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Bless Her Cotton Socks.

November 10, 2009

it's just cotton

I work at a florist. We sell all sorts of unique and seasonal flowers. Anything that catches the eye, really. Well yesterday I was sitting at the front counter, enjoying the almost spring-like weather when I heard much ado out on the sidewalk. It was a woman’s voice and although I couldn’t make out exactly what she was saying I could tell she was miffed about something. Just moments later this young woman came into the store and boldly asked:

“I was just wondering WHY you would choose to sell cotton?!”

I stared at her dumbfounded and replied “Because it’s pretty.”

“Yeah, but it’s cotton.” she said. “How long have you [the store] been here?”

“A year and a half.”

“Okay so…Let me just tell you. This is a black neighborhood. And you come into a black neighborhood and sell cotton? Why would you do that?”
I wanted to take my cue from Obama’s reaction to some women’s outrage over the Good Ol’ Boys Club and tell her to give it a rest.
“It’s a seasonal thing. We sell it every year around this time” I said.
“Well I wouldn’t know. I think I was out of the country last year or something” she said haughtily.
“Okay, well….”
“You don’t understand. It’s like, would you go into a Jewish neighborhood and put out the German flag?” she said as she flung her arms up in the air.
“That’s not even comparable!” I scoffed. “They’re totally different. Besides Germany isn’t the same country as it was then and neither is America! We have a black president for God’s sake!”
“Okay maybe not,” she agreed “but as a black person I”m offended by this.”
At this point I’m thinking yeah, maybe if I had drawn a picture of blackface accompanied by a sign that said “pick your cotton here” she would have every right to be in an uproar.
“Well I’m sorry it offends you. It’s not out there as a statement. It’s just something we sell. You’re the first person who has ever said anything about it.”
“Well that’s the kind of woman I am,” she retorted. “I’m not someone who just doesn’t say something. Especially when my ancestors were out in the fields picking cotton.”
“Well, white people are the ones picking cotton now.” I said.
“Good!” she exclaimed “But it’s not the same.”
“Listen” I tried calming her, “It’s just cotton.”
“Not to me! Not to a black person!”
“Well, I don’t believe that all black people look at cotton and make the cognitive leap to slavery. I mean we use it every day. We wear it. We clean our faces with it.”
“Maybe, but for me it does something. You see I grew up in the city, I’ve never seen it in it’s raw form so maybe that’s it. Maybe I just need to buy some and get over it” she digressed.
At this point I was glad she had said something. It would have never occurred to me that cotton would still be a symbol of something so negative and elicit such a knee-jerk response.


But still I agreed,”Yeah maybe. Maybe you should.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. LindaAnn permalink
    November 11, 2009 2:11 pm

    Wow. Is that for real??? Amazing story, Ladeerayne. Man, what a great story!

  2. LindaAnn permalink
    November 11, 2009 2:37 pm

    Another comment. I am sure that picking cotton (or apples or onions or any produce) is hard, back-breaking work. As is digging ditches and laying cable and raising kids. And I’m sure that black people were exploited just like serfs and peasants and Chinese factory workers. And I’m sure there were bad bosses and decent bosses. The SLAVERY part of African-Americans picking cotton lasted a long time, but that was the farm work for free men and women for another hundred years post-Civil War, too. And no working person around the globe should ever feel diminished by manual labor. Au contraire. It is probably among the most decent, honorable kinds of work that exist — and certainly work that humans have been doing for millennia. And, as someone famous once wrote or said, the slave has nothing to be ashamed of — the slaveholder does.

  3. Mutterskopf permalink
    November 11, 2009 3:53 pm

    So this story ends with you selling the lady some cotton? way to turn a frown upside down! Good work.

  4. A Strung permalink
    November 11, 2009 4:05 pm

    Huh I never heard of this before. I wonder if there are other people out there who have similar feelings.

    But DID she buy it or not? Or is this a cliffhanger by design?

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