It was just another day of working at my job. As I was walking towards the store I felt the cold breeze of a winter day. I walked in, took off my headphones, and proceeded to clock in. I was a little tired, but still happy to be able to work because it gives my family some needed income to help me participate in debate. I changed into my work uniform and got ready to help customers.
I work at a suit shop. My first customer was looking to rent suits for a wedding. I thought that this would be fun. It was still a relatively new experience for me to help customers try on suits. I told my manager so that she could make sure everything was going well and I proceeded to ask the customer what kind of suit he was looking for. He wanted a blue suit, so I started taking his measurements. However, when I was in the middle of my measurements, he asked my manager, “Can you do it instead? I don’t want him measuring me for my wedding, maybe for the prom but not my wedding.” He insisted that I didn’t have enough training. Although my manager said that she would make sure that I did it correctly, he insisted that she do it. He then said,”It’s nothing personal.”
“It’s alright,” I responded.
But it wasn’t alright. His continued insistence that it was “nothing personal” made me believe that there was more to it. It felt racially motivated. I could see the disgust in his eyes. I sensed that he didn’t like me because I was a Brown person in this affluent suit shop where the customers were primarily white and discrimination was normal.
This behavior fit into a pattern I had seen of white people pretending not to be racist or covering up their racist actions. Oftentimes discriminatory actions like these get overlooked, but they continue to happen. As someone who has experienced discrimination, I was able to realize it was yet another subtle form of white people being racist towards Brown people. Everywhere we go we are judged for our skin color, but this was the furthest I had seen it go. A man refused to work with me because of my skin color. It wasn’t just the racism, it was the power dynamic in the incident that troubled me. I felt helpless and, after the continued insistence that it was “nothing personal,” I felt rage. I had experienced the same thing before but was unable to act or do anything about it. It was a man against a child, and a white customer against a Brown employee. It was an abuse of privilege and disrespected me in every way. He was a man yet still had no courtesy to respect me at all because he had all the power and I had none. However, I couldn’t do anything at the moment so I just let it happen because, as an employee, the customer is always right.
It isn’t always like this. I had also helped a customer who was extremely nice. As two people from minority communities, we bonded over feeling out of place in this store. In a suit shop filled with mainly white people, people of color oftentimes feel alienated or left out. Throughout this experience, I felt a connection with the customer because we both felt the same way about the store. I was pleasantly happy with our conversation as I helped this customer find the shoes he wanted. This positive experience made me feel a little better about the future of the world. As a community, we have become used to letting discrimination happen, but at times we have to stand up.