Imagine walking into your favorite shoe store, ready to make a grand purchase and upset your bank account. The store is empty. It’s just you, the store employee and heaven. Every shoe-lovers dream.

 And then nothing.

 The store employee doesn’t acknowledge you. She doesn’t help, and seems irritated and reluctant when you ask to get a particular shoe in a different size. You even consider walking out with an unpaid item just to see if she is bothered.

Now imagine another shopper, of the same age, coming into the store and interrupting your alone time. But this time, the employee rushes over to help her. Smiling and glowing.

By now of course your shopping excitement has worn off, but you really want the shoes. So as you sit to wait for some help, you become a spectator.

A couple walks in, it’s getting busy, and the employee doesn’t acknowledge or help them, so they walk out. And then finally, a family walks in. But this time, the employee is somehow able to assist them.

Human nature is to jump to conclusions. But you do not want to make any unfounded assumptions.

When you first walk in, you think that maybe the employee doesn’t quite like her job or is having one of those days. You understand. You’ve worked in retail before. And when she helps the second customer, you think, maybe she realized the store is getting busy and actually has to get some work done.

When the couple walks in and isn’t acknowledged, you think it’s understandable, the employee is already caught up helping somebody else. But when the 4th shoppers are acknowledged, you start to see a trend. Perhaps some ‘every other customer’ policy.

And you?

You fume for days on end, drawing conclusions about the quality of service,or lack there of. You question whether you didn’t look like a serious shopper (even if it doesn’t matter), until it eats you up and you decide to write a blog post.

Except, at the back of your mind, you know exactly what happened. What has been happening. But you give this person the benefit of a doubt.

 Seth Godin wrote in a recent post that to avoid misunderstandings, just ask.

So you go back to the store 3 days later. You need answers. You want to believe so badly that this young lady was simply having a weird day and was overwhelmed by how the store went from 0–100 busy in five minutes. You want to be as objective as possible, politics aside, and believe that your favorite store hasn’t hired a discriminatory employee.

She’s not there. And you’re somewhat relieved. Because you would hate to have two people in denial at the same time.



Here’s why I’m angry. I am black. The second shopper was white. The couple was black, and the last family was white.

And I didn’t get my shoes.


  1. I had a similar experience less than six months ago when I walked into one of the few Fabric Shops in Portland to buy fabric. The particular roll of fabric I picked had no price tag so I had approached an employee for help. As she looked in all corners trying to find the price, another customer walked in and approached her. They engaged into a conversation and as I was under the impression that she (the customer) was asking a question, I waited patiently, and hoped that what I was thinking were mere thoughts. To my horror, the employee proceeded to help the customer select fabric and bring it to the cutting table, proceeding to serve her, laying mine to the side. As I stood and watched (I was speechless), another employee walked out of the staff room and with a smile, asked if I had been served. My response? “I thought I was being served but obviously not!”. She asked if she could serve me. As you can imagine, but this time I was so furious and so responded “no thank you; I will take by business elsewhere”. She looked at the employee at the cutting table as if to say “what is going on?”, but the employee turned away and carried on serving the customer. I walked out of the shop quietly as I saw them all go about their business as if nothing ever happened. I sat in my car and drove to another local store where luckily, I found what I was looking for. My instincts kept telling me to go back to the store and demand a reason for this act, but I didn’t. Now looking back, I should have asked to speak to the Manager, at least, but I guess I was so angry I was not even thinking straight at the time.

    Needless to say, I am black. The employee was white, and so was the customer who walked in shortly after me. Sadly, Portland does not have enough Fabric Shops so I have had to bite the gun and still shop there – hmmm!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Janet. It sounds like such a frustrating incident. Especially when you say you have to bite the gun and still shop there. It is the worst reality for minorities. Sorry you had to go through that!

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