PSEUDO DISCLAIMER: The following post is about the author’s retail experiences with “old white people” who have mistaken her for being a store employee. For the record, the author isn’t stating that all “old white people” assume – erroneously or otherwise – that ‘shoppers of color’ are retail store clerks. Furthermore, the author’s blog post is not meant to disparage those hard-working individuals who are employed by retail and/or restaurant establishments. We at ‘You’re Entitled To Be Wrong’ do not discriminate against people based on age, race, sex, gender, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. We only have it out for those individuals who make stereotypical assumptions because they’re culturally lazy and myopic.
I’m not much of a shopper. The best thing to happen to me when it comes to shopping is the Internet. Being able to shop online is simply fantastic. However, I still do in-store retail shopping, whether it’s for health supplies, make-up products, clothing or household items. Like most customers when you do in-store shopping on occasion you may need help finding something – so you go in search of a store employee for assistance.
For most people, when searching for a store employee you look for something that designates that person as a store employee such as 1) a store uniform (i.e. shirt with store logo, distinctive clothing, etc.); 2) person is wearing a store nametag/nameplate or 3) someone who looks like they work there (i.e. you see them tagging items, lifting boxes, wearing an apron, etc.). Once you spot one of these indicators you approach that person then proceed to ask your question – makes perfectly good sense.
Yet, it appears that ‘old white people’ (age range 50 to elderly) don’t go through these steps. They have their own steps which amounts to 1) they can’t find something and 2) they ask someone – usually a person of color – if they “work here” – no matter whether that person looks like a store employee or not. These particular ‘old white people’ steps normally occur in general, specialty or department store retail establishments such as CVS, Payless, The Body Shop, Target or Macy’s.
I could be magnanimous and say maybe some of these ‘old white people’ are just being impatient because they haven’t been able to locate their desired item quickly enough. Time is of the essence to them since most of them have been around the block many times or at least “since the birth of Christ” (to borrow a phrase from my mom). Therefore they will ask the first person they see for assistance, which is a reasonable assumption.
But what about all the other examples which aren’t so simple? Where a person of color sometimes have to question the assumptions of these’old white people’ such as when the following occurs:
- A black woman in business attire (black pants, red jacket, white shirt and pearls) at Macy’s is shopping for pantyhose. She is surrounded by white women dressed in casual to business wear. Older white woman, age 60+ weaves through the crowd of women to ask the black woman where the shoe department is located.
- An Asian woman and her black female friend are trying on shoes at a Payless Shoe Store. An elderly white male (55+) enters the store. He then walks up to the two women and asks them if they work there and proceeds to tell them he is looking for sandals.
- A black male is standing near the front lobby area of a restaurant, waiting for his girlfriend who is in the restroom. A senior white female (60+) asks him for a copy of the menu because she wants to look it over while she is waiting to be seated.
- A black woman in a pants suit in Rite-Aid is looking at make-up. Near the woman are three black female store employees who are stocking the store shelves. The employees are wearing burgundy smocks with the word ‘Rite-Aid’ on the back. Older white woman (65+) walks down the aisle. She sees the women, but walks up to the pants-suit clad woman and asks where she can find aerosol sprays.
The above examples are incidents that have happened to a couple of my friends and myself just this year. Unfortunately, it is a microcosm of incidents that I have dealt with for the past twenty-five plus years. My usual response to these ‘old white people’ is a firm “No” or “No – I don’t work here.” Other times my response is semi-sardonic in which I’ll say “Wait – did I forget to put my nametag on today?” while looking exaggeratedly confused. It really depends on how I’m approached by these individuals.
Some would argue that since these ‘old white people’ ask the question “Do you work here?” it therefore negates their accidental assumptions or cultural ineptness. That particular argument is besides the point. What is also besides the point is the fact that people of color are primarily employed at retail establishments.
What is and should be the point is that there are ‘old white people’ making stereotypical assumptions in retail settings without allowing their eyes to do a bit of homework for them before they step into a possible ‘I am about to offend someone’ zone.
Is it really that hard for them to look for indicators to see if a person is actually a store employee before posing their ‘I need help’ question? Are ‘shoppers of color’ asking too much for this basic courtesy?
I could be ageist and make jokes or snarky comments about the deteriorating eyesight of ‘old white people,’ but somehow I think they see what they want to see just fine.
Now where did I put my Target staff shirt again?