Race is a four-letter word (Part Two: A Tale of Two Wal-Marts)

The whole country’s been talking about race lately, and I think we all know why. I’m certainly not immune to this myself.

Like most Americans (at least those of us in the “flyover states”), I simultaneously loathe and frequent Wal-Mart. I hate the ugly, run-down stores. I hate that the employees are underpaid and undertrained … and, as such, are generally very little help. I hate that the corporate ethics are more Machiavelli than Jesus.

But we have just sacrificed a large portion of our income so that the wifie can stay home with our little one, and that means we have to tighten our belts. I’m now in the same boat as the majority of Mississippians: I lack the economic privilege to get snippy about shopping at Wal-Mart.

I live within easy driving distance from two Wal-Marts, which I’ll refer to as “Highway 98” and “Highway 49.” For some reason, I usually prefer to go to Highway 98. I never gave much thought to “why.”

I was getting my list together to go to Wal-Mart the other day, and my first instinct was to go to Highway 98, even though it was farther away. Even though it didn’t carry some of the rarer items I like (KerryGold free-range cheese and butter, for example) that Highway 49 does.

And it occurred to me that maybe this was a matter of race. You see, the Wal-Mart on Highway 98 is a little newer than the one on Highway 49, but it isn’t really cleaner. It doesn’t have better selection. It’s not closer. But it is “whiter.”

Don’t get me wrong: in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, you’re not going to find any all-white or all-black establishments, other than a few barber shops (except for churches. But that’s a rant for another post).

But different parts of town and different stores have different apparent ratios, different unspoken “feels.” I think that’s the case with almost every town in America.

And I have to wonder if that’s part of the equation.

So what do I do? I don’t know if this is ideal, but I decided I wouldn’t darken the door of the Highway 98 Wal-Mart unless I was already out that way (it’s near Sam’s and Target and such) or I was after something Highway 49 didn’t have in stock.

Highway 49 is my Wal-Mart. Whatever reason I had for wanting to go to Highway 98, I won’t be acting on it.

I’ll always be white, and I’ll always have a white American’s viewpoint. I’m not ashamed of my race or ethnicity, but I will not insulate myself from people of other races or ethnicities.

It’s a small thing, really, the choice of which store to shop at. But maybe it’s a start.

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2 comments on “Race is a four-letter word (Part Two: A Tale of Two Wal-Marts)

  1. I’ve written about Walmart in the past, and shop there, today. I honestly can’t afford to shop anywhere else for some items. Once, when I still had a car and was in the market for a new item, I drove to three separate stores before checking at Walmart. The difference in price between Walmart and the other stores was several dollars, so I bought my item at Walmart — and I had no choice because of all the money I’d already wasted on gasoline!

    As for Walmart employees, at least, they have a job, and an income (however paltry). I collect soda cans, frequent food pantries, and when that doesn’t work, do without because I can’t find a job. And something those of us who would love to see all Walmart’s shut down need to think about is that once those people are out of work, the people who put them in that position are going to be the ones screaming the loudest about having their tax dollars wasted on “lazy, shiftless folks” receiving “welfare” — just for the “fun” of it…

    • Tim Dedeaux says:

      I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. On the one hand, the low prices can be a real blessing. That couldn’t

      On the other, they’re a big part of the “race to the bottom” in America. They’re America’s largest employer, and they don’t pay a living wage to most of their employees (http://www.alternet.org/story/22298/work_for_wal-mart_you_may_need_welfare).

      It’s kind of a vicious circle: they pay very poorly (and put other businesses out of business, and put downward pressure on wages), so people *need* the low prices.

      And I really believe Wal-Mart could pay their employees better and still be profitable. Maybe not as profitable, but still profitable enough.

      But as I said in my post, I’m not really in an economic position to hold any grudges against Wal-Mart right now.

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