This is Anna. A couple weeks ago, we did an episode with a woman we called “Alice.” She talked about why she shoplifts, and why she’s not really afraid of getting caught.
Alice: I’m a white female, so, I mean, I think I would get off a lot easier than some other people would.
AS: How does that feel to say out loud?
Alice: It’s kind of disgusting to me, but I mean, it’s how the world is so I sort of use it to my advantage.
We got a lot of responses to this episode—mostly negative.
Trevor: Oh, god! I was, like, so appalled!
Hearing someone justify stealing upset a lot of you.
One of you commented, I’m not a violent person, but I fantasized about smacking her. Someone else wrote, I’ve never been so angry listening to a podcast. Karah, whose husband works in retail, sent in a voice memo.
Karah: I really wish that Alice could hear the anger and defeat from my husband when he tells me that his store was hit again.
It felt like there was more to talk about here. So I reached back out to two listeners to hear why they reacted the way they did. I called up Alyssa from Atlanta. She'd written us an email, saying she felt almost "betrayed" by the episode, because she couldn't find a way to connect to Alice.
Alyssa: When I ended this episode I really felt like I didn't understand why she was chosen in particular to have such a large platform. Like, what about her made her interesting…or not interesting but…worthy? So you know, why give a microphone to somebody who justifies her behavior by saying "I'm poor," or "I grew up poor"?
AS: Do you think we should have done this episode?
Alyssa: Oh that’s such a hard question for me because something I’ve been thinking about is if this were fiction, would I be interested? And I think the answer is yes. Because I want to know about, like, people who are conflicted, I want to know about people who, like, make choices that are different from me, and people who make choices that I think are, like, dangerous, or like, wrong, but I don’t want to know that like real people see danger, they see darkness and they go for it.
AS: And one thing we heard a lot from people is how Alice talked about race. Are you white-- do you identify as white?
Alyssa: Yes, yes I am white.
AS: Like, how do you think being white affected the way you heard this?
Alyssa: I think it’s really frustrating to have a white woman openly admit that being a white woman gets you out of things. But that she’s going to use that to her advantage. It like...it seems like...it just sort of makes all white women look bad in a way. And I think like, that’s probably another thing that is hard to listen to is that white women do have an easier time with a lot of things and that--just everybody gets painted with one brush so you have to be really careful when you’re using that brush, when you’re speaking on behalf of white women. Like you do have that privilege, so be careful, you know? Like, I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to hear. It’s a hard thing to hear that somebody openly admits that they’re taking advantage of white privilege. That’s hard.
AS: And it’s shaming to hear as a white person knowing that we walk around with.
Trevor, a listener in Brooklyn, told me Alice’s comment about whiteness wasn’t a surprise to him, but it still hurt. And he was disappointed by my response to it.
Trevor: It was just hard to hear. Because as a black person you’re just like, OK, this is what we say is a problem, and here this white woman is admitting to, yeah, I probably get away with this because I’m white, and you’re just like, oh my god, it just left such a bad taste in my mouth. It was disgusting.
AS: You said in your comment, because of people like her, I'm the one followed around in the store.
Trevor: Yes! Yeah! I mean, I am. The thing is I’ve never shoplifted in my adult life. I mean I may have as a child because children just don’t know better, they pick up things. But as an adult, I’ve never stolen from a store, but I’m followed around the store constantly.And it’s just frustrating because you’re like, I make good money, why would I be stealing from you?
AS: And you also said this was a very problematic episode.
Trevor: Oh my god, it was so problematic.
AS: Tell me about that.
Trevor: Well, there was one instance, and I’m not trying to call you out--
AS: Please do! That’s why I’m calling you! I’m calling you to call us out, Trevor.
Trevor: No no no no! There was one instance where she had said something and I was just like, okay, Ms. Sale can go in there right now and tell her as a white woman to another white woman and it was just like, oh, they missed that opportunity because she could have said something to her and put her on the spot, like, did you think that was right to be doing this? And I was just like, you didn’t say it, and I was just like, it’s alright, I’m not going to be mad at them, cause it was a difficult episode. It was just very difficult.
AS: Mmm. You said you make good money--
Trevor: Well, I did when I was middle class, yes.
AS: Wait, so how do you define yourself now?
Trevor: Oh well now I’m formerly middle class. That’s what I am now.
AS: What happened?
Trevor: That’s a good question! I think I’m well educated, well--really technologically proficient, and I think I have a lot to bring to the table, but these employers are just like, nope!
AS: How are you supporting yourself?
Trevor: Well right now I’m on public assistance. And people are like, but you look so good! And I’m like, well, I still have my middle-class wardrobe! [laughs]
AS: Huh. And when you say public assistance, what sort of public assistance?
Trevor: Literally public assistance. Like that’s-that’s SNAP they call it now, what people used to call food stamps, and I also get cash benefits in addition every month.
AS: Mmhmm. And how long’s that been?
Trevor: Oh it’s been at least four years.
AS: So when Alice said, I feel more comfortable--she basically says she feels more comfortable stealing food for her family than she would applying for food stamps…
Trevor: And that was...you know what that brought up for me? It brought up a level of shame. Because I actually had initial shame when I went to apply for public assistance, because I grew up on it, and I was just like, this is such a horrible legacy that my family is now once again on public assistance. So I think what she was dealing with was a certain level of shame. I think she should have actually got these benefits that as an American citizen she qualifies for. Like, why not go out and get those food stamps? There’s no shame in that.
AS: Mmm. Is there anything you learned from how she told her story?
Trevor: [sighs] I learned how hard it is for people in this country who don’t have money, and some of the things we have to do. And so I could relate a little to what she had done because I had done some things that I wasn’t proud of, also.
AS: Like what?
Trevor: Somebody had delivered some Nutrisystem food for one of my neighbors, and they hadn’t picked it up in a few days, and I deal with really terrible food insecurities, so I was hungry and I took the box.
Trevor: [laughs] And I was like okay, so this is really bad, but like, you know what, they’ll replace it, I’m literally out of my food stamps or SNAP benefits, I don’t have any food, and here’s basically a box of food sitting in my lobby. I’m like-- I’m like--so unless, so I could relate to her level of desperation.
Alice: I think a lot of people, almost everybody, has gone through a patch where they can’t make ends meet. So I don’t feel like they don’t understand where I’m coming from.
This is Alice. I called her back to talk about the reaction to the episode. She'd read a lot of your Facebook comments, including Trevor's.
Alice:And it did stick with me and I've been thinking about it quite a bit. It is a little upsetting to hear from, you know, a black person about how I’m using my privilege to my advantage, how it might affect them. I guess I realized that because I’m an unassuming white woman I can get away with everything, but I hadn’t really thought about how that translates to the fact that, oh there’s shoplifting, we’ve gotta, you know, follow around the black people.
Alice had listened to the episode on her own, but she told me she hadn't talked to anybody about it. And she'd noticed some things, by hearing how she'd told her story.
Alice: Um, I learned that [laughs] this is going to kind of sound silly, but I’ve been into true crime podcasts, and they were talking about speech patterns, and the way that I was stuttering over “stealing” and “shoplifting” and just the words that pretty much, you know, I’m confessing to it, the way I was stuttering over it really just--it was like, oh, maybe I do feel bad about this. You know?
Alice: That I thought was kind of funny. But I can--I can definitely see where it would seem ridiculous. Especially the part where I was talking about not wanting to go on food stamps. Whenever I was talking about it it made sense. But as I was listening to it even I was like, that’s not a very good argument! That’s really dumb! [laughs]
AS: [laughs] And...and my last question is, as you, as you get ready to move to Florida, as you think about how you’re going to make it, do you think--do you think listening to this episode and looking at some of the responses are going to make you make different choices than you might have otherwise?
Alice: Hearing them from other people, definitely is a different experience--because it’s been so private, it’s just been me in my own head debating myself. You know, I need this money to make rent, but this is so wrong, you know, back and forth, but hearing it from other people it does kind of give me that funny feeling in my gut. It’s not really like guilt, it’s almost like embarrassment, I guess?
Alice: I don’t know that it’s really going to affect my choices, but, I mean, like I said, my goal is once I get down to Florida to not shoplift. Like I want it to be a clean slate, you know, start fresh, and just do it right.
That’s a woman we’re calling Alice. Thanks to all of you for your responses to that episode, and to Alice, for listening to them.