race + gender + politics

The Invisible Woman Experience

June 20, 2013

I had an unexpected and disappointing encounter during my conference trip to Seattle. I was with some colleagues walking around downtown on our lunch break when some one wanted to stop in a jewelry store to look at watches. I went in with her.

As soon as we stepped in, a man came hurriedly over to ask my colleague how he could help her. She was standing in front of one of the watch display cases and I was standing only a foot or so away at the opposite counter with the jewelry. I thought it was awkward that he dis not acknowledge my presence or ask if I needed help. But I ignored it and began to look at the sapphire rings in the case.

I spent a few minutes admiring some of the beautiful pieces. There were a few other employees in the store, at the opposite end from me, one of whom came over to the center jewelry case where I was looking, but showed no signs of registering my presence, let alone bothered to ask if I needed any assistance.

I started to get irritated that no one bothered to attend to me. My colleague and I were the only people in the store, and there were more than enough staff around that appeared to not be actively busy. I made my way half way around the circular case before a woman came over to me (she looked as if she came from a back area as I hadn’t seen her when we first walked in) and asked if she could help me. I said I was looking but would let her know when I was ready to look more closely at the jewelry.

Poor customer service is a huge pet peeve of mine. But I would venture to argue this particular instance was racially motivated. We entered the store together, and both of us were dressed pretty casually (jeans). The only obvious difference was that my colleague is a white woman – allowing her to receive immediate attention and assistance, while I am a woman of color and did not so much as get a “Hello, some one will be with you shortly.”

I wanted to let some one know how unhappy I was for the treatment (or lack thereof) I received when I first arrived. But the woman who waited on me was so chatty and complimentary of me (she was gushing over my awesomely snatched eyebrows), that I actually forgot about how unpleasant my initial impression had been. And I had fallen in love with some beautiful sapphire rings that she had shown me that that I didn’t think of much else until much later in the day.

I occasionally experience microaggressions that feel racially motivated but there’s usually not enough empirical evidence to make a firm claim one way or another. It just feels wrong. But this incidence leaves little room for any other interpretation. It was just an uncomfortable and annoying experience – like, we’re still doing this “you can’t possibly be a serious potential customer so we won’t bother acknowledging you”?? Guess I’ll just take my money elsewhere so some one else can get the sale and commission…

Have you ever experienced blatantly poor customer service that you were sure was motivated based on your looks? How did you react/respond?

You gon see me today,
~Gem

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4 Comments

  • Reply movss June 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    I had it happen. I brought it to the manager’s attention and the lady was fired on the spot.

    I was in Panera back home. I’m from a small town and I heard they had finally opened one. I hopped on over one afternoon for a broccoli cheddar soup and the lady who waited on me, never once looked me in the eye while taking my order. I ignored that. But, what got me was when she took my card, she swiped it, and somewhat threw it back in my direction. And then washed her hands immediately afterward at the sink behind her and said, “I don’t know why they them people like her in here.”

    I was like “oh yeah…” This lady was about mid-40s. Her co-worker was either still in high school or fresh out it seemed. She was really embarrassed. I looked at her and she said, “I’m going to go get my manager.” I told them what happened and the young lady and a few customers who saw the whole ordeal backed up the incident. The chick was fired on the spot and my meal was free.

    People think racism is this southern thing that is reserved for old white people like Paula Deen (hee, her), but I’m from Ohio…that’s almost as north as you can get. SMH.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      wowwwwww. smh well Panera’s all over the place have had issue with racial incidents. really too bad, i enjoy the hell out of their food!!!

      i’m glad the manager and other workers addressed the issue and did not tolerate that behavior. thats a bit redeeming. its just so ridiculous to me that we still have to put up with this foolishness in this day and age. smdh

  • Reply madscientist7 June 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    i’ve had super aggressive behavior concerning customer service. i’ve been followed around stores like i was some petty criminal. not cool at all.

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