parents and the child in question went down to the store to render an unqualified apology. Then we made the child pay for the item she had damaged by putting in her waistband with her own money. This was to provide recompense for the attempted stolen goods and to remind her that she does have the funds to buy anything she wants, particularly if it’s something as trivial as candy! Then we came home and ordered her to do the thing she hates most in the world: dishes.
Let me tell you how much she is averse to doing dishes: Last night, she wanted ice cream and made the appropriate request.
“You can have some as long as you wash your own bowl,” replied her father.
This kid walked away. Wouldn’t even wash her own BOWL to be treated to ice cream. When I was growing up, I did dishes because they were dirty, not because I wanted something to eat! These are the markers of a privileged child.
A huge part of me is disappointed because my daughter stole something. A greater part of me is that she is now walking “evidence” of a stereotype that white people have created about my race: that we’re lazy kleptomaniacs who live off the government dime and don’t want to work for anything. Most Black people – like most people – are not thieves. However ours is the burden of proving our innocence in the wake of imagined, pervasive guilt.
It was hard for me to write this piece. You guys have no idea how hard. But I felt it necessary to. If it had turned out that my daughter was indeed innocent of this accusation, I would’ve had the store phone number, address and meter number all over my social media pages. I would’ve put them on absolute BLAST. This time, my family was wrong, and so it is only right that we go on blast as well.
The PnP store manager offered far more grace, however.
“You know – I’m a parent, and my heart went out to you guys as I reviewed the footage. I probably would’ve reacted the same way you did if I’d been in your shoes. When I was seven, I stole a chocolate bar…but the difference is I ate it in the store. I didn’t get ‘caught’. But when I got home, I felt so guilty. The Holy Spirit really convicted me and I never stole anything again.”
Then he shook each of our hands, gave said child a hug and told her all was forgiven.
Praise God for the Holy Spirit.