I always get a store receipt in case I’m accused of stealing. Am I trippin’? A discussion

OPINION: I don’t know why I have so much paranoia about being wrongly accused of stealing from a store. Is it because I’m Black? Yes. Yes it is. 

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I have no idea how much scholarly work has been done on the topic of Black people and paranoia (a quick Google search of “paranoia in the Black community” returned a solid amount of studies), but if anybody needs a subject, I’m your guy. I’m probably not the most paranoid person I know. I know people whose life experiences would require extreme paranoia at all times — think Jay-Z’s line on “December 4th” from 2003’s “The Black Album:” “hustlers, we dont’ sleep, we rest one eye up.” But I’ve also seen some things that I can never unsee, on a personal level, that make me wary of almost any and all surroundings at all times. 

And then there’s racism. 

I’ve lived in America for most of my life and encountered racism in its many forms in every corner of this country I’ve been to. I’ve also spent a significant amount of my life as an adult in places where liberal whiteness always makes you double take whether or not you just got racismed or not. That (understandable) overthinking has seeped into nearly all parts of life. Which is why I get annoyed when I go to stores, and cashiers ask me if I want a receipt for items I’ve just purchased. It’s a small annoyance and probably unnecessary, but it does irk me. And here’s why: I’m always thinking that some other person in that store will see me walk out without a receipt and accuse me of stealing something, and then suddenly the cashier, who just took my money, has amnesia. 

Is this nonsense? Maybe. Is it extreme paranoia? Perhaps. Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it likely? Probably not. But who wants to find out that one time that your paranoia was founded? Surely, not I. So I always ask for a receipt. And if I’m at the self-checkout, I ALWAYS get a receipt. I think it’s culturally biased to NOT just give me one. 

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I often go to a big-box retail bookstore that is, perhaps, somewhat environmentally conscious. I say this because they don’t seem to like giving out bags anymore. And what is a surefire marker that I just paid for the thing that I have in my hand? A bag. So if you’re not giving me a bag, and I don’t have a receipt, what makes me look different than a person who just walked right out of the store? So when I get asked if I want a receipt I’m ALWAYS going to say “yes,” JUST in case somebody looks at me and sees a person who might fit the description of a person who THAT DAY stole a Mark Twain reader and an essay collection from Michael Arcenaux (“I Finally Bought Some Jordans” is in stores now!). 

I did, once, tell the cashier that I didn’t want a receipt and regretted it immediately. No security guards tackled me at the door nor did anybody ask me if I bought the books in my hand. But that 20-foot walk from the cashier to the door and then OUT of the store was way more anxiety-inducing than I needed. I probably looked like I stole the books because of the way I was looking around at everybody hoping they weren’t looking at me like I stole something. I didn’t break into a sweat or anything, but I definitely said to myself, “I’m not doing that again.” If you ask me if I want a receipt, I’m saying “yes.”

So many stores now have the option to not get a receipt when you leave the store. It’s truly baffling and perhaps its freeing to tap the “EMAIL RECEIPT” button and walk out like you own the place. But for me, I clearly need to work on myself a little bit more because let me tell you, I am way too concerned about being accused of stealing something without having a receipt in my hand and then causing a scene because I also get annoyed at being accused of things I didn’t do and then my whole demeanor turns into “hit record on your phone.” As you can see, God ain’t done with me yet. 

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and I acknowledge that I just might be doing too much. But I also know me, and I know I feel much better with indisputable evidence that I didn’t do the thing that I’m being suspected of. 

And I realize how exhausting that all reads. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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