“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” ~William Penn
Little did I know that when I locked my car and headed for the front doors to a local store that my life perscpective would change so drastically.
I hadn’t even got a chance to enter the store before an African American woman in her mid-forties approached me and asked if I would help her return an item. The item she had purchased was intended for her daughter as a baby shower gift, which her daughter had already received from another relative. The lady who asked for my help simply wanted to exchange the item for something else in the store and was given a hard time by each sales associate, telling her that she needed an ID or the transaction could not take place.
I went to the counter with the woman so we could use my ID and the sales associate immediately started accusing her of grabbing the first random person she saw to help her. Although that was true, she had indeed grabbed me – a random person, I didn’t understand why it mattered. Not everyone is given the opportunity to obtain an ID, and this particular woman rode the bus everywhere she went and had other pictures ID’s and government identification cards. So after speaking with multiple less-than-helpful sales associates, we asked to speak with a manager. The store manager greeted us and explained that there was no way to return the item without a receipt and then went on to say that there was no way that she could prove she purchased the item and that he “had to protect his overhead and his assets.”
Now I am a management major so I know what he was trying to accomplish here by saying that. The problem that I saw with his statement is that the woman was trying to exchange the item, not return it for cash. The store would still receive the full amount for the item being returned when it was sold again, PLUS the amount over the exchange for the item she wanted. Something was not adding up here. That was the moment he threw a subtle racial comment into the mix and I lost it. I must admit that his comment was perfectly executed, but smarmy and degrading. I took the initiative to explain that if I, a young white female, were to enter his store and request to make an exchange without a receipt that I would not be denied the privilege -as I have proof from the past. He must have realized at that moment what he had done, because he agreed to exchange the item.
This story is not meant to cry out and be angry; it has many valuable lessons in it. The first is to help a stranger in need. I definitely hesitated when the woman approached me and asked for my help, but quickly in my head I asked myself “why not, what valid reasons do I actually have?” I had none, so I helped the woman.
The second lesson we can take from this story is not to judge a book by its cover. The woman was a little rough around the edges and looked like she had definitely gone through some bad times, but she deserved the same equal treatment that anyone else does, and I genuinely wanted to help her. She expressed her ultimate gratitude after we left the store and I felt that she really meant it and that she was really a good person. I could have been taken as a fool, I guess I will never know. The important thing is that I did something for another human being when they were in need, and the rest is on them.
The Manager should have followed in my lead instead of judging by race and appearance. Managers need to be very careful of the situations they put themselves in, be aware of the phrases they use, and should try to look past appearances before making judgments. Proper customer service is important to retain customers and lessen liabilities.