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While signs like these no longer adorn storefront windows, racism in retail continues to be a very real thing.

This article was written by Guest Blogger Inor Osse 

Like many people, I have a “work” version of me that I don’t bring outside of the office.  I do customer service, so I pretty much get paid to smile at you and do all the ridiculous shit you ask me to. Yet, behind the scenes, I am legitimately paid to judge you. Having been in this business for about a decade now, there are strange bases that I place my judgments on: how you look, your demeanor, if you have an attitude, how shifty your eyes are, etc. This helps me prepare for what kind of interaction we may have. One of these bases that I’ve identified with early, but deny daily, is race.

[RELATED POST: Racism More Important Today Than 20 Years Ago]

After a collective 20+ years of working in this field, some of my colleagues, friends, and I have compiled some brutally honest experiences moments we based people solely on their race:

“You’ve Got Mail”

“The regional manager of the store I worked at accidentally left his email open on my computer during a visit. Before realizing I wasn’t signed in, I had read an email he had received from our CFO regarding our hiring process that said ‘Try to diversify the staff, but don’t ignore any qualified Jews or Whites.’ Our staff was already very diverse, and it made me wonder, did he think we were too diverse?”

“Can You Hear Me Now?”

“After years of being a cashier, I’ve seen and worked with different credit card machines and used to how confusing they can be to people. I currently work in a neighborhood with lots of immigrant families, a lot of them new to the country. One morning, this elderly East Asian looking couple come through my line and was having a hard time with the credit card machine. I explained to them in that loud, demeaning way how to do it through pantomime and over-pronounced English (like it helps). To which the woman replies, in perfect English “Oh, that’s how you do it here, it’s different in other stores.” I think she knew before I did that, that I had assumed just because she couldn’t use the machine she couldn’t speak English.

“Mistaken Identity”

“I’m a supervisor for a team of just about 40 employees, all different identifying as ethnicities, nationalities, etc. We’re pretty diverse. However, I feel horrible because I get the two older Black ladies’ names mixed up, constantly! Granted, their names start with the same letter, and are very similar sounding, but they don’t look at all alike! The only thing they have in common is their gender and the fact that they’re both black. I have no idea why, and I’m not thinking about it most of the time, and it’s sort of become a joke, but why do I feel incredibly racist that I can’t get their names straight?”

The Questionable Return

“I’m one of the managers qualified to do returns at the chain store I work at. Sometimes we get returns that are ‘questionable’ which is a euphemism for ‘this looks stolen’. Whenever that happens, we have to log it in a chain-wide spreadsheet so that the other stores can look out for any similar activity. We are required to record what kind of product it is, which store we are and give a description of the person. The log is quite long, and what I’ve noticed is that probably 90% of the suspicious returns are about people of color, with most of the entries describing the returner as Black. I look at the log so much that I’ve started to become prejudice whenever someone comes in to do a return, without a receipt for more than $50, and they’re a person of color. I’m automatically assuming it’s questionable. A couple weeks ago, a Black woman comes up with a $60 bottle vitamins, wants to return it without a receipt, I’m already taking note of her clothes describe her for the log when she digs through her purse and finds the receipt. I swore I turned bright red. I’m glad she couldn’t tell why.”

Afraid of Change

“‘I worked at a Burger King that was located between two Home Depots for some reason. Sometimes, the gentlemen who would stand outside waiting for work in front of the Home Depots would come in to buy lunch. They were all Latino. During the week, they would order similar things: dollar menu items, almost always a Whopper Jr. & value fries. Then, on Fridays are the triple whoppers, practically every transaction paid with $100 bills. One day, a co-worker, who was frustrated with making change, asked why ‘The Mexican dudes always paid with $100’s’. I blurted out automatically ‘You know the White dude who picked them up gave it to them. It’s pay day!’ The worst part about my blatant prejudice was how validated I felt when my Latino manager laughed and agreed with me.”

“Name That Tune”

“As a Lyft Driver, I always want my passengers to be comfortable and have the best experience, you know, for good ratings. I don’t like to blatantly ask what their music preference is, so I just kind of pick for them. Then I noticed, I am choosing the radio station purely on race! Older white people? Soft rock. Young White People? Alternative Rock. Older Black People? Oldies and R&B. White people that appear in their 40‘s? 80‘s music. Non-white kids under 30? The Hip Hop station. I seriously started doing this subconsciously, I didn’t even notice I was doing it until now.”

“How You Doin’?”

“At my first job, I would ask my customers as I rang them up, if they ‘found everything alright.’ If they were Black, I would ask if they ‘found everything a’ight’. It made me feel cooler and thought that the customers could connect with me more. That was literally my logic back in 2005.” 

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Have you worked in retail and have a story to tell, or experienced overt racism while shopping? Let us know in the comments below.

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