My best friend of 38 years works in a local convenience store. She’s worked as a cashier clerk for 13 years, at least 8 or 9 of those years she’s had the title of Assistant Manager.
She’s worked day shift, evening shift and when the store was open 24/7 she worked the graveyard shift. She hates her job. She hates everything about it. She thinks too much is expected of a single individual covering any given shift alone, as there is cleaning to do, food to prepare, stocking to accomplish, while you’re trying to wait on customers and as Asst. Mgr. she’s got paperwork that must be completed and reports to run off the computerized registers.
When customers come into a convenience store, they are looking for quick service, to get in, grab what they need, and get out as fast as they can. They are usually shopping for one or two items, the most popular being cigarettes and snack foods (including sodas). A lot of people come in to buy Lottery tickets, some of whom stand at the counter and scratch their tickets, buying new ones as they win a dollar or two.
This particular convenience store does not sell gasoline, so the expectation of getting in and getting out fast is pretty high.
For reasons unknown to me, that I’ve tried to understand, but just can’t wrap my head around, she fights with a lot of the customers. She’s short and ill tempered with them. She often doesn’t look at them directly and talks into her own chest, with her head down, much of the time, as per her own description of how she behaves with them.
For years she’s been telling me that she can’t figure it out, but a lot of African American customers accuse her of racism, to her face. She asks me if I think she’s racist. She tells me that when they accuse her of that she explains that I’m her friend and that I have a bi-racial son and if she were racist I wouldn’t allow her in my house.
The problem is, she conveniently forgets that I’ve told her on a number of occasions that I think things she says sound racist. I don’t think she does it maliciously, I hope she’s just ignorant about what racism is.
When she talks to me about her job, she often talks about the customers, complains about how people treat her.
She will say to me, “when they come in, they demand attention, even if I’m helping someone else”; “they wear their hoods up when they come in and I know they steal, I just can’t catch them”; they don’t speak English, I can’t understand what they’re talking about”; “they always seem to have attitude”; “they always have nice clothes and nice cars, but have food stamps”, etc.
When I ask her who “they” are, she explains she’s talking about Black customers.
An African American gentleman wearing a suit came into the store one day. She told me she assumed he must be a drug dealer. I asked her why she thought that, why couldn’t he have been a business man, attorney, going to an interview, etc.?
She shared with me once that she said to a Black woman, “You people have such nice skin.” You people?
When Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who led an armed stand off against the US Government made the following statement regarding what he knew about “Negroes”… “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”, she said she agreed with him. She didn’t see anything wrong with what he was saying.
When she spoke about a customer she really enjoyed talking to, she always described him as a “Mexican”, saying “I never met a Mexican before, he’s a really nice guy.”
She truly doesn’t see the problem with her language and thought process. She doesn’t understand why people would see her as racist. The more I try to explain to her why someone might think that, the more she digs her heels in.
If someone told me they thought I was racist, I’d spend some time reflecting on what I’d said, how I’d treated them, trying to determine why they thought that. I’d ask them what I did that made them feel that way. I’d try to be empathetic, listen and try to learn from it.
If dozens of people are telling you you have a problem, it’s time to pay attention, heed their words, do some reflecting and make some changes to the way you treat people, talk and think.