Letter: To a Vermont public servant

To a Vermont public servant

Editor of the Reformer:

I am sure that you will remember me; I was the Black woman who came into the post office, at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday. I understand that 4:55 is terribly close to your 5 p.m. quitting time, Ms. Postal Clerk. I understand that it was a Friday. But whatever it was that led you to interact with me using sharing and blaming behaviors, you need to evolve your interaction skills.

So I will share — in as public a forum as I can obtain — a dissection of what I experienced with you.

As a "Flatlander," I have had many interactions with Vermonters since I first moved here in 2009. Vermont culture is one I am exploring with great fascination. The culture that I am describing is that of the white Anglo-Saxon protestant, or WASP. WASP is a carefully chosen word; it is not meant to insult, as much as to elucidate. As a writer, I have addressed the shaming/blaming actions, the tendency to discount alternative possible realities, and the plain nastiness of affect present in WASP culture in a blog at my website, titled "A Brief Encounter with a WASP."

Suffice to say here, your actions Friday fit my cultural stereotypes too well. I was stung by a WASP again. At the counter at the post office, I was being served by the (younger) woman at the counter next to you, not by you. You overheard my conversation with the other postal clerk. We knew each other, she and I. She was servicing me quite professionally; I requested a book of stamps, stuck one on a letter that had a time pressure on it (hence, my rush to get to the post office before you closed). And, as I took out my debit card, and went through the motions to use it to pay for the book of stamps, I was catching up with my acquaintance.

First, you hurried us along by addressing me (the patron) with a "hurry up, we are closing." But that wasn't what really put a bee in my bonnet. It was the fact that you had been listening to our conversation, got several things about what was being said wrong, and then had the audacity to comment on what you heard.

Again, your comments were to me, the patron. Not to your colleague, the other postal clerk.

After overhearing us chatting about pregnancies (there have been two recent births in our shared community), the other clerk disclosed to me that she was in her first trimester with her first baby. It was as I was congratulating her that you felt a need to interrupt us with your "hurry up" comment. As I moved away from the counter, I asked my acquaintance what name had been given to the baby that had been born into our community three days earlier. My friend responded that the couple hadn't named that baby yet. That is when you interrupted her to mutter (not even under your breath mind you): "What do you need to know the name for — it's early, yet!"

I can only imagine that you believed we were talking about your postal colleague's first trimester pregnancy. Not about a baby that was already 3 days old. What chutzpah, on your part. That is a phrase from a "newly white" culture of people known as Jews. There aren't many of them up this way. Just like there are not many of me — colored girls.

I am aware that we Jews and Blacks tend to speak louder than WASPS, have more comfort sharing personal information publicly, and (dare I say this one?) can laugh at ourselves. Perhaps all three are traits developed from living in oppressive environments, with daily experience of situations that can feel humiliating or even dangerous. So I know that Black culture can seem too loud, overly frank, and even scary to WASPS. But you, Ms. Postal Clerk are a public servant. The state of Vermont is attracting more and more people from non-white cultures. You can benefit from a closer examination of you biddiness. Your tendency to be a scold.

If we Blacks have shadow work to do, I would describe my tendency to become righteously indignant and angry something that could benefit from closer examination. Which is why I am writing this, rather than "going postal" at your counter, at 5:05 p.m. last Friday. Which would have really made a mess of both our weekends, wouldn't it?

Opeyemi Parham, |Dummerston, June 11


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