Last evening my daughter and I decided to make a trip to Kroger to pick up a few items. The grocery store is just a few minutes from our home, and we would stop in the store frequently to pick up milk or eggs or some random ingredient that we needed for dinner. In fact, my daughter worked at the neighborhood Kroger for several months before she quit to focus on her business. Kroger was a staple in our life but all of that changed October 24, 2018, when Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard were murdered at a local Kroger simply for being Black. Going to the grocery store was no longer a simple, mundane task. It was now a matter of life or death.
For the next few weeks after the murder of Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard, I was on edge, making elaborate grocery lists to make sure that I purchased every item I could possibly need for two weeks at a time. I didn’t want to spend any more time in the grocery store than I needed. Following the hate crime, I didn’t allow my adult daughter to go to Kroger without me. I remember she said, “If someone is going to shoot us, there is nothing you can do.” Me being a mother I said, “At the very least, I can shield you, and they can kill me.” That was our new reality and it was a hard pill to swallow.
Last night, we walked into Kroger together, and I grabbed my item and made my way to the check-out. There was an elderly Black woman behind the cash register. She proceeded to check me out as I slid my credit card in the machine. “Approved. Remove Card,” flashed across the machine. I saw my receipt print out and lay against the register as she bagged my item. “Do you see your receipt there?” It was a question I had never been asked by someone at Kroger. “Yes,” I said, wondering where this was going? Had I done something wrong? It was just one item. “Never leave this store without your receipt,” she said. I paused. I stared at her as she leaned over the counter, staring into my eyes. She was a mixture of Auntie and Ancestor wisdom. My sister once told me, “Warning comes before destruction,” and this elderly woman with her wisdom was giving me a warning.
To be honest, I rarely if ever take my receipt for small purchases, but this time I held my hand open as she placed my receipt in my palm. The way she said, “Never leave this store without your receipt,” sent chills throughout my body, as the reality of Shopping and Existing While Black hit me. This was the reality. Black people needed proof. If we were accused of stealing, the receipt would be the only witness. For Black people, a receipt wasn’t just an insignificant piece of paper. A receipt is a statement that “Yes, I can afford the things I purchased. I am not stealing. I am Black with a receipt, and you don’t need to call 911. You don’t need to kill me over something as frivolous as eggs and bread.” What so many have the privilege of not thinking about, could literally be the deciding factor in jail time or even death for Black people.
I remember when I was visiting Dakar, Senegal with my friend Cynthia and we were in a shop purchasing earrings. We were both aware of being Black so we held the earrings in such a way that the shop owner would not think that we were stealing. After a few minutes, we realized the shop owner was outside of her shop talking to someone. She was not thinking about us. It dawned on us, in Dakar our skin was not criminalized. We were not going to be followed around the shop because we were Black. No one assumed we were going to steal. There, Black skin was the norm. It was the first time in my life that I could breathe, that I could shop freely and it was such a liberating experience. But those moments of freedom were fleeting. We soon returned to America where just breathing while Black was enough cause for you to be murdered. We were back in America where the police were called on Black people for barbecuing, swimming, walking, shopping, getting coffee, just breathing.
Is the receipt our modern-day Freedom Papers?
When I made this post about my shopping experience on Twitter, I never imagined it would get shared as many times as it did. So many Black people and People of Color could relate to this experience and in fact had it drilled in them since childhood to never leave a store without their receipt.
I just left the grocery store where an elderly Black woman was my checker. She said, “Do you see your receipt there?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Never leave this store w/o your receipt.” It was in the way she said it I felt the weight of existing while Black. I took my receipt.
— Hannah Drake (@HannahDrake628) November 25, 2018
One thing I noted is that many White people mentioned never thinking about their receipt. During this holiday shopping season, I challenge White people to think about and take a receipt for every single shopping experience they have and to imagine that not having that small piece of paper could mean jail time or life or death. How does it feel to carry the weight of that receipt? Please come back and share your thoughts and experiences.
To my Black brothers and sisters, I understand. Please feel free to share your stories. They have been heartbreaking and eye opening for many people. Also, never forget to #takeyourreceipt. It could be a matter of life or death. (Thankfully the man in the video below survived. Someone else might not be so lucky.)