What is an experience you had with a retail worker you’ll never forget?

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Mudassir Ali 8 months 1 Answer 137 views

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  1. One day in 2010, I drove to a Safeway store in Kent, Wash., U.S., with my roommate, John*. (John and I were not especially close; we were two of four housemates.) We more or less stuck together, casually talking and joking around as we picked out our groceries and made our way to the checkout area. We went through the same check lane; I went first while John took a few extra seconds to look over the candy and gum near the register.

    Our cashier was a middle-aged woman. Neat hair, neat makeup, neat work clothes. She smiled at me and amiably engaged me in small talk as she rang up my purchases. When our transaction was finished, I smiled and thanked her and walked several feet away to wait for John.

    I couldn’t hear the full conversation between John and the cashier, but I felt a bit puzzled when I looked over and noticed that the cashier’s warm, friendly demeanor seemed visibly cooler. She was no longer smiling, her eyes looked wider, and she was almost barking questions at John. No small talk. “Are you buying that gum or not?” “Do you need a bag?” “How are you paying?”

    At some point during the transaction, she must have noticed me standing nearby because she turned and asked, “You need somethin’, hun?” I took a step forward but froze for a second. “Uh… I’m just waiting for my friend”, I said, gesturing towards John.

    John finished up his purchase, and we walked back outside to the parking lot together. He didn’t say anything, so I asked what seemed like a somewhat obvious question: “Is it just me, or was that cashier being kind of rude to you?”

    John turned toward me, made a pained smile, took a deep breath as if about to sigh, and let out a long, defeated, knowing, “Yeah…” He paused. “I wasn’t going to say anything… ’cause I wasn’t even sure if you noticed anything back there or not. But that’s what it’s like being black. Every single day. All these little things. And bigger things. All this bullshit…”

    And that is my most vivid memory of witnessing almost first-hand some of the casual everyday racism that black people experience here in the U.S.

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