I knew there was a reason I was required to stop at the Colton, Calif. WalMart this past January because I forgot my two bottles of wine and meticulously cut organic vegetables and fruit when I left my house to go to our annual “Great Teachers” event at Lake Arrowhead.
The meaning of that trip and stop is now clear after reading umair haque’s truthful article about how cold, cruel and selfish Americans are. Umair writes about the “spectacular, unique, unimiaginable [sic], and gruesome cruelty that we see in America, which exists nowhere else in the world”.
What I have to say to Umair is: you need to get out more. Visit any large shopping area in an average or lower-income neighborhood. Go to any ordinary elementary or high school and sit in a classroom for a few hours. Work with the children. Why not volunteer to be an instructional aide?
Try visiting the Colton, California WalMart.
There, Umair, you will see not cruelty and viciousness as you describe your friend experiencing after falling on a subway train.
There you will experience what I did this winter.
I was in a rush to get to Lake Arrowhead and begin our conference where I wanted badly to share my ideas about empathy training with my fellow college teachers. I remembered there was a supermarket near the intersection of I-10 and I-215 in Colton. A few miles from where I grew up in Redlands at the foot of the mountains. A lifetime away in experience and lifestyle. Colton is an extremely diverse community that has suffered from the cruelty of its neighbor, the larger and grotesquely corrupt and troubled city of San Bernardino. At one point in time “Berdoo” as we locals lovingly call it worked it so every freeway exit on both sides of the 215 traveling north and south led toward their town: away from Colton. Colton is where the rail yards are. It’s hardcore homies. It’s poor. They’ve got gangs there with 7 and 8 generations.
When I filled up my Jeep with gas, I saw homeless people huddled at every corner of the station and several across the street, along with abandoned shopping carts: universal storage and transport devices. Man, things are really going downhill even farther out here, I thought.
Crossing the freeway, I was a little disgruntled to find that the ordinary market I remembered was actually a WalMart Supercenter.
I parked and went in. I felt like I was the only white person in the store.
Now — don’t get me wrong. I don’t care if I’m the only white person. I’m fairly often the only white person. It wasn’t the color of the patrons, it was the setup of the store that blew me away. There were gates and watchful employees everywhere.
I was in a hurry but the store was too busy for me to get out quickly and the security aspects slowed things down even more. I got in line behind a retired couple. I’m going to be super racist here and state they were an older Chicano couple. They were two of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with casually for a long time. I had a 6 pack of 805, a tray of carrots and celery, some hummus, and some grapes.
“Maybe you should try the self checkout dear,” the wife suggested. “We’ll hold your place if it doesn’t work.”
It turned out she was a retired teacher who had worked with prisoners in the state penal system and he was a retired contractor. I’m mentioning she had worked for the penal system because that’s what the store was set up like: a medium-security prison.
Although unsure whether or not I could buy alcohol there, I went over to the busy self checkout area. On the way I passed the makeup and beauty section. It was corralled off with an alarmed gate. I thought, “There is no way I’d buy any makeup if this was the only store I could shop at.” The harsh metal glimmer of the security gate and phalanxes of security cameras gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Once I was at the extensive line for the self checkout, a corral-like square of checkout stands with security cameras and video monitors above them, I saw an alarmed metal gate going in, and another that “released” you once you were finished. I half expected a basketweave gauntlet of deadly lasers for anyone who dared shoplift. Four employees patrolled inside the self checkout square: one for each corner.
I was in the heart of Fort Apache WalMart: no item goes unpaid-for.
Every single person I encountered in that store and in the parking lot was the nicest, most polite, most appropriately friendly person I have encountered in a long, long time. I live in South Orange County and the difference here is obvious, too. The “nicer” the area you go to here, the more cold, uncaring, rude and entitled people tend to be.
So, no — I couldn’t buy the 805 at the self checkout. I had to run back to the regular line which had inched about 2 customers further. The older couple let me back in, just as they’d promised. By that time, the other families in the line were curious about the teacher event and what kind of subject I taught. I don’t remember what the big holdup was but I got to know a little bit about several families waiting in that big, long line. The others in line were every color but “white” and every social status but “rich.”
My kind of crowd.
I hope I encouraged a few of the kids to work harder on their English. No, this isn’t a comment “they didn’t speak English.” Work on as in study hard in school.
I told my fellow teachers about the Colton WalMart once I got up “the Hill.” When I mentioned the last-minute stop, almost all of my colleagues expected me to complain about “How bad WalMart is.” They were surprised when I explained that the store itself was a carceral environment where the physical environment treated customers like they they were certain to steal from the moment they entered until the moment they left. But the emotional environment? Totally different. Everyone friendly, everyone making eye contact, everyone looking out for each other. Everyone helping each other.
The people in America who are so spectacularly cruel, thoughtless, and disdainful: the ones who care only about money and short-term profit — those are the 1%. They’re not the 99%.
Rich people are just as bad as Umair describes all over the world, not just in America. The bad people who created the carceral shopping experience that is the Colton WalMart weren’t anywhere near the building. They were in Bentonville, Arkansas. That’s WalMart headquarters.
WalMart officials probably think they are totally justified in making this location into a High Security SuperPrison instead of a SuperCenter. I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of the shoplifters at that store were doing it for the same reason Jean Valjean stole the bread in Les Miserables. Nobody, or very few, in working class Colton are shoplifting “for the thrill of it.”
Umair isn’t wrong in what he says. He’s exactly right. Far too many people in the U.S. are focused only on short-term financial gain and the people who control the stores, the media, the government, the internet — they’re almost universally like the cold, cruel, low-minded, low-brow vice-ridden creatures he identifies as “American.” Only the numbers are reversed.
America has never been “nice” — Umair is correct. There’s a bloody history and a horrific past of slaughter and persecution of Indigenous people. Many — perhaps all — of this country’s great fortunes were built on the backs of slaves who were considered 3/5 of a person under the law and not a person at all by the people who took their life’s work, efforts, and lives without a second thought.
What Umair neglects is the 99%. It would seem strange that so many people would have such difficulty counteracting the horrible decisions, actions, and choices of so few people.
That is indeed our challenge and that is exactly what needs to happen. Every single one of those 1% needs to go and their entire sickening way of life, thought processes, culture, behavior, decisions, and attitudes needs to get chopped up like Carry Nation chopped up barrels of beer and whiskey before Prohibition. And all we need to do is actually follow the ideals of this country, not some half-azzed red MAGA hat and flag. Reality: not symbols. Significant change: not signifiers.
It’s all got to go. I would recommend the start point being those prison barriers at that WalMart in Colton where everyone is as nice as could be.
See I’m not a philosopher or a pedant. I’m just a piece of white trash that refuses to lie down and knuckle under. I sure as hell know I don’t do this for money.
It’s all about the LOVE … baby.