Don’t you hate it when you’re in a store, being a “regular” customer and a clerk continually asks if they can help you—to the point of utter annoyance?
“Um, can I help you find something?” a nervous white clerk inquires. Mind you, she’s talking to my back.
“I’m good thanks,” I say dismissively and continue to browse/shop.
I feel her hawk eyes watching my every move.
“Hello, can I help you?” asks totally new clerk.
The intimidation tactics begin.
“Just looking,” I say nonchalantly.
Ten minutes later, I hear: “Are you still looking?” she says pseudo pleasantly, with a forced smile plastered on her face.
“Five, four, three, two, one….I’m about to lose it. “Do you see me LOOKING at you?” I want to retort in retaliation.
At this point, I have three choices: stay, pay or refuse to give them my hard-earned money.
So, I choose to stay and continue shopping like the other patrons, whom they have not harassed.
“Have we—as Americans—really come a long way?” as the media wants us to believe?
Don’t believe the hype.
In Tyler Perry’s movie, Why Did I get married too? Four professional African-American women/friends enter an upscale store. While they are shopping, they also become engrossed in a lively discussion, when a sales clerk walks up to ladies and suddenly says “I just want you to know, we don’t have cash in our store,” and walks away. The woman’s racist remark leaves the women totally stunned. The insult/stereotype has sunken in. Angela, the most boisterous and out-spoken one in the group is beyond livid. She follows after the clerk remarking “Oh, no she didn’t! Who does she think she is?” Angela is about to give this sales lady a piece of her mind and rightfully so. While this scene was hilarious—and did make us laugh—at the same time, we laughed for several reasons:
- This woman actually said what most white clerks or other nationalities are thinking
- At some point, either we or other African-Americans have experienced similar treatment of being followed/harassed for other people’s preconceived notions that “All African-Americans shoplift.
- That this stereotype/beliefs still exists today
But we, African-Americans are also guilty of our own “preconceived discrimination” when other African-customers shop in a wealthy/upscale stores. African-American sales people have blatantly ignored African-American customers. This happened to me and I was totally/equally offended.
I entered the store with the intentions of buying a pair of sandals I spotted in the window. For ten minutes, I patiently waited for assistance. The two young sales women, didn’t even look up.
I continue to look around and waiting for them to acknowledge my presence and the fact, that they are there to make a sale.
As I get ready to leave, a white lady walks in. I swear, these two women were falling all over themselves to help her. I’ve experienced this type of African-American discrimination more times than I care to mention. And yes, I am equally perturbed when I get bad service coupled with feeling/being unfairly discriminated against and the worst—a salesperson’s lackadaisical attitude. When I experience African-American discrimination, I feel:
- Their bias attitude of thinking their better than I am
- They also feel I don’t have money, can’t afford/just browsing attitude, so why waste their time
- Only Whites people get preferential treatment and they would complain to management about their horrible experience and lack of service.
Bad customer service—whether from African-American or Whites—should not be tolerated or accepted by customers based on misguided perceptions. In Ann Manheimer’s book Dr. Martin Luther King, Dreaming of Equality, she writes about King’s father and Martin racist encounter attempt to purchase a pair of shoes at an Atlanta shoe store. The clerk stipulated he would wait on them but there was one stipulation: they had to move to the back of the store. This meant they could not get the same service based on their skin color.
Father King refused and basically had conditions of his own and left. He grumbled, saying: “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.”
Even today, I think King’s father’s words still ring true. We (customers) should never get used to accepting bad behavior—Black, White or other—based on the color of our skins or sales clerk/people’s “preconceived notions.”