To start at the beginning, I worked at a fast food restaurant a few years ago. The staff was pretty close so there were times that I hung out with managers outside of work even though it wasn’t allowed because I was their employee. I hung out with Carol* many times and began to look at her as a friend instead of as my manager.
One night Carol and my other manager, Todd* asked me to go out with them for karaoke. This was the first and the last time I ever hung out with Todd. Todd and Carol decided to stop by a boutique that was close to the karaoke restaurant because Todd wanted to visit a friend who was working there.
When we entered, it was late so we were the only ones in the store. Carol and Todd were chatting away with his friend, who was also the store manager of the boutique. I'm an introvert, so I decided to avoid the potential awkwardness of meeting a new person by shopping around. I found some cute nail polishes by the cash register and decided to buy them. That’s when I started interacting with this woman.
Whatever Carol, Todd, and this woman were talking about led to the offensive jokes. I love comedy and routinely watch stand-up specials, but I hate trashy two-line jokes that rely on stereotypes and a person’s hatred for a group of people.
This store manager apparently loved these type of jokes about black people specifically, because she couldn’t wait to share them with me. If you were hoping to find out which offensive black jokes she decided to throw my way, then you will be disappointed. There are enough people in this world telling these type of jokes that I've decided to not give this woman a bigger platform, or risk the chance that the jokes are the only things one takes away from this story. Instead I will give you the kind of reaction I had during her nasty little comedy performance.
I felt so stupid just standing there with the little bag of newly purchased nail polish in my hands as she did it. It made me extremely uncomfortable. Carol and Todd were right there next to me not adding to this conversation, but also not stopping it. This woman must have been able to notice my discomfort because she then gave me a chance to throw something back at her.
“Now you can tell me a sexist joke. I hate those,” she said to me.
It was one of the weirdest interactions I’ve ever had. I’m black so I’m no stranger to racist jokes, but to roll them off to a stranger of that race, and then offer a chance to diss her own gender as some type of retribution is crazy. Did she forget that I am black and a woman? Or does my blackness overshadow everything else about my identity? Why does she assume that I would even want to make these type of jokes with her?
I wish I could tell you that I came up with a clever way to point out her stupidity, but I felt small. I simply told her no then walked to the opposite end of the store to stand by the door and wait for Carol and Todd to join me.
I wish I could say that Carol and Todd got the point that I wanted to leave, but they lingered to talk with this woman for quite some time. I really wanted to go home entirely, but they later joined me to leave and walk to the karaoke restaurant. It wasn’t until the hostess seated us that I realized I wouldn’t be able to fake it with Carol and Todd. They watched a stranger put me and my race on the spot, and didn’t even bat an eye. I didn’t sit down with them, but told them I was going home.
When I got home, I cried and told my mother everything. I still had my nail polish in a bag with the store’s name on it. It seemed to mock me about the entire situation. Haha! She made you look stupid for being black and you helped her boost her sales! My mom immediately told me to go back and return the nail polish and then complain.
I went back that same night to return it, now mad as hell. The boutique was closed, but I did see the office light on in the back of the store. I tried knocking on the door, but the girl never came out so I went back home again with my tail between my legs.
My mom then had me write the whole situation out to the boutique’s customer service. I was then going to return my nail polish the next day. I did this without seeing the store manager.
My mom, being the protective mother she is, visited the store a couple of days later, after not getting a reply back from the company. Turns out the store manager was working. When my mom approached her and asked her if she had said the disgusting jokes, she flat out denied it and said that I lied. When she came home to tell me, I was furious! Did she really think this was the type of thing she could deny and it would go away?
I wanted her to lie to my face, so I went back with my mom to confront this woman. Now this boutique is probably 5-10 minutes from my house. We left shortly after my mom came home to tell me what happened. By the time we got back to the boutique the store manager was gone for “lunch.”
Again I felt defeated. I was too shocked to stand up for myself that night, but finally when I had the gumption to say something, this woman ran! We tried calling the district manager about the situation, but didn’t get a reply. Her employee could tell how upset we were and calmly talked to us back in the office about the whole situation.
According to the employee, this type of stuff wasn’t out of character for her manager. She also offered up the information that she was a lesbian, I guess to show some kind of solidarity that she falls into some type of minority group and would also be offended if she was in my shoes. Either way she was nice and all my mom and I wanted was someone from this company to sympathize, and make sure this type of thing didn’t happen again.
Sadly I couldn’t find this sympathy back at work. Things were awkward between Todd, Carol, and me. Todd pulled me aside and asked me to stop pursuing justice for what had happened because his friend needed her job. I felt like if she truly valued her job, she wouldn’t have treated a black customer differently for her race, but that’s just my business sense.
Now I was never a good cashier at this fast food restaurant. I was young, didn’t really have many bills to pay, and so I was very indifferent. I got a customer complaint which isn’t uncommon, but the repercussions this time were very different. Usually I was just given a verbal slap on the wrist for not smiling at customers. Something like: “Well, just don’t do it again” from my managers.
This time Todd took it upon himself to scold me. The wounds from the boutique incident were still very fresh. In the middle of a much more serious talk than usual about the complaint, he said one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way.
“If you want to be a shift manager--,” started Todd.
I cut off his sentence.
“I don’t want to be a shift manager anymore.” I said. In my head I continued, "I don’t want to work for you anymore either."
It’s possible that he wasn’t threatening me to get payback for his friend, but I think he was and I couldn’t handle it. To avoid anymore confrontations with Todd, I politely asked my store manager to avoid scheduling me for shifts with him. Luckily he did so.
After an email to the CEO of the boutique’s company, and a subtle threat to go to the press about this awful store manager, we got a letter that apologized for the situation. A week later we visited the store again and were told by an employee that the store manager was indeed fired for her behavior.
I was relieved and I was so happy that my mom was in my corner the entire time. Carol, who I thought was my friend, ended up speaking to my mother sometime after the incident. She said that she was sorry and that should have spoken up when it happened. I stopped hanging out with her. I don’t blame her for what happened, but I do feel wronged by Todd and Carol for overlooking the whole situation.
Neither of them said anything about the offensive jokes on the way to the karaoke restaurant because they didn’t think anything was wrong with what happened.
At the end of the summer, I had to go back to school, so I had to leave the fast food job anyway. That was my first job ever and, after about 3 years of working there off and on, I decided to never return. I wanted a new start at a job where I’m less aware of whether my managers have questionable judgment when it comes to these type of situations.
All I can do is hope that this situation has made me stronger. Like my mom, who knew what should be done to get real results in cases like these. I’m also crossing my fingers that I wasn’t the only person who learned from this situation that could have been avoided with common decency.