It didn’t take me very long to realize that my adventures in retail will short lived. In fact, my co-workers have told me that it’s too soon for me to have the attitude that I have towards the company. I had to inform them that it doesn’t take me very long to get hip to bullshit and once I’m hip, my tolerance is set at the minimum level. After only a few weeks, I hate my job and can’t wait to quit.
As I’ve mentioned before, my work environment allows me to observe the 1%ers of our society in one of their natural habits. Everyday, I encounter bored housewives pushing strollers looking for Spanx that will suck in the excess baby weight, elderly women that are fussy about the cotton blend that their socks are made out of, and everyone else who’s going to a black tie event wearing a black dress, black shoes and looking for black sheer stockings to complete their Wednesday Addams look. They all want your undivided attention and special treatment because their husbands’ hard earned money is paying for their over priced hosiery that they’ll be returning in a week and complaining that it didn’t fit.
With the recent Barney’s incidents making news headlines, I’ve started to pay even more attention to the color lines that are created in my store by customers and employees. Not all, but a few customers and co-workers have made it awkwardly clear that they don’t know how to curb their inappropriate comments and behavior towards employees that are non-white. Sometimes its funny and sometimes I want to sit them down and take them through a lesson or two on the African diaspora.
In one situation, a woman was being helped by one of my co-workers who happened to be black. My co-worker disappeared for a second to help another customer and I noticed that the customer was looking lost.
“Do you need help with anything?’
“I was being helped but I can’t find who was helping me.”
“Okay. Do you remember what she was wearing?”
“Do you know what she looked like?”
She paused for a moment and looked uncomfortable. It was then that my co-worker came back and let me know that she was helping the customer. From the second the woman paused I could feel that she didn’t know whether or not it was alright to tell me, “She was black.” She could have even said, “She was brown skinned” to distinguish between which black girl she was talking about since there were three of us floating around that day.
Dear white people, it is okay to acknowledge that a black person is indeed black. We know we’re black. We won’t get offended, I promise. By being afraid to acknowledge that she’s black, you kinda look bad already.
In a more recent situation, I experienced a white co-worker get a little too comfortable and let her white privilege show. She was feeling upset that her manager seemed to be making her do all of the work in her department while the other employee didn’t seem to be doing much at all. The poor girl even started crying. I felt bad for her and she’s really a sweet girl so I tried my best to make her feel better. She’s one of the few white girls on our floor and sometimes it looks as if she feels left out because she can’t always relate to our topics of discussion when we’re bullshitting around the cash-wrap. Her manager and fellow department employee are both black and she’s kinda the odd girl out. But she’s great at what she does and I often tell her that I always see her do more than any of us do. She’s always cleaning, re-sizing racks and such. All in all, she’s a good employee and I was sad to see her so upset and feeling like she wasn’t being appreciated. But as always, you give someone an inch, and they take a mile.
“I don’t think its fair. I get less hours to work and less chances to make money but I am always doing the most in the department.”
“Talk to your manager and explain how you feel. Weren’t you interested in switching departments?”
“She said that she doesn’t want to lose me and have me go to another department. But she’s not treating me fairly.”
There was a short pause and then she said,
“But I’m not racist.”
I blurted out in laughter at the statement. Not because it was funny but because it was the only thing I could do other than make her feel even worse about herself by telling her that she was indeed racist by saying that she wasn’t. Nowhere was race brought up in the conversation so there was no need to reassure me that she wasn’t racist. It’s like when people begin a statement by saying, “no offence.” You just know they’re about to say some offensive ass shit that they’ll need to get popped for. But like I said, I like her and she’s always so nice so I gave her a pass this one time.
“Nobody said you were racist.”
“I know, I know. I just wanted to be sure.”
“Yeah yeah its fine. I’m sure you know that there are lazy people of all races.”
We laughed again and I hoped that the awkwardness would stop there. She walked off to see if a customer needed help and I pretended to be busy looking things up on the register. About 4 minutes later she was at my side again, ready to lodge her foot even farther down her throat.
“I feel like they’re racist towards me.”
“Like, they’re racist towards me and it’s not fair. It’s the two of them and they just make me do all of the work.”
NO. NO NO NO NO NO! My mind filled with responses such as “Oh like slavery?! Yeah, we loved all the cotton picking we were forced to do while your great-great-great granddaddy raped our women and beat the men!” or “Your white privilege is showing, bitch.” News flash but what you’re experiencing is not racism, dear. You’re just good at what you do and your manager, who is new at her job, is doing a poor job of showing you how she appreciates how you work. She’s giving you earlier shifts because it’s easier to make money before the down time in the evening. I guess God knew that this was not the time or place for me to get my Angela Davis on because a customer was sent over in need of nude sheer stockings so I was called away. But I’m sure she was able to read my discomfort and she never brought it up again.
The color wars don’t end with white people though. I’m starting to think that one of the black girls has an identity issue of her own. I started noticing things awhile ago but one conversation in particular solidified that somebody needed a wake up call from Malcolm X himself.
It started with a simple joke that referenced the movie Roots. Even if you’ve never seen the movie in its entirety, as a black person, you know of it and you know the famous scene where Kunta Kinte is being beat and told that his name is Toby. Well my manager didn’t.
“What?! You dunno Roots???”
“Yeah but everybody knows that scene though. I’m taking your black card.”
“That’s fine. I’m only 25% anyway.”
If my life was a TV show, it was then that I would have turned to the audience and gave them the “is this bitch serious?” look. But instead of an audience, I had my co-worker and we both looked at one another waiting for the follow up and if it’d sound even more ignorant.
“My mother is this southern, silver spoon fed girl and my dad is this hood, Brooklyn guy. I have Native American in my family and French. I grew up around everybody.”
“Yeah but…you’re black.”
Native American? Did she really pull THAT one? Lets be clear. You may have a whole bunch of stuff mixed up in your gene pool and that’s nice. But to these white folks, you’re a black girl. Your edges get just as kinky as mine do, boo. Again, God knew that I was about to stand on my soap box and start talking about how she sounds totally ignorant, so another customer popped up and scurried her away so that she could sell em a pillow or something.
As much as I love to complain about my HBCU experience, I must say that I’m grateful for what I learned there and how it helped me to become the black young woman that I am. My eyes are a little more opened than some others are because of it. I’m far from a member of the black panther party but I’m not blind to the fact that life as a black woman is just….different. It breaks my heart when my fellow black women feed into the ignorance that’s been created around our identities. Be who you are, but also understand that who you are includes being a black woman. There’s no need to throw in a whole bunch of additives to make you seem more exotic. French, bitch? You can’t even pronounce Au Bon Pain correctly. We’ve got to do better.
I know that as long as I’m working in this store, there will be more moments like this and I hope that God keeps sending random customers in need of assistance as soon as I feel like I’m about out scream “THE BLACK MAN IS GOD!” with my hands raised in the air as I storm out of the department. Jesus be a fence around me.