Prejudice

“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”
-Albert Einstein

I have to dress up for work. All the way up to suit and tie at times. I don’t mind dressing up by I enjoy dressing down. I wear soccer shirts and jeans, or T-shirt and shorts when I get the chance to relax. Before I moved to the US I did not understand a lot of the labels that people have to live with every day. What is worse, I did not know that I was going to get a whole bunch of labels attached to me. Prejudice exists everywhere, but I believe that the US is the worse when it comes to labels. I have plenty of stories to tell about being discriminated against because of the color of my skin, but race aside I want to tell a little story about prejudice.

I walked into a cell phone store on my day off. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My Gym shoes were probably not brand new, but overall all my clothes were clean and in good shape. The store was almost empty. Besides 2 customers already being assisted there was a supervisor that was not helping anyone at the moment. I walked around the store looking at cell phones and eventually approached the supervisor to ask him about getting a new phone. The guy acted annoyed and without even asking me about what features or plan I was looking for showed me the “free” phones. At this point I was becoming annoyed. I was not just feeling like I was wasting his time, but I felt judged… and at the time I thought it was probably due to my race… however I was wrong.

A couple of weeks later, after work in full suit and tie I had a chance to stop by the same store. By then I had researched what phones were available and was ready to just make the purchase. I went to the same store for convenience and since I did not need help I figured there would be no problem. I could have never been prepared for what happened next.

The same guy that had “helped” me before was there. At first I felt, oh great I am going to have to deal with this jerk again. It was about 5:30 PM and the store was full of people. They were not just busy, they were swamped. I almost turned around and left because I felt like I was going to just have to wait forever. I walked around a little and looked at phones and examined features, like I had done the first time I was there. I decided, its way too busy I will either go to another store or just wait. As I turned to walk out something happened that I did not expect. The same guy that had pretty much ignored me before said, I will be right with you Sir. I was dumbfounded… I looked around and was the only person standing in the direction that he spoke, he was talking to me.

I thought the guy had treaded me that way because of the color of my skin, but I was wrong. He used prejudice from a totally different angle; he only saw what he perceived to me the size of my wallet. You might be saying to yourself right now, how does he know that for sure… and well if I am wrong tell me, but the way he treated me made me come to this conclusion. The supervisor finished up with the customer and came over to me, he saw the phone that I was looking at and instantly told me, if you like that one you are going to love this one, we just got it in. I did not know what to say, this guy was actually trying to up sell me, the same guy that had taken me straight to the “free” phones when I walked in with jeans and T-shirt. The guy not only showed me a couple of phones but even though there was other people there that had walked in after me talked to me about the newest plans and coverage areas. I ended up getting the same phone I had walked in planning to get, it had the features I needed and even though the other ones were cool, there was no need for the extra expense.

Einstein is by many considered one of the smartest people that ever lived. Some are more impressed than others by him. He is almost like the geek celebrity. However this quote is one that I hope I can say I live. I try to use my intelligence rather than preconceived notions when I approach situations and people. While I am not perfect, I do try not to be a victim of preconceived judgment and truly feel like every person in the world no matter who they are has something to teach me. Prejudice is something that is hard to escape; it takes a conscious effort to not be dominated by it. At times this is made even more challenging when stereotypes are perpetuated by people acting like morons. I really hope that some time in the future we can live in a society where labels of race, physical appearance or economic status do not play such an important role on the way we categorize people.

Should I be mad that the guy judged me on my appearance? Was he truly judging me just on my appearance or was it just using the sales mentality that he probably knew of “up sell the suits and ignore the t-shirt and jeans guys”? Was my race a factor at all? Was that prejudice?

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16 Responses to Prejudice

  1. We’re trained to think of Suits as making someone better, richer and more important.

    That’s why if you go to Vegas and dress in a nice suit and walk into a casino, they GIVE you all sorts of stuff, REAL drinks, comps, show tickets, etc. They assume because you’re in a suit and dressed up, you’ve got more dough to burn through.

    Sorry you had to experience that, man. that sucks.

  2. I had a similar situation at Walmart happen to me. I went in to the store wearing old clothes, clean but old with a few holes. I asked the woman behind the jewelry counter to sell me some jewelry cleaner for diamonds. She asked me if I was going to clean the ring on my finger with it. The ring was a nice waterfall setup with 23 diamonds over a carat and a half. I said, “Yes, that is the plan”. Then she precedes to give me a run down of how jewelry cleaner will eat fake jewelry and ruin it. I tell her it’s real, and I am not worried about it. She insists that I am going to ruin the jewelry, and that most fake diamonds look real, and can cut glass. By this time I was getting slightly annoyed. I tell her, “Look Lady, this ring is real. And the reason I know this is because my husband bought it for me, and I was with him when he bought it at the jewelry store, so will you please just sell me some damn jewelry cleaner so I can get out of here, or do I need to go by it some place elsewhere?” Man was I agitated. Now I am caucasian and so was she so I know it wasn’t racially motivated. It had to be prejudice based on my clothes. People shouldn’t judge people by the way they dress, but they do. Do you think if I had walked in the store in a suit that she would have treated me that way? I bet not. I think you were treated that way because of the way you dressed mainly, but maybe racial prejudice too. Who knows? probably your clothes, though because salesmen work on commission.

  3. well am a bohemian type so i get shit from people all the time because of my nonconformist approach to pettiness.

  4. Next thing you know, you’ll be saying that all people from Midland are snobby. Sheesh! :)

    I think it takes more than one experience to establish some sort of prejudice. I think you are just sensitive. Maybe the guy wanted to leave work early that day and thought by pointing you at the free phone he would get you out of the store faster??? OK, I know, I’m stretching a bit…..

  5. It’s like mechanics who take advantage of women. They think they can get away with more because most women aren’t aware of car mechanics. The salesperson has been stereotyped for a long time making it hard for the nice ones to shine.

  6. Oh yea being judged like that is a BIG THING here especially in one area of Indy that’s closer to where people have money. If you look like you don’t have money then sales people seem to pass you over or not treat you as nicely as those who come in dressed to the 9′s looking like money oozes out of their pores. If hubby and I go to the mall dressed to impress, not suits and stuff but nice, we get the best service ever! If we go to the same mall dressed in jeans and tees then the treatment is totally different. It sucks but it happens.

  7. Prejudice happens. Even in my field of IT. For instance, I am more likely to help a woman user than a guy user.

    However, you story points out a different kind of prejudice that I have always knew was there but could never really give an example for. You preconceived notion of his prejudice was based on your race… when in fact it was not. I think this kind of ‘assumption of prejudice’ is a major factor in playing the race card. Oh, he isn’t helping me because I am not white. When in fact, it is most likely because of something completely different. In this case, it could have been how you were dressed or perhaps he was just having a bad day.

    I liked this post. It shows that we can both share the same experiences even though we are a different race. Visual prejudice is more than just skin deep. It’s what you wear on that skin as well. ;-)

  8. I’ve noticed the same thing, too, in any type of store or customer service industry. I’m treated far better when I’m dressed up than when I’m scuzzing about (airlines are notorious for this). I was watching Pretty Woman the other day and the same type of scene came up when she was ignored when she was in her mini-skirt but they drooled over her when she was dressed up.

  9. Unfortunately, this happens all over the world…money talks!!! even if you don’t have a peso in your pocket, but a nice dress, they will treat you a a king. It is stupid, and as you say, Einstein was brilliant, but he always looked disheveled. But he was 1 in millions!!! You can also be a great person and not necessarily brilliant…

  10. Sorry to hear you had this experience. Only because I know Mark and have heard him say it, did I think of Midland when I was reading this post, but really…was it Michigan or Missouri that you were in when this happened? I have seen this happen in other instances too. Like a woman in a place they don’t normal go, autoparts store, archery shop and things like that. It is very unfortunate, but there are a lot of predjudices in the world. It isn’t just about skin color, it is about the clothes you wear, the jewlery you own, the car you drive, your body shape or your job title. Wouldn’t it be a great world to live in if everyone could start out by seeing the good in everyone until that person gives you a reason to dislike them? Wouldn’t it be great if the world would all realize that even if one person with dark skin did something to make you dislike them, it doesn’t mean that you should hate everyone with dark skin (or light skin, or any skin for that matter)? The one person who wronged me more than any other person in my life has the same skin color as me, so what am I to do?

  11. …and then another kind of prejudice – use of the term ‘honey’ or ‘dear’ – especially to women! I’ve always resented being addressed in this manner by other women. It is one of the worse examples of ‘talking down’ to others.

  12. I read an article about this in a magazine. A woman went to the same store three times, and each time she wore a different outfit (sweat suit, work clothes, and a designer outfit). The salespeople ignored her in the sweat suit. She got a little more attention in the work clothes, and they practically fawned over her in the designer clothes.

    I had a similar experience when I stopped at Nordstrom’s one day to see if they had a swimsuit. I was wearing old cut-off shorts and a tank. These two salesladies were looking me up and down and putting their little noses in the air at the sight of me, then just walking away instead of asking if I needed help. It irritated me at first, until I remembered that I was probably making twice as much money than them at the time…and seriously, they were working sales in a department store. Not my first career choice. It put it into perspective and their condescending attitude didn’t bother me after that.

  13. How random. I was just randomly searching the internet for “cool handwriting”, and now I’m commenting your wireless purchase experience.

    I have been sitting in front of my computer for about a good five minutes thinking about how I would like to respond. It’s hard.

    I have sold phones for almost every major wireless carrier within the last eight years, and currently manage the relationships that my company has with our independant agents/dealers.

    I would like to doubt that you were judged by skin color, but I wasn’t there. Having sold many many phones over the last several years, I would like to suggest the following may have occured.

    -While virtually all wireless salespeople are commissioned per transaction, most store managers/assistant managers are not. They just get a base salary, sometimes paired with a commission tied to the store’s overall performance. Since he can’t directly benefit from the sale, he wants his salespeople do to all the work. The sales staff are equally grateful, as that is one more sale for them, netting them a commission usually around the price of the rate plan the customer chooses.

    -Offering the “free” phone. This is a doubled edge sword. Salespeople are rarely compensated on the phone’s price. Usually they get a commission for the rate plan, contract term length, billable features, and accessories. To a salesperson, giving something away is far easier then selling them something they have to shell out $300 for. (Especially for an inexperienced/bad saleperson.) Free means the customer doesn’t have to talk to his wife, or check if he has enough money in his account, or go to the ATM, or worst of all “come back next week when I get paid”. Free means today. – Now on the other hand, he could have offered you the $300 phone, and you love it. You have to have it, but you don’t have the $300 today. Not only does he not make the sale, but prehaps you end up buying from another salesperson when you come back, or shop around and buy your phone from circuit city, or radio shack, or from another wireless carrier all together. – The only real benefit to a salesperson to sell a spendier phone is that customer, statisticly, will more than likely add more billable features (wireless internet, picture messaging).

    -Appearance. We’ve all heard it for years, dress for success, people percieve you by the way you dress, blah, blah, blah. How you carry and conduct yourself also plays an important factor. Some will even judge you as soon as you pull in their parking lot. Pearl Escalade pulls in, exits young mom, 24, license plate reads “love me”, baby in one arm, starbucks and purse in other, highlighted hair. Spendy car + starbucks + highlights = disposable income, has money to spend. Personal plate + escalade = look at me. Do you start your sales presentation with the ugly entry level free phone? No. She’s gonna want the RAZR, in pink, and a car charger, and probably a bluetooth headset as well, so people will notice her even more and think she’s important. – Young Excutive/Manager Type, 20-45 yo, business casual to suit will be offered blackberry, palm treo, or similar device. – Grandma/Grandpa something with a big screen, big buttons, loud ringer, and doesn’t want to pay for anything, will choose free phone that salesperson leads with. – Real Estate Agent, anything, as long as it has infared and a camera. – Male 28, tshirt, jeans, sneakers, not wearing flashy watch or similar jewelery. Salesperson will most likely lead t shirt and jeans guy to a t shirt and jeans kind of phone, being the free phone, because that’s what a lot of them end up buying.

    The Art of Selling has a lot to do with initial perception, and catering to what you may think the customer will actually buy. Can the salespeople sometimes be wrong? Yes. Does it help you to work with an experienced salesperson that employs his perception of you into his sales presentation? Yes. Would you suggest a blackberry to a 70 year old? No. Are you going to suggest a a tiny camera phone with MP3 player? Most likely not. Sure, there’s probably a handful of 70 yo blackberry users out there, but seriously. Is Grandma grateful that you didn’t spend 10 minutes trying to sell her on wireless email? Yes.

    Long story short, I would like to think that you were assessed, rather than judged. Well trained salespeople employ these tactics to expidite the entire sales process, meaning less time for you to find the right phone. As far as being rude, unresponsive, or condescending, there’s no excuse for that – unless the person smells REALLY bad, or has god awful breath. ;0) In regards to assessing a person based on their appearence as to what you offer them, I see nothing wrong about that. Besides, if they’re wrong, you always have the option to correct them.

  14. Keep up the great work on your blog. Best wishes WaltDe

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