By Kristle Pressley
Fears. We all have them – fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of failure. Before becoming a mom, my fears were simple. I don’t do heights, I don’t do insects, and I don’t do clusters of tiny holes (yes, that’s an actual phobia called “trypophobia”). After giving birth to my daughter four years ago, my fears suddenly multiplied.
As moms, we try to keep our kids as safe as possible to calm our own fears. One of the aspect of parenting we worry about most is protecting our babies. We pay for swim lessons to hopefully protect them from drowning. We have talks about “stranger danger” to hopefully protect them from predators. We buy bug spray to help protect them from insect bites. We are in “protection mode” from the very moment that new life is placed in our arms at the hospital. That is our mission in life – protect our offspring at all costs. I didn’t think about having to protect my daughter from other people’s prejudices and preconceived notions about her based on the color of her skin at such a young age.
I took my daughter in to the American Girl store here in Atlanta for a little shopping. We went two days earlier to enjoy lunch in the café as a kind of last hoorah before spring break ended. It was her first time in the store and she walked in and immediately fell in love. I mean, what little girl wouldn’t love a toy store full of fancy dolls and matching accessories? It’s like a designer shoe store for girls. We purchased some items after our lunch (she just HAD to have the exact sleeper and blanket the display doll had on), but of course she convinced me to go back and buy more stuff, so on this trip, we brought daddy.
We walked in and her eyes lit up like it was her first time all over again and she hadn’t just been there two days ago. She forced us to bring along two of her AG dolls with us so she could see how the clothes would look on them and try some things on. We walked around as her little fingers gently glided over dresses, boots, hair clips, and a plethora of overpriced baby doll blankets. I slowly walked behind her and held on to everything she picked up because I have seemed to pick up the role of personal assistant lately *insert side-eye*. Her eyes spotted the little white Bitty Baby rocking chair she had rocked her Bitty Baby baby in two days earlier and she just HAD to show her dad since he wasn’t there to see this beauty the first time. She dragged us over- Bitty Baby in hand- sat in the rocking chair and began to sing a sweet lullaby to her baby as I have done to her for countless nights since her birth. “Oh what a great mommy you are!” shouted my husband. I stood back and just watched as I often do, because I like to just take in these precious moments of toddlerhood. “This scene is just perfect,” I thought to myself.
Then an older Caucasian sales associate approached us with a forced smile on her face. She glanced at my little brown skinned girl holding onto her brown Bitty Baby dressed exactly as the display Bitty Baby, then glanced immediately at the display to see if the store one was still perfectly swaddled where it should have been. After glancing back and forth a couple of times she made a little small talk, always stressing the word “YOUR” when asking about my daughter’s baby doll. “Oh is that YOUR Bitty Baby? Are you having fun with YOUR Bitty Baby? All the while constantly staring at the display and the other AG doll in my hand in a questionable fashion. I could tell my husband felt just as uncomfortable with this scene and I was right. Once I hurried away from her, he looked at me and said, “Did you notice that?” “I sure did,” I responded. “She was trying to make sure we didn’t take that display doll.” I could feel my blood starting to boil. Not quite a full on “throw in the noodles now boil,” but more like that slow boil when your pot of water has just crossed the threshold from being cold to that first bubble that signifies boil status.
“Let it go,” I told myself. “Don’t overreact.” We headed to the counter to pay for our items and I noticed the sales associate still watching us. “She is making sure we are going to pay,” I said quietly. We paid and headed towards the door because I was more than annoyed at this point. My daughter was oblivious and still shrieking with joy and asking for more items on the way out. This same associate stopped us on our way out and inquired just a little more about this Bitty Baby. As I leaned my body against the door to push it open and get the hell out of there, my husband and I heard her yell to another associate, “Ok, the Bitty Babies are now accounted for!” I immediately saw red as my husband looked at me and said, “Yep, I heard that too.”
We headed to the car, but something inside of me just wouldn’t let me leave. I made hubby and Delainie wait in the car while I went inside to sneakily ask another associate whether or not they usually take inventory of dolls while customers are in the store playing with said dolls. Her half-ass response ended with, “Yeah we just had to make sure she wasn’t taking one of ours.” I ran faster than Jackie Joyner Kersey out of that door because I could feel myself about to do something I would regret. She had basically told me that they had to make sure I wasn’t going to steal – that my BLACK family wasn’t going to steal. We were the only black family in the store. The only family being treated differently. Once again, I went to the car and told my husband what happened. We talked and agreed it needed to be addressed further. I was so angry that I had to fight back tears while retelling the story to the manager. I REFUSED to let this woman see me cry. I REFUSED to let anger make me act of our character in front of my child. I had to set an example for her.
We left and headed to brunch, but I couldn’t get the scene out of my mind. I was so angry and even my husband could see it. I went home and ran a hot bath later that night to relax a little. As I sat down, I took a deep breath, and I cried. Big, silent tears flowed down my face as I covered my mouth so my husband couldn’t hear me sobbing. As a mother of a black child, you know one day you will have to face race issues and explain them to your child, but a FOUR YEAR OLD?! My innocent, four year old daughter was harassed and followed like a criminal in a place that is supposed to be euphoric for a little girl. Have you ever heard black people say, “No matter what we do, it’s never good enough?” It’s true.
That sales associate didn’t know my daughter is a great kid from a loving home with two hard-working parents. She didn’t know this little girl’s parents have never been in trouble with the law or that she goes to a top notch private school where she excels in everything. Nope. None of that was ever thought about, nor did it matter.
That sales associate just saw a little black girl with afro puffs walking around an expensive doll store and she immediately went on high alert. The sermon at church a few hours earlier was about race relations and loving your neighbor no matter what race, religion or ethnicity. I sat in the tub and prayed for God to remove the anger from my heart. I also prayed for him to give me the strength to fight battles like this more often because I realized that as I am a woman raising a black child, this is just the beginning of a lifelong fight of preparing her for being judged because of her skin.
In the end, I received a call from AG’s corporate headquarter less than 24 hours later addressing my concerns. They informed me the associate was no longer employed there. Kudos to AG for fighting to maintain a culture of inclusiveness and resolving the problem so quickly.