Was it Racism or Bad Customer Service?

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echo[es] are truly endless.” ~ Mother Teresa

Shadowy Figure

Apparently the boogeyman of race has a membership at Costco. I ran into America’s dark passenger during checkout at Seattle’s SODO Costco the other day. I went to Register 9 which was manned by a guy wearing a name tag that read, “Seth” – which an alias I will use instead of his real name.  Even though Seth ruined my Costco experience that day, I refuse to use his actual name in this blog. The Costco location (Store Number #01), register number (9), and the time of check out – Friday, Aug 10, 2018 at 14:22 (2:22 p.m. PDT) – are all accurate. My checkout experience was immediately soured by Seth, who was in the mood to antagonize me.  The woman preceding me did not ensure all her items were noticed, scanned, and placed in the bagging area by Seth – this blog’s villain. Making this my responsibility, Seth asked me, “is this yours?”  Thinking he was referring to the items behind the shopping belt divider, a piece of hard plastic I thought clearly does its job, I said yes.

Seth closes out the transaction associated with the woman in front of me.  As he prepared to scan my items, I told him that lone carton of whatever the woman had planned to purchase was not mine.  This infuriated Seth, prompting him to say something to the effect of “this is why I asked you if this was yours.” I nearly sprang my vocal cords in hurriedly responding with, “excuse me, it is the woman in front of me and your responsibility to ensure her transaction is completed correctly not mine.” I went on to say, “I am quite sure you need to adjust your tone” to which Seth replied, “oh my tone is fine.”  Wrong answer Seth.

Take the High Road!

Street Closed

Now comes the point where calls for “taking the high road” usually ring the loudest.  I admire former First Lady Michelle Obama – one of my biggest heroines – AND I believe “when they go low you go high” deserves an asterisk*. Racism – blatant or subtle – misspeaking, misogyny, bigotry, ignorance, – willful or innocent – having a bad day, going through a divorce, having dealt with rush hour traffic, recovering from eating bad sushi, any forms of bullying, just loving our country so much, working hard, being from a good family, responses such as “don’t mind him,” and useless statements such as “oh, that’s just Seth or insert name” and any other reasons outside of being decent and respectful fall under such as asterisk.

Admittedly, I could have let Seth’s bad faith comment slide and chose not to engage him just to keep the peace among fellow Costco members who would never ever have gotten such a retort. That approach does not work for me, never has. I have ascribed to it countless times just to maintain peace in situations of strife during taxing family interactions.  The only thing not speaking up on the spot has done for me involves years of mental exhaustion, endless rumination after the fact about what I should have said and how I should have said it, and unshakable resentment toward those who wielded the most psychological damage.

The Benefit of the Doubt?

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Of course, Seth could have been having a bad day.  Who cares?  I have bad days yet do not go around snapping at strangers – particularly those connected to my livelihood. As much as “real” Americans (not all yet enough) purposefully and recklessly call the police on people of color knowing said individuals may wind up dead for reasons not connected to the truth or basic human decency, I do not have the luxury of aimlessly expressing frustration.

Seth could have dealt with rude Costco members all day, encountering the rudest of them all just prior to my transaction with him.  And?  Just the other day at Apple University Village in Seattle’s U-District, I purchased a new band for my Apple Watch.  The “guy from a nice family” comes over to help.  I identified the band I wanted. After learning it costs $149 I decided not to purchase it. The Apple employee immediately responds with some sort of garbled, awkward supposition that I could not afford it.  Wrong answer Apple guy. Sure, this is not the rudest of responses or the direst of situations yet the assumptions on which the comment were based are offensive and misguided.

I decided the utility of purchasing the watch band was not worth the opportunity cost of handing over $149 plus tax for it.  Being able to afford it was not the issue.  My spouse Larry and I have redirected our spending to focus more on traveling and expanding our nest egg. Such an explanation is none of his business or anyone else’s for that matter – I shared it here to make a point. The “bro” who assumed I could not afford it does not need to know all those details. This is the benefit of the doubt the Apple guy did not provide me.

Well damn Keith, why are you expecting so much from this guy?  He is only trying to do his job. He probably talks to tons of people faking their interest in Apple products they know full-well they cannot afford – wasting his time while “real” customers with “real” money to spend go unattended.  That may be true AND he – for some odd reason – placed me in the wrong group, the one of “fake” customers.  I promise, this is not paranoia or hyperbole people it is everyday death by a thousand micro-insults.

Ok Keith, you (may) have experienced racism but working in retail is tough. You must remember, the people at Apple work really hard trying to teach and soothe Luddites about the Command key and Bluetooth. You should relax, goes the well-intended yet privileged-soaked narrative.  Getting back to Seth at Costco, maybe you should cut him some slack. Absolutely not. I have worked in customer service and retail environments too. From the dungeons of a Hardee’s meat locker to America’s third place in Starbucks coffee shops in the Deep South – two totally different ends of the customer service spectrum – some patrons treated me as if we were in the depths of 1960’s Bombingham, AL.

I am by far no saint.  During periods of working in customer services, I too treated customers in a less than ideal way at times.  The difference here is they provoked me, not vice versa.  Yes, I checked their terrible behavior and probably should have let it slide.  For instance, while working at Starbucks I would put rude asshats’ marked cup at the back of the queue or in the trash can forcing them to wait while patrons who arrived after them received their perfectly crafted lattes or cappuccinos before the hecklers got theirs.  I did not overtly and repeatedly disrespect them in a public way. Allowing for the human element of a Freudian slip even, I would have been less pissed if Seth attempted to shroud his disdain.  In his eyes, I did not deserve the effort of clandestine racism. But sure, Seth’s job is hard.

Fairytale Reasoning for Obviously Unacceptable Behavior

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I find hard to believe Seth’s repeated comments align with Costco’s guiding principles, mission, and/or vision statement. His brazenness irks me more than the act itself.  He probably has been rude to customers many times before without the management team of the SODO location or any at which he has worked holding him accountable. He figured “putting me in my place” was a low-risk endeavor.  Secondly, he may feel empowered to “take his country back” from a fake American like me.  Wait, what?

There is a growing phenomenon where many “everyday people” and “average Joes” have become more courageous in their racially motivated vitriol and bigotry toward others who are not obviously of European descent. Donald John Trump – the “working man’s billionaire” and buffoon extraordinaire currently occupying the Oval Office – bears some of this responsibility. Our “fair and balanced” mainstream media gives us an uninterrupted view of his suffocating uncouthness and Executive Branch antics which go unpunished by our flaccid Congress. If Trump can say and do whatever he pleases and is never held accountable, so can I – think the mistaken Seths in flyover and coastal states alike.

This false narrative is leading a lot of people down a dangerous path.  They are the Trump supporters who stand in dark rooms staring wantonly through windows into the sunlight while telling the Washington Post for the billionth time what they are thinking.  Even the liberals who cannot possibly be racist with their black friends, gay brothers, or Latina wedding planners are for diversity and inclusion until someone like me moves in next door. I would like to reference the increasingly popular response to this mindset of anything Trump can do I can do better, “don’t let your President get your ass whooped.”  Yet, we cannot place the behavior of the Seths who are too busy to follow politics at the Orange-burglar’s feet. In the land of personal responsibility, family values, bootstrapping, and poor choices Seth and the ilk continue to knowingly make choices that are fueled by hate and fear given generational conditioning of believing such antics are their God-given rights. Ok, suffering the consequences of said rights is an act of God as well.

 So, When Will This Blog Pivot to a Happy Ending?  Hint: One never materialized

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Real life seldom offers happy endings.  Walt Disney and Hollywood have brainwashed us into thinking pivoting to happy endings represents the natural order of things.  Those of us branded pessimistic, cynical, and/or “unpatriotic” know life seldom doles out happy endings – just endings. Deal with it, the universe says. After Seth’s defense of “my tone is fine,” I cannot remember the specifics of our dialogue. Physically he became jittery and clumsy in executing my transactions. He turned beet red, hung his heads as if he were a wounded puppy, and trembled and shook uncontrollably in giving back my Costco card and receipt. The more discombobulated he became, the more I quietly berated him. I looked him directly in his retinas and utter every piercing statement.  He thought I would loudly cause a scene prompting security to remove me or worse (or better according to some) a cop to gun me down on the spot. I delivered no such gift to Seth.

The lesson I hoped Seth received in that moment is if you think that sort of behavior is fine – being unapologetically and provokingly disrespectful to anyone for any reason because you feel such an action fits within Free Speech and Free Commercial Speech even – then you must deal with all that comes with such behavior. Free Speech does not equal freedom from consequences of said speech.

How do I know Seth was a racist? The same way I know one stomach pang signals imminent crowning versus one that connotes flatulence – most of the time you get it right.  Getting it wrong creates a situation we all loathe, sharting. So, accusations of racism are not fake.  I do not make them at the drop of a hat.  The use of the word “most” may not suffice for those wanting to hear “both sides.”  Luckily, such individuals – and we on the receiving end of malevolence know them very well – do not have the veto power of invalidating our experiences.  The prose of this blog exemplifies typical rebuttals of such agents forcing us to give benefits of the doubt to bullies, racists, bigots, misogynists, and the ilk.  The extra work of validating our experiences to a high enough bar that satisfies those unaffected by our plight is infuriating.

What is the takeaway from this commonplace experience?

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Costco seems to be an upstanding company – one that is very cognizant of how their employees (should) treat customers.  Given Sam’s Club waning prominence – a comparable competitor – maybe Costco is becoming too confident in the market share the Seattle-based company has. This alleged arrogance among executive level decision makers, risk managers, employee relations teams, and store-level leadership dangerously signals to front-line employees that exhibiting basic levels of decency and respect to Costco members is no longer important.  Irrespective of how we treat them – goes the front-line employees hypothetical thought processes – they must shop here.

You see what I did in the previous paragraph?  Given Seth abhorrent customer services skills, his alleged hatred for me, and his wanting to pick a fight for insert inane reason, I created an entirely unfounded narrative about the entirety of the Costco workforce.  I hypothetically chose to not only hold Seth to account, I offered suppositions that generalized his INDIVIDUAL behaviors to an entire cohort of people – namely the entire Costco workforce.  What a horrible thing for me to do, right?  Seth is just one person – not the spokesperson for all that is Costco.  This is the very thing black and brown people in America experience every day, multiple times a day, in every facet of our lives.  We are judged and treated terribly because of something another black or brown person has done, was perceived to do, or simply lied about doing. Seth’s behavior deserves corrective action(s). I will continue to shop at Costco – for now.


The End

Everyday Storytelling Racism – How I See and Experience It

Keith View All →

I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.

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