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Sunday Omony


Dear Salesgirl, Are You Discriminating Against Me Because I'm Plus-Sized Or Black?

Posted: 09/06/2013 5:34 pm

As I walked into a clothing store, a sales representative greeted me within 30 seconds with a friendly smile. I approached her, as I needed assistance finding a blazer and a blouse for a TV interview that I had the next morning. I was excited about the interview because I was going to be discussing positive body image and my experiences as a plus-size model, and I wanted to look my best for the segment.

My first impression of the sale representative was positive and pleasant. We shared a few laughs as we walked around the store searching for the right outfit. She picked out a gray blazer and an orange blouse, and she walked me over to the change-room. Once I tried on the clothes I came out of the change-room to get her opinion. I asked her if the blazer and blouse fit me well and if the colors looked good together. She rudely responded by saying: "I don't know, I don't dress people like you".

In shock, I paused for a moment before I told her that I found her comment offensive and ignorant. She then repeated the same words: "I don't know, I don't dress people like you." I felt as if I was being punched in the gut for a second time. I was in a state of disbelief that she had never dressed a person who looked like me and confused by her apathetic attitude in not realizing that she had hurt my feelings.

So, I asked to speak with the manager. I explained to her how pleasant her employee was towards me when I initially entered the store and her sudden change in behavior towards me. I was very surprised by the manager's response to the matter. She hurt me even more, creating extra harm to injury. She said: "Everyone gets discriminated against... I get discriminated against because I am white." I explained to her that I felt offended by the employees comment, but this was all in vain. The manager continued to make excuses and justify the employee's comment towards me.

I felt that she was discriminating against me because of my race, so I asked if we could all talk about the matter and give the employee an opportunity to explain herself. The manager was hesitant. She said that the employee was in the back room because she is very upset about the matter. I found this interesting because I was the victim who was deeply hurt by her comment and by the fact that I never received an explanation or apology. I was holding back my tears and trying to remain professional as I explained my concerns further. My only goal was to create a calm and open dialogue for discussion, but the employee and store manager were not co-operating. I was convinced that this was a battle that I was not going to win, and I felt both voiceless and powerless.

At this point, I realized that there was going to be no restoration, no conversation between us from which to learn from and there would definitely be no apology. I had been silenced, and it felt as though a wave of powerlessness had washed over me.

I have long moved on from this incident, because in life, there is no need to hold grudges. Despite the fact that I was treated unfairly and rudely, I walked away, reminding myself that discrimination exists everywhere. I wasn't bitter, my dignity was still intact, and their comments served to be eye opening rather than spirit-shattering. I also found myself reflecting on the fact that this is not the first nor the last time I will experience discrimination, so there is no sense in dwelling on instances that are out of your control.

Think about it this way: no one wants to be around someone who is negative, who easily holds a grudge or simply can't let go of the battles encountered in day to day life. If you can strive to let go of things that do not matter in the big picture, you will be better off because you won't be held down by unnecessary mental baggage. Such baggage only clutters your mind and gets in the way of following my tips and being productive.

Thus, if your mind is cluttered with unnecessary baggage, your ideas will also be all over the place. Once you get rid of these distractions, you will be able to once again find your footing and regain mental balance. Make a list of things that you are needlessly dwelling on. Focus on eliminating these distractions and ignoring them as I have chosen to ignore negative comments and experiences in my life and replace them with positive experiences and memories.

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  • Bullying

    Even teens with the same identity -- be it racial or gender -- can be guilty of bullying and discrimination. Ontario's Ministry of Education defines bullying as "a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation."

  • Cyberbullying

    Social media can be a platform for bullying to continue even after school is out. <em><strong>Cyber bullying</strong></em> occurs when young people take malicious actions online. through chat rooms, email, social sites and instant messaging.

  • STOCK answer to "What are you?

    "You don't need to go into full confessional mode, but have fun with it, if that helps. Or be perfectly honest," Author Jonathan R. Miller said. Miller pens e-books with multi-ethnic characters and themes. You don't have to talk about all the nuances of your family tree every time you're asked about your background, He said. That can be exhausting. Find something that works for you personally.

  • REAL answer to "What are you?"

    "I like the word 'mixed' because it's a messy word, and in my experience growing-up mixed is exactly that," Miller said. He suggests that it's important to allow yourself to truly wrestle with questions of identity in environments you consider safe.

  • A friend to confide in

    If you are struggling with your identity, you don't have to tell the whole world, but confide in a friend that you trust. Having someone to confide in is important. "If you can, find someone who you can talk to about your most honest, ever-evolving, often-messy answer to the question, "What am I?" Miller said.

  • If you can't speak, write

    "Maybe you don't have anyone trustworthy to talk to honestly about your experiences. Write about them. It helped me, sometimes, to get those out," Miller said. It may not make a lot of sense initially and it might feel uncomfortably personal, but write. Keep a journal, write short stories and rename the characters, try your hand at poetry -- whatever feels best.

  • Let your identity be an open question

    "You are likely being told at different times, more or less, to hurry up and get off the fence, pick a side and get on with it," Miller said. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be unsure of who you are, even if your peers seem to have their acts together, he said. Teenage years are discovery years. Miller also quoted author Rainer Maria Rilke: " 'Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.' That's good advice. Difficult to follow, but good."

  • Embrace the chameleon

    When it comes to mixed heritage, "you don't have to be 'both' or 'other' or 'all of the above' all of the time. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you are is to choose one thing and be it for a while," Miller said. Explore how it feels to fully embrace a single aspect of your identity, for short period of time. See "what stick and what slides off." It's simply learning, Miller said.

  • Don't be afraid to abandon the labels altogether

    "I can't tell you how many multi-racial people I've met who have chosen a single race or ignored race entirely and been perfectly content with the decision. A biracial friend of mine used to tell me, 'I'm black and white, yes, but I'm black. Period,' " Miller said. He said he knows many people have chosen to identify with only one aspect of their multi-background, while others have embraced the blend.

  • Get involved in life

    Find creative ways to occupy your time, Miller said. Join a group or do an activity (with others) where you are empowered to be who you are, instead of having to act how others think you need to be in order to fit in.

  • Be proud of who you are

    Take pride in your ethnic (culture, colour or religion) heritage. You have no control over your heritage, and you can't change that fact that this is who you are. So embrace it and learn as much as you can. "You may feel like it would be an insult to your heritage to embrace one aspect of yourself above the others, but trust me, it wouldn't be. This is important: it is not your job to uphold, with perfect equity and grace, all of the elements that went into your making," Miller said.

  • Have a ready defense against the identity police

    "Often they're the 'gatekeepers' that decide whether you're 'in' or 'out.' But what you can do is have a ready answer for the 'charges' they level against you. Whether you use humour, earnestness, or self-righteous anger, it helps to have your defense lined up and ready," Miller said. Sometimes people think all the "members" of their cultural or ethnic community must behave, dress and think a certain way. But as an individual, you can do whatever you want and find your own identity.


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