Once upon a time, in a retail store not so far away, I was working the customer service desk of a major retailer. I was a manager at the time, but the store was busy so I was helping out at the service desk.
The company (let’s just say its name rhymes with Y’all Fart) for which I worked had just started cashing payroll checks just a few short weeks ago. A woman walked up to me and handed me a paycheck from Staples (yeah, we’ve got that) and told me she’d like to cash it.
Now, the way the check cashing worked is we had to run the check through the register so that the check reader could read (duh) the check number and determine if the check could be cashed. I have no idea what criteria were used to determine whether or not a check could be cashed; all I know is that the register determined whether or not we could.
So I accepted the check from her and ran it through the register. It was declined. I tried again thinking that maybe the check wasn’t read correctly. It was denied again.
I inhaled sharply (as bad news never goes over well) before I informed her that I wouldn’t be able to cash her check. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but the check has been declined.”
This (obviously) dampened her mood.
“I’ve had a check cashed here before. Now all of a sudden you can’t cash my checks?” she growled.
“I apologize, ma’am, but the register has declined your check and there’s nothing I can do about it.” I explained unhelpfully. There really was nothing I could do. We were forbidden from overriding the register’s decision to decline a check.
“Is it because I’m black?” she asked angrily.
Her accusation hit me like a punch in the gut. I was shocked. She could see perfectly well that the register had declined the check because there was a display facing her that said so. I had never been accused of being racist before. I’m not a person who’s often at a loss for something to say. I have a quick wit and a sharp, sarcastic tongue. But her question straight dumbfounded me. It would never even occur to me to deny somebody service based on any physical attributes a person possessed.
“Ma’am, I assure you that the register has no idea what color you are. I apologize again, but if the register denies the check there’s really nothing I can do,” I tried again.
“I wanna talk to a manager,” she demanded.
Now, at this particular time, the managers at the store I worked at had a choice between wearing a dress shirt and tie or wearing a polo shirt underneath a company vest. I hate (fucking hate) dress shirts and ties, so I always wore a polo shirt and a vest. I can see how that might be somewhat confusing, but the name badge I was wearing clearly stated that I was a manager.
“I am a manager, ma’am,” I informed her.
“No, you’re not. You’re wearing a vest. Managers don’t wear vests. Get me a manager,” she obstinately commanded.
I didn’t quite know how to argue with that “logic,” so I gave her a look which clearly asked, “Are you fucking serious?” but she didn’t budge. I left her stewing in her anger and found a manager who hadn’t made the mistake of wearing a vest to work. I explained what was going on and was rewarded with the same, “Are you fucking serious?” look I had just worn a few short moments before.
“I know,” I said, exasperated, “but she refuses to believe I’m a manager. Can you go tell this woman we can’t cash her check?”
Now, this other manager was running a register because, as I said, we were busy. So I had to find someone to take over for him so he could come tell this stubborn woman that we couldn’t cash her check.
After I had found someone to take over for the other manager, we both headed back to the customer service desk where I stood behind the other manager and stoically listened to her tell him that I was a racist. The manager explained to her that I was, in fact, not racist and offered to try to cash the check again for her. He signed on to the register and ran the check through. It was denied again. He explained to her the same thing I had. The register denied it and there’s nothing we can do for her.
I braced myself for a toddler-like outburst. I was ready for us all to be declared racists and the entire company a phantom branch of the KKK. Even as ready as I was for her rebuttal, her response still shocked me. She said, “Okay,” grabbed her check, and left the store.
That other manager was just as white as I am (I actually think he was whiter) but why was he not accused of racism? He didn’t do anything differently than I had. Was it because he was taller? Was it because of his kick-ass mustache? (Seriously, this guy’s mustache could give Tom Selleck’s mustache a run for its money.) Was I just the target of her initial rage upon learning she’d have to go elsewhere to cash her check?
People suck. This was but another brick in my wall of misanthropy.