The Mad Hatter!

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I’m into hats, big time. Although it was never my intention, my hat became my brand years ago. I recall being called out as the Hat Guy while on trips doing training in Europe, India, Asia and at locations across the United States in airports, work sites and even in malls. Some folks have dubbed me the “Habitual Hatter” because of my hat addiction.

Interestingly, Walmart, Kohl’s and Cracker Barrel are my usual haunts for new additions to my hat collection. And dig this: gas stations, believe it or not, tend to yield many to choose from.

Now speaking of the latter, my bride and I were recently retuning to Georgia from Virginia along interstate 81 when we stopped to fill up (and “empty out”). Like all travelers, we needed not only gasoline but restroom break thanks in large part to Mr. Caffeine, our front seat traveling partner.

Having completed my men’s room, ahem, activity, I headed back to the car when a rather neat looking straw hat caught my attention. I tried it on and whirled around looking for a mirror to see how it looked on me. But there were none. What did catch my attention, however, was a store employee on the other side of the hat rack, clipboard in hand, pretending to take inventory while obviously keeping an eye on me.

“Excuse me, is it okay for me to step into the men’s room to try on this hat in front of the mirror?” I asked the employee who, it seems, was pretending to be preoccupied with her clipboard.

Silence.

After a few more seconds of silence, and thinking that maybe she didn’t hear me, I repeated the request. She looked up and responded, seemingly annoyed, and uttered, “Well, I guess so but make sure you pay for it before leaving this place,” while pointing her pencil to the front door and returning her eyes to her clipboard.

Huh? I couldn’t believe what she just said. I mean, I’m clean cut, casually dressed, without baggy pants hanging off my behind or a “hoodie” and, if anything, resemble, eh, Denzel Washington, not some common thief.

Now of course there was absolutely no way was I going to allow her to get away with that comment. No way.

“Of course I would pay for it lady,” barely able to contain my anger.

Sensing my rage, and now red-faced, she tried to clean it up by muttering something about how “some people forget to pay for things.”

I resisted the urge to demand that she tell me more about the “some people,” put the hat back on the hat rack and got the heck out of there. Now did I overreact? Was she right in saying what she said if I fit the profile of those who previously stole from her store?

What would you have done in this situation or, to make it really personal, what advice would you pass along to a loved one who was on the receiving end of her comment?

As I bring this to a close, there’s no doubt that some, probably many, will nod their heads as they recall being treated this way at some point in their lives. Many can relate to being followed around in a store while shopping, being pulled over for no apparent reason by a policeman and other indignities for reasons, we suspect, rightly or wrongly, because of the color of our skin.

Others will probably say that this situation had nothing to do with race and that I’ve just played the “race card.” Hey, believe and say what you want. But in the words of the late Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” My version of that is that “we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired of these daily indignities”.

Yes, in that station I transformed from Habitual Hatter to Mad Hatter in a matter of seconds. What otherwise had been a pleasant trip down the highway through a breathtaking countryside got interrupted by some unnecessary pangs of anger that stuck with me all the way to Georgia.

But in the end, and despite the indignities, the negative stereotypes and the insults, I refuse to become a “Mad Hater” since that will not serve me or anyone else well. You just pick up the pieces, swallow your pride and ready yourself for the next painful reminder of what it is sometimes like being black in this good ole USA!

©Terry Howard is an award-wining writer, story teller and speaker who revels, reads, fishes and writes in Douglasville, Georgia. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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