The Make-Up Mishap
Ho boy. People love when I tell this story in person. I apparently get animated. I am making the decision to not be as serious in sharing this tale. It still gets me heated to this day. Hopefully this all translates to you. Some background for you.
-I was a key holder at one of the many retail/medical stores you see around.
-It was not at all unusual for me to go days or weeks without seeing another obvious minority. This was in a retail environment with at least hundreds of different customers and interactions daily. Today was an exception. A floating pharmacist (one who went to store-to-store as needed), a fellow Black man, was working today.
-Since I began wearing glasses it is rare to see me take them off. Removing them is about all the fighting preparation or warning I am likely to engage in.
-I do not often mention names but…
If you’re out there, how are you Brother?! How are the kids? How’s your mom? You all doing alright?
Glenn is from the same neighborhood I am, just a few decades apart. When we found this out, he’d ask me about families he’d remembered, and I’d update him as to how they were. We had similar service facades, but also similar expressions when we were annoyed by when the song-and-dance went bad. He was a joy to work it each and every day. We got things done, and as this story will prove, he had my back.
I think this serves as adequate background. So, on with the story!
When I arrived for my shift, the store manager pulled myself and the assistant managers into the office to detail a scamming ring involving the returns of an expensive make up. Standard stuff. I paid particular attention because our store was designed badly. We had two entrances, one of which did not have any human oversight whatsoever. I had watched people walk into the store emptyhanded and grab $30~100 of vitamins and supplements off the shelves. A few minutes later I would be called up to approve an in-store credit return without a receipt (per company policy) for the person I just mentioned. I can say without exaggeration that I saved my store at least $10,000 by bucking policy just a bit with all the times this happened. Some quick math can give you an estimation of how often this occurred.
I relayed the information and my suspicious to Glenn, punctuated with “I don’t think it will come up, but if it does just call me to the front and let me handle it.”
“Got it Boss Man.” It was always odd for him to call me that, but whatever.
Like every Harry Potter movie I did not need to wait more than a few hours before the lesson became necessary. Glenn called me to the front to confirm a return for the very make up products I had been warned about. For ease, let us refer to this woman as Jane.
I told my cousin to pick up some make up for me, and she got the wrong type. I have the receipt here, but it was on her card. You give back cash for debit, right? Could I do that? I think it would be easier for me” Jane reported to me.
Jane was, like me, black.
Normally this would not have been a problem save for a fact I have willfully omitted until now for effect. These make up products were, as near as I could tell, from a Nordic area. The style, emphasis marks, and length of the words had that feel. I was reminded, somewhat, of my reading of Beowulf from high school. All the models on the make up display and associated press were svelte, tall, very blonde, and very very pale. Being that pale, on a blanched white background under direct florescent lighting had a bizarre blending effect. Having a little experience with make up from theatre I knew one thing: That make up was not for me.
As such, I thought her story had… problems.
First, problem was I did not recognize this woman. I had worked at this store for about a year, left for a few months, and returned. I knew the majority of customers. They were all regulars. I knew entire families, and they recognized me. So for a customer to come in that I didn’t know, with such a story was leveled against her.
Next, her female cousin couldn’t see that make up was obviously the wrong color for her skin? Sure, I don’t know what skin tone her “cousin” had, but I assumed it to be the same. Even if it wasn’t, this was just a poor choice.
Third, she had in mind our return policy enough that she knew that we could cash out debit purchases? I mean… maybe you made a lot of debit based returns…
…but you are trying to get $300~400 back for make up. Why did your cousin so casually get so much expensive make up?
To Jane’s credit, she had a receipt. She had the make up, all unopened. But as I said, my store was not the most secure. I certainly did not see her come in, and it was during a busy part of the day so Glenn did not either. He couldn’t confirm to me if she came in with the items.
On the Scales of Balance, I was going to have to give Jane the refund. I informed her that I would do so via in store credit and while not her ideal she would accept it. I was still not certain that I was not being scammed. I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to the store manager. But the products and receipt were in order. And the receipt was recent, inside the last 24 hours, and in nearly pristine shape.
I could ere on the side of customer service, granting the refund, and likely been alright. I could ere on the side of caution and refuse it, also due to solely having the details about the ongoing scam.
Apparently, I drew inward in my contemplation. The woman was becoming particularly agitated, and her voice was raising at me. I could hear customers in the store saying to the pharmacy staff that “Someone should really get the manager. That woman is causing quite the scene.” The pharmacy staff informed the inquisitive that she was already, in fact, speaking to the manager. This was met with a bit of a pithy “Oh.”
I point this detail out because I found it odd. This was not the first, nor the last, time a customer had berated me on the sales floor with enough stage presence to draw the attention of every other customer. However, this was the only time in all my experience that onlookers felt the detatchment to comment.
I marked it, but didn’t mind it. However, my eyes honed in on where I was listening and the woman got louder. Her tirade reached an apex.
She shouted at me “Oh, you’re not going to give me the refund because I’m Black, huh?!”
In the next 3~10 seconds a lot happened nearly all at once.
Jane, to her credit, immediately realized the foolishness of what she had said, but there was no recourse for her.
If I could put words to my emotion it would be “No, she didn’t just.” Wait… that’s gramatically correct? Huh. Even my rage is well spoken… anyhow… I was shocked, angry, and confused. That will be explained further below. In the moment however, I got squinty-eyed and couldn’t close my mouth all the way.
Not wanting to look directly at her I panned over the store. Customers in both the lines Glenn and I had, from the pharmacy, and prarie dogging their heads above the aisles looked on in what I think, for them, was likely something they had no context for. I didn’t either. They were not familiar with “The Race Card” I’d warrant, and if so it had been used against them. They had likely not seen it used in person, and not against someone from the same group.
My eyes eventually went to the pharmacy. The floater pharmacist was looking back at me mirroring my shock. I know I keep using that word, but we were all shocked. To allude to my earlier sentiment, his gaze seemed to say “No, she didn’t just say that to you.” But, she did.
I couldn’t stand there forever. So I closed my eyes, took a deep, audible breath in through clenched teeth, and turned back and looked at this woman. I had to go to work.
And Glenn, gods bless the man, was right there. I took the store keys, which also had a card to confirm more executive functions, off my hip and just held it out. He didn’t grab them. Didn’t snatch em. He wrapped his hand around them, just enough for the vibrations to confirm a solid hold, like a fly in a spiders’ web, and I dropped them into his care. This was his second job, and he had been a manager at his other for longer than I had been alive. I could trust him.
He then turned his attention to the woman he was ringing up. “Miss, if you could, I am going to void this transaction and move to the next register over.” The register he alluded to was on the other side of a pillar, effectively breaking line of sight. Glenn did as he said, and brought all the customers in his line and behind the woman I was now left with, as far away as he could. Customers at the pharmacy were still looking on agog. Glenn knew this was the part of Raiders of the Lost Ark in which the Ark would open. He got everyone looking away, motioning like he was guiding an airplane down a runway.
So now, it was only myself and Jane.
The honest truth is that I do not exactly remember what I originally said to Jane. I went on a very focused emotion-fueled tirade. As I tend to keep myself divorced from my emotions my clarity of memory from here on out is diminished. Thus these are not the actual words of my clapback, as the kids say, but merely a Tribute.
I removed my glasses. My barely quelled frustration was palpable. I pinched the bridge of my nose with one hand, eyes closed, and beckoned Jane nearer with a single finger of the other. “Miss, I am going to need you to come close. We are going to have a Come To Jasper moment. I am not certain if I want everyone to hear what I feel needs to be said to you.” Jane moved in closer and, as I leaned over the counter she did as well. When she was near enough to whisper to I managed to hiss politely.
“Have you lost your mind?!” I began, straightening back up since I let some of the emotion out.
My voice, while more audible now, was still at person-to-person volume. “You could have pulled this mess with anyone else in the store. Anyone else. If you really thought that you were being racially maligned, I am the one person who would have gone to bat for you. But you ruined that, plain and simple.
“Today is the first in many weeks that I have seen another obvious minority. In fact, knowing the backgrounds of many of my customers, it is literally the first day someone likely possessing any non-European heritage besides me has stepped foot in the store in as much time. And this is how it is punctuated.”
I sighed and looked her full on, then continued. “I was raised to have some expectation of community with other black people. But it is behavior like this that reinforces the good sense to stand apart. You’ve come into my store and acted like this was some neighborhood arguement. Just because you chose to yell the loudest doesn’t mean you won. I am not embaressed. I am not afraid. Just because I manage this store and carry myself as I do, do not make the mistake and think of me as lesser. Many have done that. All have been wrong.”
Everyone could tell I was tearing into this poor woman, but everyone got the idea to not watch obviously. Some had parked out front, and wanted to go directly to their cars. But Glenn, gods bless the man, knew the business. He knew what was going down. He directed people to use the back door or, at least, take the long route around the aisles. It wasn’t these folks fault, and he was just trying to keep em safe.
“Do you care to know how my day began?” I asked, not giving her the space to answer. Ah… rhetorical questions. “My manager pulled myself and the senior staff into a meeting to inform me of a series of scams being pulled with this make up brand specifically. Think you may know anything about this happening more than once?” Jane shifted back and forth uncomfortably. “That does not inspire confidence.”
I came out from behind the counter and beckoned Jane to follow me. People that had been skulking in the aisles nearby tried to dart out of the way as I approached. I brought Jane to the make up display which housed her products. Oddly, the exact same array of products were missing as that which encompassed her return.
“This is the make up you wanted your cousin to get, right? What is the brand name?” Jane looked at the word and tried in vain to settle on a single pronunciation. “So… you spelled it out for your cousin? This specifically? Do you study words and language?” I rolled one of the nearby mascara containers to the side. Words bearing aforementioned Nordic hallmarks, some being much greater than fifteen characters long, were now in view. In general, I brought attention to the whole display. “I am not sure where these come from. Greenland, Iceland, or Some-Land out there, but between that, the models, the promotions I sussed out one thing. That make up is not intended for subtly for someone with our skin tones. I was in theatre, so I know both about over the top and subtle make overs.” I led us back towards the registers.
“Here is what it comes down to. Do you get your refund? You had everything on your end in order. Even with my knowledge of an ongoing scam you did not have enough contradicory evidence for me to refuse you outright. It may be unfair to say so, but your outburst has tipped the scales WELL out of your favor. The ONLY thing the color of your skin has to do with you not getting this refund is that this make up is not designed for our skin tones. It causes your story to lose credibility.”
I took Jane’s make up and receipt, and threw them part and parcel into a return bin. I directed her gaze upward. She followed, thankfully, and took a good long look into the security camera. “Thank you for that, because now I have your face. I am going to be sending it, along with some nuances of your description, to every store within an hours’ drive from here.
“I do not like getting the police involved in my life (you, Dear Reader, now know why better than Jane), but you have taxed my limits. You have five seconds to walk out the door, ten to get out of my sight, and fifteen before my judgment shifts.”
“Now, get out of my store.”
Jane departed with all due haste. Considering I took the time to explain to her how she messed up, how she had me messed up, and how she could prevent messing up in the future, I performed a public service, really.
Still visibly seething, I proceeded to leave the sales floor. While the line of people was fairly deep (I always helped when there were more than three, and it was at least twice that), I was not in a place to provide top notch customer service. I had just served Jane, and had to go restock the buffet. A customer did call after me, asking me if I had any inclination to help ring people out.
And Glenn, gods bless the man… “Sir, you saw and heard what he just had to deal with. The most polite thing he can do right now is to give himself some space.”
I had stopped. I didn’t look back because rage was spilling off me, and I prefer to not glare at people that hadn’t earned it. But, if the gentleman so wished, I would have rung him up. After a few moments of silence, the gentleman murmured his ascent to wait. He probably realized I would ring him up, and likely didn’t want that.
I am still job hunting in the entry level retail sector, so sharing this story publically with no hurdle is likely not wise. However, it is a highlight for this article.
This is the zenith of Black People not considering me “one of them”. Jane had the lapse of sense, the gall, and the hutzpah to throw The Race Card at me. A lifetime of anger probably got unleashed in that moment.
Out of all the instances in my life, this one sits near the top of a list of those that anger me the most.
I think part of my ire is that I am annoyed when I see people indulge in practices that I work hard myself to keep in check. In this instance, I make it a serious point to not bring Race in as the reason if I am ever slighted against, even to the point in which there are times I probably should have called people on it.
As I said in this article race, racist, and racism are loaded words. They should not be tossed around lightly.
As such, to have it hurled at me was infuriating on many levels.
Admittedly, my level of disconnect from the Black community has left me feeling strange. My distance causes me to worry about my own feelings. Do I hate Black people? Do I hate the culture? Are such feelings the effect or cause of keeping my distance? How do I balance a lifetime of being told I am not Black with being unable to ignore it as a potential factor in recent years?
Just one instance can mess people up for a long time.
Gods bless the man.
May the Wee Folk in eaves, crawlspaces, forgotten attics, and every cozy nook and cranny ensure that naught is lost within the bounds of his home.
May the Small Gentlemen of the Hills always reveal safe, illuminating, and scenic paths to travel.
May those that preside over rains send what is needed, may the Earth provide bounty, and may the air be ever clear.
May he always know peace, and be filled thrice over with the joy he has brought to me.