1963-09-21 - Racial Tensions in Shopping
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christine tchalla 

The streets around the upscale Manhattan campus are relatively quiet and sedate - given they are the streets of the City That Never Sleeps, at least - and there are no loud protests ongoing. But there are indeed a few voices, here and there, that rise in protest. Most notably at the moment, the voice raised by a shopkeeper for an upscale clothing boutique.

"We don't take your kind here. You can go on up into Harlem. They have shops for your people there." The voice does not quite screech in a harridan's cry, but it isn't a pleasant sound.

A whiskey-smooth, dark but feminine voice replies with a curious accent but crisp, clean diction. "Madam, 'my kind' shops wherever I please. That is what tens of thousands of your American dollars permit. But if you have no desire of my commerce, I will take my business elsewhere."

That said, the tall, almost bald ebon-skinned young woman does an about-face, exits the shop, and heads down the street with the kind of proudly regal carriage one would expect of a Kennedy scion or the like. There's no hesitation whatsoever in this woman.

Christine Preston was in the clothing store as well, shopping for a new dress or two. She witnessed the exchange between the shopkeep and the African woman. It's an eye opener for her, since she's never really seen this kind of blatant discrimination before. Then again, being from a wealthy Long Island Family had certainly limited the ethinicity of her social circle. Christine watches the argument begin, slighlty embarassed for the public scene developing, then wondering what the shopkeep would think about her if Christine came in with her vaguely non-white boyfriend, Sam. By the time the black woman had left, Christine put both of the dresses she was considering buying back on the rack and began running after the denied shopper.

"Hey," she calls after T'Challa. "Wait up!" Christine is moving quickly, but while T'Challa may have the regal bearing of a Kennedy, Christine is dressed like she actually is a member of the Camelot family. "I'm sorry about that," she says to the other woman when she catches up to her. "That was rather rude of her to turn you away. There's another store nearby I can show you where you might have better results?" CHristine is smiling and friendly, hoping to ease any ruffled feelings the otehr woman might have.

At the sound of that voice calling out to her, the tall African beauty pauses in her progress, slowing her movements and allowing the other woman to catch up, as she turns to regard the Anglo brunette. Only the most observant would notice the hitch of anticipatory tension in her shoulders as she does so, perhaps preparing for a renewal of the earlier assault. But when instead gentle kindness and apology present themselves, the dark-skinned woman simply inclines her head just a hint, acknowledging the others' words and sentiment.

"You owe me no apology, but I thank you for offering it nonetheless." she comments in that odd accent of hers. She glances around for a moment, as if visibly assessing the environs, and then inclines her head again, just that hint. "Very well. Please, lead on. Let us see if a better opportunity can be had." She prepares to follow at Christine's side, and offers her hand in a manner in some ways perhaps almost masculine rather than in the more demure manners Christine has likely been raised to expect from a lady. Then again, this is a lady in slacks in public, a black woman with her hair shorn nearly to her skull. Normal she is not. "I am T'Challa." No last name is offered. She has none.

"Christine Preston," the girl replies and takes T'Challa's hand to shake it, like a normal American. Despite how 'ladies' are expected to act, Christine has never put much stock in such demure behaviour. "And I just think it was terrible how you were treated there. That's not how America is supposed to be." At least, not the ideal of America that she believes in. And perhaps interestingly, Christine is leading T'Challa towards the south, not north towards Harlem like someone wanting to do a backhanded 'here's where you should be shopping' would. "Are you from Africa?" she asks curiously. "You don't have any kind of American accent I've ever heard."

"That sort of behavior is all too common in America, and not uncommon in Europe." T'Challa responds, but without venom or anger. She's just revealing truth and reality. She gladly follows along at Christine's side, as the other woman continues to chat amiably. There's definitely a regal reserve and aloofness to her demeanor.

"I am from Africa. A nation few have heard of, here. Wakanda." T'Challa answers, with a slight inclination of her head to acknowledge Christine's point.

The assessment that what was just witnessed happens on a regular basis in America causes Christine to tighten her lips. She doesn't deny or contradict T'Challa, but it's clear she's having an issue reconciling certain truths with her experiences and world view. "Well, I haven't heard of Wakanda," she replies with curiousity rather than malice or anger at the earlier besmirching of her nation. "I've read a lot of National Geographic magazines and I can't recall Wakanda ever being mentioned. What's your country like? And do the people there dress like yo do?" Again, she's more curious than anything else, meaning no offence to her new shopping companion. "And what brings you to America?"

"Wakanda is rarely the subject of such shows, as unlike many other African nations, we have never been subject to European imperialism." There's definitely a large dose of disdain and pride in T'Challa's tone. There's a chip on that shoulder of hers, to be sure. "Wakanda is a bit north of South Africa. We are a proud nation, with jungle and savannah landscape, as well as our own small ocean shore.

T'Challa pauses, looking down at her own attire briefly, and then shakes her head. "No. My current attire is not traditional Wakandan garb, but instead a chosen blend of European styles which I find comfortable and suitable." And most would argue quite masculine, really, even if no one could ever mistake her for a man while wearing it. "But my jewelry is traditional Wakandan make."

Christine makes a mental note: don't mention Europe. "Well, the jewelry is rather lovely," she says with an honest smile. "Perhaps not my style, but it's still lovely." After another turn, they arrive at another dress shop and the bell on the door tingles as Christine opens it for T'Challa. "After you," she says with a smile.

Inside, it's like many other boutique dress shops on the Upper West Side; very high end and conservative. The woman shopkeep opens her mouth, smiling, to greet the new arrivals, then blinks a bit in confusion when she sees T'Challa. There's a look like she's about to try and usher the African woman out, but then Christine walks in, smiling, and the shopkeep's expression brightens. "Miss Preston! Delighted to see you again."

"Hello, Mathilda," Christine says with a pleasant smile. "My friend and I were looking into adding to our respective wardrobes." And by the way Christine is standing next to T'Challa, there's no mistaking the 'friend' she's refering to.

"Of…Of course," Mathilda replies, bringing that smile back. "Just let us know how we can help."

T'Challa's gaze is far too clear-eyed and sharp to miss the other woman's hitch in demeanor and response, but she is polite enough not to call direct attention to it. "Thank you kindly, Mathilda." she offers the shopkeeper, by way of being polite about her presence in spite of the other woman's prejudices.

Once inside, T'Challa does look around curiously. She obviously has seen similar wares, and clearly has chosen her own style to be rather against the grain of such conservativism. Nevertheless, she does look through things, seeking something of this place that might still suit her. Perhaps a stark white sleeveless sheath dress? "You are well known, here." she comments to Christine, by way of conversation while they look around.

Christine nods as she looks at the pastel a-line dresses nearby. "My mother and I have been shopping here since I entered high school." She's not trying to show off, honestly. "We have lines of credit here, Macy's, Saks, Neiman Marcus…" She looks back at the smiling Mathilda who's standing a bit too far off to overhear any quiet conversation. "Although I might rethink where I shop. I've never been shopping with…ummmm…." She swallows a bit, hoping she doesn't offend T'Challa with her next words. "A black woman before." Then, she frowns, ightening her lisp. "And it shouldn't have to matter if I do. You deserve the same right to shop where I shop and get the same service."

"True enough. I do." T'Challa offers, without bite or anger. "But, I will admit that shopping with a white woman, cooperatively, is a new experience for me. Suggestions I might make to a sister in questions of color or style would be very ill-suited to you, I imagine. And the same is true in reverse, I would guess." As harsh and proud as T'Challa can be, she can also be gracious, charismatic and polite when there is no need for anything more harsh.

"I have found that in many places, simple economic reality will often compel those who are reluctant or uncomfortable to overcome those barriers." T'Challa clearly attempted to do the same by explaining to the prior boutique owner how much money she had available to spend that she would now not be spending there. Clearly, whomever this woman may be, she is very, very well off. "I realize that many people here have limited experience dealing with a black woman, let alone one like myself. I too have limited experience dealing with white people, for similar reasons."

Christine actually looks relieved at T'Challa's words, and she nods to the woman. "So. New territory for both of us, then." That makes her more comfortable and her body language visibly relaxes. "I do realize…growing up on Long Island…I've lived a rather sheltered life." The admission comes out as she holds up a light blue dress to herself first, then holds it to T'Challa. "But so many things are changing. I'm attending COllumiba University's physics program, which would have been unthinkable for a woman just 20 years ago and is still shocking today. My boyfriend comes from a small town in the state of Arizona and is here on a sports scholarship. And now, I'm talking fashion and global matters with a woman from a country that I never new existed." Christine smiles warmly and adds, "The old world is shrinking away. And that's a good thing, in my oppinion."

"At my father's insistence, I have done all I can to lead a less sheltered life than many of my countrymen." T'Challa explains, which would perhaps explain why she knows about Europe and Europeans and their feelings and experiences with a Wakandan woman. The African queen lifts a white sheath dress from one of the racks, holding it up in front of herself in one of the mirrors as she considers its length and general fit, whether it would be suitable for a trip to the dressing room. "I think that pale blue looks good on you. You might also look good in that umber orange hue, it would bring out the richness of your hair's color." Fashion brings all the world together, if they will only try! "I am in a physics PhD program, myself, at Empire State University. That is why I am in this country."

Christine's eyes light up when T'Challa mentions physics. "It really is a small world!" And she laughs at the coincidence. "I could have gone to ESU, but ultimately Columbia won my heart. It was a tough choice though, and I don't regret it. I've met a lot of wonderful people there. People that have literally changed my life." She looks back at the dress and nods, albiet half heartedly. "It would look good. But half my wardrobe is already blues and oranges. Maybe a green for a contrast…" The white sheath dress T'Challa is holding up gets a nod. "That would absolutely look fabulous on you. Try it on." She's smiling wide and looking through other colors. "So, what does your father do, if you don't mind me asking?"

T'Challa nods. "I think I will try it on, thank you. Try that brighter green." she suggests, and then starts towards the dressing room, disappearing within with sounds of snaps, zippers and the rustle of fabrics. "My father does nothing, now. He is dead, and has been for several years." Her words are not bereft and tearful, but there is definite emotional gravitas, there. It still affects her, despite the intervening years.

Christine takes the brighter green dress indicated and moves to the dressig rooms. "I'm sorry to hear that," she says with complete sincerity. "I'm sure he was a good man. Especially since he obviously was able to provide for your education abroad." Slipping into an ajoining booth and closing the door, Christine takes off her current dress and tries the other one on. "I never knew my own father. He was a casualty in the War. My mother met him in the Pacific and they married."

"My tribe has provided quite handsomely for my education." T'Challa explains. She hangs up her items one at a time with great precision, before she then slips on the white dress and twists behind herself to get it zipped up in place. "My mother died giving birth to me." she answers, honestly. "So I know also what it is to have a parent only known through the stories of another." Quite a tragic life, really, if both of her parents are gone. "Was your mother with the armed forces, then? What was she doing in the Pacific Theater?"

"She joined the WAVES," Christine replies as she pulls the new dress on. "That was the women's auxilary for the Navy. Mostly clerical work to free up the servicemen. Still…" she pauses as she zpis up the dress and starts to work on the buttons. "My grandmorhter was rather scandalized by it. She's…very traditional. To be honest, she's someonwhat scandalized by me studying physics. Thinks I should focus on looking pretty to attract a husband whose a business major." Christine's sour tone says enough about her feelings on *that* idea.

T'Challa slips out of the changing room and walks over in front of the mirrors, turning this way and that to look at herself, while continuing their conversation. "Some of my tribe were a bit scandalized by my own choices. But they are behind me. They support me." Those who did not have been dealt with firmly. The Black Panther is still in control of Wakanda. "What attracted you to the study of physics, if I may ask?" she queries, as she heads back to the changing room, her decision made.

Christine steps out of her own dressing room, doing similar poses in front of the mirror to see how the dress looks on her. She looks over at T'Challa dn nods with a big smile. "I knew it would look good on you." As to the question, Christine thinks for a while. "When I took physics in high school, everything just sort of clicked the way that no other subject did for me. The formulas, the theories…everything made sense when I read it in my textbook." Not quite the whole truth, but an acceptable part of it. "After that, I started reading every pysics paper and journal that I could badger my Grandfather into buying or bringing home from the library. Dr. Richards, Dr. Pym…even the old works of Marie Currie. It all just inspired me." Christine stops looking at how the dress looks on her and turns her attnetion to T'Challa. "How about you? How did you get into physis?"

T'Challa smiles and nods, agreeing with Christine silently regarding the dress, and pleased to see how good the brighter green looks on the other woman. "I studied all of the sciences. Physics held the greatest interest for me, as a means of exploring and understanding the forces of nature and the world around us." Also the way of invention and the study of vibranium, but that's not a subject matter she'll bring up just now. "I have heard of Richards and Pym. Their works are some of the most advanced new schools of thought in physics in the world." The African woman goes about changing back into her own clothes, prepared to purchase the white dress for herself. "Quite a treat, that both apparently continue their own studies here, in New York." Part of why T'Challa chose to come here for her own studies.

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