Racism in Retail, Story 1

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It was a busy Sunday afternoon working as a Customer Service Advisor at a babycare store. Having worked hard in approximately the year I had been there I was confident in my ability because I was knowledgeable about the products in my departments. For me I can’t feign much at all, and if I do it shows therefore I generally know something well or I hardly know it at all.

I’m taken by the flow of customers to a department that is not mine — Fashion. Essentially, an easy role where I am serving at the till to customers who have bought baby clothes. I’d never heard a soul ask about the material of the clothes or any other difficult questions pertaining to the department. Difficult and rude customers yes but ordinarily it was just checking that we had a certain size in store. I finished serving a small flurry of customers and was shortly idle when a middle-aged white woman in an electric wheelchair asked me, “Can I get help with car seats?” I noticed that she didn’t have the courtesy to say please. I overlooked it and kindly agreed; still to no thanks. I entered the area that was a part of my department so I was in my element. She had her son and mother with her.

Unlike with any other customer I had gone through every single seat based on the requirements of the child where I had put the child car seats on a tester seat there in store. I had asked relevant questions to ascertain their needs and as I was pushing to better myself all the time made the best effort to be kind to everyone particularly to the shy child who I befriended. In no way I was trying too hard, I was being myself and taking my level of customer service to the next feasible level. After trying all the seats and taking my time with them when there were other customers waiting and wanting to use the tester I felt an impasse. The woman took absolutely no initiative to say what she liked other than wanting me to show her every seat. Therefore, I kindly stated objectively, “You could put him in a booster seat.” This was a range of seats that met the requirements of the child that were in a separate section of that car seat department. (All booster seats we sold had a back on them known as high back boosters.)

The woman switched on her emotions to pure anger, stating that them particular car seats were ‘crap!’ twice repeating her sentence. She said that they were the worst. Her anger was out of place given my service and approach. By the way all seats that we sold had been tested by stringent safety measures and, verified and approved by statutory regulations (as with all retailers). At that point I felt attacked for her shutting me down in such an immoral way. I hadn’t spoken suggestively and was providing her with the additional choice she wanted. I in response assertively said, “I’m just saying you could put him in one.” Italics don’t do the level of expression on just and could; it was so evident that I was merely being diligent at my job.

Again, she restarted her aggression but this time even more incoherent. Her choice word used again then… She walked… I mean wheeled… electrically away swearing seemingly under her breath — I doubt she’d restrict her anger in any way — at me. It was more likely incoherence as I didn’t catch a single curse. Normally you’d hear an f word or something but this woman made the crazy cat lady in The Simpson’s seem like she had been to elocution lessons all her life.

Being someone who analysis my own behaviour more so than other’s respective behaviour I ran through this scenario in my head many times. Was it the most effort I made and the best service I had ever given to a customer (and associated group)? Yes — definitely at the time, and probably one of the best I’d ever give in general.

Did I say something wrong? No, but not absolutely not. I stated a booster seat, not a high back booster. However this was the general term that almost everyone used for HBBs. The use of booster seats that were solely backless were not sold in the store and if you did a Google search on Child Booster Seats you’d find more on HBB’s than backless boosters (solely; as you can get adaptable ones). Also backless boosters were kind of unfashionable that people who asked for them also knew this. So there. I have got myself on small technicality… I plead GUILTY… NOT!

If everything had gone as planned for the woman, would she have thanked me? Most definitely not.

Now here’s the big question. Why was I treated like this?

The answer is racism. It always is.

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Previous retail worker hiding from anonymity and pushing for racial equality. White privilege is a cancer to society.