Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pondering the benefit of the doubt...

Shall we?

A bitch used to live in Dallas Texas, where I was in sales.  I worked for a firm that sold broadcast radio nationally.  It was a high-pressure job and our team often took lunch-based excursions to balance out the stress.

Some background – my boss and I often discussed racism in and outside of the workplace.  I worked on a lot of marketing campaigns for urban (translation – black) radio stations, so the topic came up from time to time.  My boss, like a lot of people, was one to give folks the benefit of the doubt when it came to covert racism…and this bitch was one to call shit the shit that it is, covert or overt or someplace in the middle.


One day we went to Northpark Mall, which houses several high-end stores including Neiman Marcus.  We popped from store to store, grabbed a nice lunch (chicken Caesar salads, sweet tea and strawberries with cream…yum!) and then went to Neimans.  At the time, Neiman Marcus was the only store in town that sold the makeup I wore and that makeup was really the only thing I could afford at Neiman Marcus.  I broke away from our crew to go to the makeup counter, saying that I’d meet up with them in the shoe department after I scored some lipstick.

Needless to say, I was waiting at the makeup counter for sometime…a long time…long enough for my co-workers to go through the shoe department, try on several pairs of shoes, wander through handbags and then wonder what the fuck happened to my ass.

What happened was that the woman working the counter was indulging in a public display of not seeing the black woman who had yet to be waited on.

I made eye contact with her…and watched as she left her station to go to another station to wait on folks there.  I continued to observe her as she returned to her station, went to the back storage area and then left again without asking me if I needed help.  The place wasn’t exactly busy…but the woman managed to help several people who came over after me.

When my co-workers walked up and asked me what was taking so long I explained the situation calmly…this wasn’t my first time at the dance…and watched the skepticism leap into my bosses eyes.  It stayed there until the woman who apparently didn’t see my black ass waiting at the counter for damn near 30 minutes came over and, instead of asking me if I needed help, asked my boss how she could help her.

Pause…sip coffee…continue.

And my boss went from skeptical to fired up in the blink of an eye.

She went off.

I stood back in shock, as she demanded to see the manager and scolded the woman for her public display of not seeing the black woman waiting at the counter.  Suffice it to say, I got a store credit and apology and everyone was soooo sorry that I had to wait but…wait for it… “She didn’t see you waiting there and you should have said something sooner!!!”


My boss vented and ranted about it on the drive back…at the office throughout the remainder of the day…and during our meeting the next day.

She was shocked.

She was offended.

She couldn’t believe how calm I was.

And, after I explained to her that if I got fired up over every incident I’d cease to function, I then explained that I was going to address it and would have addressed it…but she fired up so fast I never got a chance.

That incident remains one of those moments when I got to see how other people experience the racism visited upon we people of color.  There is often denial and skepticism…that shit can open a serious rift, ‘cause nothing pisses a body off more than being told you are over-reacting to something that you know quite well but they know little about.  I’ll confess that half the reason I didn’t just walk away from that makeup counter was because I knew that I’d have to explain why I didn’t get the makeup and then my boss would have made some lame ass excuse for why I hadn’t been waited on and then I’d get pissed at her and…well, yeah.


But sometimes…when an incident like that happens…sometimes there is a realization like the one my boss had.  A realization that racism does happen and it isn't always blatant and obvious, complete with hoods and Confederate flags.

There is a reason I don’t automatically give folks the benefit of the doubt...

...just as there is a reason why my boss did and probably still does.

Oh, and I moved on to MAC ‘cause they know how to treat a bitch and they have fantabulous lipstick.



KBO said...

Microaggression, lady, made worse by the fact that oftentimes those who either suffer or witness the microaggression usually question themselves (because of the microaggressors response) as to whether the incident was really race-based even though it almost always is. Doubly traumatic.

Us white folk need to really get over making excuses for microaggressors. Should just be seen as another aspect of hometraining.

Maurice said...

I was the invisible white guy at an Asian restaurant in Vancouver not long ago. I didn't realize I was invisible until my date pointed it out to me ... I thought I was just getting poor service. My date pointed out that the Asian customers were getting refills and attention paid to them but we were getting ignored. She went on to say, "it happens every time I'm here, but the food is too good to let it bother me."

I know it's not the same as being overlooked all the time based on color... but it's all I got. :)

Clearly Claire said...

An older bitch totally understands. I remember a few years ago, during my first visit to Key West Florida. I sat wide-eyed & stunned watching other people get seated, served and revisited with desert menus, while my arse sat ignored at a table. I finally lost my temper and stormed out, slaming the glass door entrance door so hard it was a miracle it didn't shatter. I tried writing to complain but the restaurant didn't have a number to write so all this time later, I'm STILL fuming.
An older bitch needs to get over it already. *oooohhhhmmmmm....*

Anonymous said...

In the early eighties I was in college living in St. Louis. My roommate worked at one of the high end boutiques at Plaza Frontenac. One day they ignored a black woman who came into to shop. The woman left without being helped. It turns out the woman worked for the wife of a man who is part of a big beer dynasty family and was there to pick up items for Mrs. Beer Dynasty. Mrs. Beer Dynasty called the store and politely ripped the manager a new one. The manager sent a sales woman who socialized with a member of the beer dynasty family to hand deliver the purchases and a written apology for Mrs. Beer Dynasty’s employee. My roommate and his fellow employees learned a valuable lesson that day.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog – I’ve just been lurking and worshiping from afar lo’ these many years, but this post brought back some memories. Back when I was a wee bitch (in the 60s & 70s) growing up in an all-white-except-for-us NJ suburb I remember standing with my mother at many a counter at the Short Hills Mall while she waited in vain to get served. Many a manager had to be summoned, and sometimes we just walked out. Btw, I’ve noticed an increase in this kind of behavior recently—it’s happened to me several times here in the past few months. Sometimes I give the benefit of the doubt and sometimes I don’t, and deciding whether to let the long fuse burn or get pissed off in public (a hard one for me due to home training) is enough to make a bitch schizoid. Keep on keepin’ on . . .

Unknown said...

I'm feelin' ya. Years back when I still lived in Richmond, VA my ex-partner (black guy) and I went to one of those "Texas-style" roadkill places---you know the ones where you grab up a bunch of peanuts to munch on while waiting for your food, and toss the shells onto the floor?

Anyhoo...I drove, it was pouring rain, so I let Brien out to go inside and save a place in line ('twas a popular place). I walked inside after I parked the car (a couple of minutes later) and sure enough---the lobby was crowded. I found Brien who told me that no-one had helped him since he had walked inside and stood---in the same spot. We both stood there and watched as the hostess (late 20s) walked by us, and asked a straight couple (who had walked in just behind me) if they needed help. I was starting to get steamed.

About a minute later, Miss Gurl started to walk by me again, then noticed the sparks shooting out of my eyes, stopped, put her hand on my shoulder and asked "Oh, excuse me sir, have you been helped?" I told her no, and suggested she ask Brien if he needed assistance since he had been standing there longer than me.

Anyway...gurlfriend (with a 'tude, now) looked at Brien and asked simply "Yes?" At that point, I'd had it, and told the young lady to produce her manager pronto.
Needless to say, the manager got an ear-full, we did not eat at that establishment, I followed up with a letter to the home office, and I'm sure Miss Honey made some nice Virginia boy a wonderful wife.

Me said...

One of my closet Caucasian cousins earned that spot one day as we were going about our business doing our job and as you noted, that because I have to get on with life, I've learned to deal with the typical "don't see ol' darkie there."

I noticed my friend pause and then bam! My friend get's in this dude's azz for not acknowledging me and would not stop.

Needless to say he later apologized for the bullshyt, and we have been close friends ever since. He's closer to me than many of my family members. We have truly grown our relationship beyond color.

Yankee, Transferred said...

Well, I know exactly that of which you rant. More than once, I have been with my any one of my daughters in stores where she is the one shopping and I am the one they offer to help. They don't know I'm with her, even, and I always say, "I believe she was here first!" If they give me any shit, as the bitch at Macy's did once, saying in a conspiratorial tone to me, "She's probably not going to buy anything!" then I get to go off. Nothing fries my lily white ass faster than my invisible black kid getting ignored. That invisible routine is tiresome.

Anonymous said...

Late comment: I was in a deli/gas station in Rural PA. I watched a African America women being ignored by the stupid woman making sandwiches. The woman kept saying "Excuse me" over and over again. I saw her leave and talk to her friend out by the pump.
14 years later and I still kick myself for not speaking out. I saw what was going on, didn't give the mean ol' cow the benefit of the doubt, and let a act of hate pass with no comment. I don't know why I didn't. I wish I could say I'm sorry to that woman. I wish I would have said something to the mean ol'witch in the deli.
What's that saying about good people standing by while evil takes place?

angelarose said...

I was in Macy's last week and thought I was being ignored because no one offered to help me. I proceeded to try on several costume jewelry items and leave them on as I perused the jewelry cases and finally a lady came to help me, but her attitude was more "excuse me ma'm can I help you (suspicious eyebrow raise)", After she realized I was a paying customer, she revealed to me that she was "new" and that security had been alerted due to me walking around the jewelry case wearing the jewelry. So I realized that previously I was being ignored not simply "overlooked"...

Anonymous said...

The Northpark Neimans from back in the day is why I have a Neimans charge. Got more respect from those bitches with their house plastic. The Neimans at Frontenac is much friendlier. And, after a 20 year boycott, I returned to Saks at Frontenac to test the attitude and face old demons. They have changed. And I have purchased. I am now totally over being treated badly in a store. I don't stand for it. I don't wait. I don't beg. There is nothing in a store worth it. There are too many brands and too many retailers to take shit. If you're mad as hell, give them a piece of your mind ... and not one red cent ... for 20 years. And then tell all of your friends. Interestingly, I never had a problem at Nordstrom. Ever. Department stores have to work really hard these days to get and keep a customer. Ignoring anyone IN THE STORE is just insane. I think they've all got the message. If they don't, cuss them out and walk out. And don't come back for 20 years.


Chrissystina said...

Aint that a bitch
Of course the same ish happened to me at Nordstroms in my hometowm in Cali. Well, it happened to my girl who was from Uganda, and she didn't want me to say shit. Uh uh.
I marched right up to those bithes called them on their shit, and the manager gave me free store samples. *DEAD*
Anyway, we in this together and I love your blog and I am subscribing like, two seconds ago.

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