It was the evening after my last day of school before winter break began. There I was, standing in line in the checkout at Albertsons with my mom after having tagged along with her to do our family’s weekly grocery shopping. Directly in front of us was a woman, who looked no older than thirty, trying to calm her crying baby along with her other young daughter who looked to be about 5 or 6. Her cart was, noticeably, barely full, or at least compared to ours which was almost overflowing with groceries. As she went to pay, the cashier looked visibly irritated, then tells her that there was an issue with her card. This was when the cashier, instead of privately attempting to flag down a manger, made an announcement over the intercom, something along the lines of, “I need help in checkout line _, a food stamps card didn’t go through.” This is when the woman looked as if she was beginning to tear up. Her shoulders began to droop as her demeanor suddenly changed from friendly to extremely uneasy. After an uncomfortably long amount of time, a manager finally made his way down to fix the problem and luckily had everything up and working again in under a minute. Everything went smoothly after that, however, the woman did still look like she was holding back tears. She quickly left, looking almost ashamed, as soon as it was our turn to check out.
Being only eight years old at the time, I didn’t quite know what the issue was, but I felt absolutely horrible for her. After both my mom and I made it back to the car and loaded up all of the groceries in the trunk, she started the car and we began to make our way back home. Being a bit curious, I asked her for a bit more information on everything that had just went down inside the store. She then explained that when some people can’t afford to buy food, the government will provide it for them. “When some people don’t need that kind of help, they don’t really understand what those who are struggling with that are going through. They don’t think it’s fair to everyone else and will treat other people who do have to rely on extra help from the government for food badly.”
I sat and thought about that for awhile. It seemed extremely unfair. Those who are struggling enough with money to need the government to step in don’t need the extra stress of having to deal with people who are not willing to even try to understand their situation. This was one of my more memorable experiences with diversity during my childhood. At that point, having lived most of my life in a predominately middle-income neighborhood, I had always been surrounded by people of the middle to upper-middle class. My family was always a bit less well-off than the families we were surrounded by, but we never truly knew what it was like to struggle, or at least financially. This was what I knew as normal, so as a result, that specific instance was one of my first (memorable) exposures I had to prejudice towards people of lower incomes. Although I now knew that this problem existed, I still did not know how much of a problem it really was- as well as how close to home of a problem it really was. This would not be the last time I would have to witness someone being treated so badly just because they could not afford to buy the basic necessities for themselves and their families to live.
One Sunday when I was thirteen years old, I was at my grandparents’ house for a family gathering, just like we had every single other Sunday. I was sitting in the living room with all of the adults since none of my cousins who were my age had arrived yet. The conversation then turned to my aunt, who had just started a new job as a receptionist at a local gym. “I’m so glad you were able to find something stable. Does this mean you won’t need help from the government for much longer?” my grandma asked, then immediately bit her tongue, forgetting for just a second the kind of company we had at the time. My aunt looked a bit embarrassed but she answered, “Yep, that’s the plan”. This is when one of my uncles, with a smug smile on his face, decided to pipe up, “Welfare huh? Well how long have you been on that?”. Partly ignoring the question she attempted to correct him, “Well I mean it isn’t quite welfare, but I have been on the food stamps program.”. Brushing her off, he then says, “Same thing. Government handouts are government handouts” and just goes silent again. My aunt, who seemed understandably, very uncomfortable with the whole situation, didn’t take much longer to leave after that. For the rest of the night I sat there feeling angry about what I had just seen happen. This was when I began to remember an instance very similar to the exchange I’d witnessed. I recalled the instance I’d seen happen five years earlier with the woman in the grocery store, and imagined my aunt, who I love and care about, in the same exact position. It absolutely broke my heart to think about her being treated that way, and the fact that it was likely that she has been.
Many people will choose to confront diversity simply with hatred, especially when they are not quite able to relate to those who are different than them, whether that is in race, culture, gender, religion, or as my experiences have shown, in socioeconomic status. The two experiences I had regarding this have pushed me to be a more understanding and tolerant person, especially with what I had seen my aunt go through behind the scenes. Not only that, but over the past few years I’ve had to watch as close friends have had to go through financial struggles as well and from what I’ve seen, there is so much more to it than what is on the surface. The anxiety and stress of not knowing whether or not you will be able to eat can be crippling. Overall, what I took from this, is that life does not treat everyone the same, and despite this, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect- no matter their circumstances.