Oh, for humanity’s sake

Caitlin Sirse

Two weeks ago I could have written an angry column about an incident I witnessed at Tower City Mall in Cleveland. I struggled with finding a connection to Kent State and tried to pretend it never happened, but it’s still bugging me today.

When I tell you that I am today unfortunately still thinking about what I saw, I don’t just mean unfortunately for me. I mean it’s unfortunate for me, you, the cashier at the grocery store, the top executive at the biggest company you can think of, the girl who waves giant signs announcing special prices at the pizza shop … It’s unfortunate for everyone.

Let me tell you what I saw.

While I waited for a friendly Asian woman to dish out an unhealthy-sized helping of vegetable lo mein from one of those Chinese restaurants that have the food waiting for you when you arrive, a young woman in her mid-20s waited behind me in line.

As my noodles wriggled their way into their new home in a snug little to-go box and passed down the line, I waited for the couple ahead of me to pay for their food. I watched the woman who had just greeted me with a huge smile serve orange chicken for the woman behind me.

‘Why are you looking at me?’ the woman behind me asked the employee.

Confused, the girl just smiled back. After asking several times, the woman asked the girl if she was deaf and couldn’t understand her. The Asian woman continued to scoop out food the woman asked for while following the woman’s specific instructions not to look at her while she served her.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Then, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The girl, whose eye contact I saw as a sign of quality customer service and friendliness, buried her face in the food trays, unfazed.

I asked myself, “Why didn’t she flip out?”

While there may have been a small language barrier, I had a difficult time believing she didn’t understand what the woman had just said. I may be convinced that instead of reacting, she pretended she didn’t understand.

Why she did that, I’m not so sure I know.

As a businessperson, maybe she didn’t want to lose the customer. As a woman, perhaps she didn’t want to cause a conflict. And, as a human being, I’m fairly confident she didn’t want it to really be happening.

We live in a country whose society constantly pushes the ideas of equality –any type of equality imaginable –yet we have moments like this occurring every single day in our communities.

What would have happened if the Asian girl told the woman ordering her food that she felt disrespected? Was she afraid of just losing a customer? Was she afraid for her safety?

This is what I wondered as I sat in the food court and watched her dabble around her workstation –wiping up spills, refilling food trays and fixing her visor.

I wondered what she could possibly be thinking. Was she thinking about it? Was it a regular occurrence for her and she truly was unfazed?

Despite what she’s thinking, the woman’s actions were wrong.

Her actions were hurtful, demeaning and they only served to help perpetuate this ignorant cycle.

We can continue to push these ideas of equality as a culture, but until individual people are able to understand acceptance and come together as a members of society, these ideas will continue to be just that –ideas.

Every single person has the ability to change how people in society are treated.

It may take awhile, and it may sound totally cliché, but we really can change the way people are treated one person at a time.

Caitlin Sirse is a graduate student and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].