I tend to engage with the customers at my workplace. It’s something that I’ve always done, since if you carry on a conversation, it’s not so much like they’re just there to shop, they might find that they have a ‘friend’ in the business and if they feel more comfortable, then perhaps their shopping experience will be a little less impersonal. And they might end spending more, which sometimes can be considered a good thing. Even so, there are times when customers, having become familiar, tell me things that surprise me sometimes and on occasion make me do a double take, or just completely bowl me over.
Case in point, this past week one of my older customers was telling me about what she did (and didn’t do) for Thanksgiving. Apparently she and her son have become estranged over the several months leading up to the holiday, so much so that she wasn’t invited to their house for the meal. Having been spurned, she was informed by one of her girlfriends that a couple of the local churches were serving a holiday dinner. The first church that she went to, apparently had served the dinner either the day before, or the weekend before, so there wasn’t anyone there when she arrived.
Upon going to the other church, she apparently was quite surprised by the fact that the vast majority of people there were “colored” (her word, not mine). That fact seemed to unnerve her so she left and didn’t partake. I try not to judge, I don’t know everyone’s upbringing or their politics or personal preferences, but I have to admit that I was rather taken aback with the way she was describing her obvious confusion and distaste over what she had found. I did ask her what she did for Thanksgiving dinner, and she quite nonchalantly said that she ‘went without’. I really wanted to ask her why she had such a problem taking a meal with her neighbors, but I could see that asking something of that nature would more than likely have done more harm than good.
I’m not colorblind, I have friends that are African-American. I went to high school with black kids, college and have worked with many over the years. When I was in college in my senior year, I even had a black roommate. He was from Brooklyn and a little rough around the edges, but we managed to get along.
Suffice it to say, it was just a little unnerving to hear someone in their 80s have that sort of reaction to people not of her own race. As far as we’ve come as a people, as a species, we seem to be continually reminded that we still have a long way to go.