Take Your Race Card And Shove It.

When I was around ten or eleven years old, I accompanied my mother on a shopping trip to the mall. We went to the regular department stores that my mom frequented. At one of the stores, my mom put her selections, an assortment of absolutely beautiful clothes, on the counter. (My mom has always had impeccable clothes sense.)

The saleswoman rang everything up and my mom passed her department store credit card across the counter. The saleswoman took the card and then told my mom she also needed to see two photo IDs and another credit card with her name on it.

This was not the first time my mom had shopped in this department store. In fact, she'd had an account there for several years. Needless to say, my mom was not amused at all. But, she's got class, so I remember she patiently and politely asked the saleswoman why she needed two picture IDs and another credit card with her name on it. She was told it was store policy. I saw my mom's face and heard her tone harden just a bit as she pointed out that she hadn't heard the customers in line in front of us being asked for this much ID. The saleswoman claimed that she had asked for this from the other women. This was a flat out lie.

Those other women were white. My mom is black.

My mom pulled the items she was interested in buying up off the counter and walked away. She was so angry. Very angry. But she wanted those clothes. We went to another register in another section of the department store. This saleswoman took my mom's credit card and driver's license. She didn't ask for anything else, no two picture ids. No major credit card. She was also very apologetic when my mom shared what had happened at the other register.

Now, if I went shopping with my father, I never saw this kind of thing happen to him. In fact, my father still usually has to ask the person behind the counter, "Would you like to see my ID?"

My father is not a black man. Nope. He's white.

Fast forward twenty years...

My husband went to the Banana Republic at The Grove here in LA and bought me two pairs of earrings for Mother's Day. One pair, I absolutely loved. The other I did not care for at all because they are gold and I don't really wear gold that much. He decided to take them back and get me something else, but our schedules being what they are, the first real opportunity to do so was yesterday. While I was in the Barnes and Noble, he and my two sons walked down to Banana Republic.

He had a receipt... he had the earrings, still attached to the packaging. But, he was told that he couldn't return the earrings because he'd removed the price tag. He explained that they were a gift so of course he took off the price tag. The saleswoman told him he should have scratched the price off with a pen instead of taking the tag off. And how did she know that the earrings really hadn't actually been worn?

Nowhere on the Banana Republic receipt is this "must have tags attached" policy listed. This policy is not on their website either.

My husband, bless his soul, decided to go ahead and buy another pair of earrings because he still wanted to get me something.

I ran into him while he was sitting outside on his cell phone talking to the manager at Banana Republic discussing this. He was told on the phone that he could absolutely return the earrings, no problem. He got off the phone and told me what went down. The whole story made me so angry that I told him I didn't want the other newly purchased pair of earrings either.

It made me so angry that I told him I wanted to accompany him to the store.

We went inside the Banana Republic, waited in line for a few minutes, and finally were able to approach a dark haired saleswoman. My husband started to explain what had happened and said to her, "Were you the person I spoke to on the phone because the voice sounds like yours."

She said no. Right off the bat, her tone, her body language were showing that she couldn't be bothered with him. She spoke to him like he was an annoyance, and definitely made me firm up my resolve to return both pairs of earrings.

He began to re-explain what had happened in the store, what he'd been told on the phone, and she interrupted him, rudely snapping, "Where are the earrings? Where's the receipt."

She then started up on her, "You can't return the earrings because there's no tags." I pointed out to her that that this not included on the receipt or on the return policy poster put up in the store and that was not what my husband had been told on the phone. She had nerve enough to narrow up her eyes at me. She then patronizingly started to explain hygiene rules to me. I explained to her that someone could put the earrings on without taking the tag off, that if they didn't want him to take the tag off, they should have given him a sticker to put over the price, and that that was beside the point because he had been told on the phone that he could return the earrings, no problem, that the only thing that store policy said was needed was the receipt.

She ignored what had been said on the phone and started trying to argue with us about it. One thing you learn as a teacher is the broken record technique. Just repeat the facts over and over. And over. Finally, she said she'd take them back...made a big show of, "Let me look them up in the product book just to make sure they're our earrings."


My husband pointed out that there was another pair of the same earrings in the case if she didn't believe that the earrings had actually come from Banana Republic.

She asked why we were returning the second, newly purchased pair of earrings and I told her that we don't have to shop where there is an inconsistent return policy or where we are treated rudely. I told her that there are plenty of stores in LA for me to shop at and I know for a fact that I can walk half a block up to Nordstrom's and return a dress I've already worn even if I don't have the receipt. I then asked her who the manager at the store was.

"I am the manager," she snarled.

I told her that her behavior was especially disturbing because at no point did she apologize for the inconsistent information, her tone was rude, her facial expressions were rude and I would be calling Banana Republic's 800 number. I pulled out my phone, started punching in the numbers and told her to have a nice day.

I get Banana Republic customer service on the line after about 10 minutes. The woman listened as I explained what had happened. She asked me store location, etc. Then she asked me what my name was.

"Liz Dwyer," I said.

"Oh, Liz Dwyer! My best friend is named Liz Dwyer!" she exclaimed. "What a great Irish name."

She offered me a $15 gift card to Banana, which I turned down. I told her I appreciated her offer, but that they'd probably lost me as a customer. She was still really nice and told me she hoped I'd change my mind.

Now, I found myself thinking about a couple of things. One, when my husband was in front of a salesperson the first time, they could see his color, see his blackness. He was treated like he'd stolen the earrings. However when he was on the phone with the store manager, when she could not see his skin color, she was very accommodating and helpful. Then when we went back into the store for the second time to return both pairs of earrings, the manager of the store LIED and said she hadn't talked to him and was incredibly rude and insulting. She could see our color again. See that blackness.

When I called Banana Republic customer service and gave them my name, it was definitely assumed that I'm Irish/white because of my name. Was that the reason the woman was so nice and offered me a $15 gift card? Because she couldn't see my color? I'd like to hope not, but I can't help but wonder.

Next time someone wants to tell you that racism doesn't exist, that black people are just pulling the race card, the next time they tell you that my parent's experience is a thing of the past, tell them this story.


Anonymous said…
Me, holding out my hand to you, or offering you my shoulder, does not change one dimething, does it? No.

Attitudes are not changed by our tears, our upset, our efforts to navigate the disrespect and disregard we encounter in the world. Neither yours, nor mine.

I am glad you made the call to the corporate offices. Follow it up with a letter. Maintain the stance with a longstanding boycott. You lose nothing by such a stance.

Tell everyone you know.
Happens too many damn times. And folks are getting a lot less apologetic.

Now, I could roll right wing and cite that it's the behavior of some knuckleheaded negroes that paints all bad. I fervently believe this and it's something our community is literally just coming to grips with. But that might account for 30% if that, of the racial bullcrap out there from white folks. We know the rest.

Of course, she probably LOVES Beyounce
Anonymous said…
Stories like this make me wonder what we are thinking moving back to the US. And I'm glad now that I didn't buy anything when I was in Banana Republic the other day.
Anonymous said…
I'm never going to Banana Republic again.
Anonymous said…
I always hated the name "Banana Republic". Something inherently racist about it...
Now that I know their real policy, I won't shop there either. I have no desire to enrich businesses that treat people so badly.

My husband and I have close friends who are black, and more than once while eating out together, it was obvious that waitpersons were more attentive to us than to our friends. Such offensive behavior demands boycotting these places.

I don't know of any more effective ways to end this sort of humiliating treatment.
Anonymous said…
Stories like yours break my heart. I am sorry you and your family were not treated with the dignity and respect that you deserve -- that everyone deserves.
Anonymous said…
Liz, I've had experiences like this as well. My white friends at work sometimes will ask me why I focuse so much on race...and this is the reason why...because racism still exist. Even more, it exist in them...I sent them a copy of your blog about the Chicago School system, as well as a copy of the u-tube link...and do you think any of 4 actually wrote or said anything about it....nope!
Anonymous said…
Found your blog via Anti-Racist Parent...

Reminds me of an eye opening experience this white chick had many years ago while young and naive and waiting on the return line at a K-Mart. I was behind 2 young Black guys who were making a return. They presented their receipt and were asked for 2 forms of ID in order to complete the transaction. When it was my turn I handed over my receipt and went to pull out ID, but while I was digging in my purse, the cashier had already completed the transaction. I asked why she didn't need to see my ID but needed it from the 2 guys before me. "Oh, asking for ID is at our discretion," she said. I wish I'd had the gumption to say/do more than I did, which was to reply, "Interesting use of discretion..."
West said…
That's a trip. As another comment said, it does happen too often.
Liz Dwyer said…
The sentiment of comfort is much appreciated. I couldn't write about this the day it happened because I was way too angry still, really just furious about it.

The letter writing is definitely happening. And, I am no stranger to boycotting. In college, I used to go to the same restaurant in Chicago every single Sunday for dinner. One time there was glass in my food and the waiter accused me of putting it in there myself in order to get a free meal. I boycotted for four years and told everyone I knew. Never went again until it got sold to new owners.
So, if I never step into a Banana Republic again, I'll be just fine.

Welcome back from the writer's convention! I wonder, if I was Beyonce would the saleswoman have taken the earrings back? Heck,celebrities get so much special treatment that if I was Beyonce, I probably could have worn the earrings, dropped them in tar and still been able to take the earrings back. Without a receipt.

As far as the right wing thing, I guess I know that there are knuckleheads of all colors that try to hustle stores, but that doesn't change the way that non-black customers get treated. So, why if someone black does something wrong, should that have anything to do with me? Especially when I have a receipt and their store policy says that's all I need? After all, Winona Ryder's shoplifting certainly doesn't make stores watch young white actresses significantly more or make them more prone to being followed by store security. I know that's how it works in this country, if one black person does something wrong, the whole bunch is bad, but I'm frankly sick of it.

I'm glad you didn't buy anything there the other day as well. I've talked to several folks in the past day and they've all shared various Banana Republic stories. But, come back to the States anyway. You can always just do online shopping!

I know that's right. Shortest and best comment ever.

Yep, I always wondered what's up with that store name...and the fact that none of the stuff that is in the store is even appropriate to wear on a banana plantation...it's like we're pretending or something. The funny thing is that I never even shopped there till four or five months ago because that name bugged me, but I kept seeing these cute clothes that someone I know was wearing and she told me she got them there. I've learned my lesson...trust my instincts no matter what.

Thank you for not shopping there any more either. I wonder what effective ways there are to end things as well. Sometimes I think lawsuits work (Denny's). Sometimes I think it's that you take a hidden camera crew in a store and videotape what happens and then put it out on youtube or have a reporter come from Dateline NBC and do an undercover expose. The scale on which this happens is so huge though. It's shopping, eating out, looking for housing, buying a car. Sigh.

Thank you. You know one of the hardest things was that my kids were watching this happen. And I know how it feels because of seeing it happen with my mom. Olinga had so many questions when we left the store. He finally concluded that the saleswoman had a hard heart and needed to pray more.

I've been told before that I focus too much on race as well. But it's the most challenging issue facing our country. I believe it's a sickness of the soul, and we have a spiritual imperative to make things right, to work toward racial unity and true justice. We all see what happens when we don't have that true unity and justice.

Sometimes I think that in talking about racism, folks can get too used to politicizing the dialogue, to taking their side and then debating and defending their stance till the cows come home. For some reason, that's a more comfortable approach than actually breaking down racism into what does it mean on a psychological, emotional and spiritual level. I think when folks start thinking about people instead of "sides" then stuff changes.

Welcome. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

"Asking for ID is at our discretion."

Folks say that kind of mess and act like that just explains it all. Stores need to have consistent policies for everyone, not just who they racially profile.

And I'll bet her "discretion" gets taken advantage of by non-black criminals all the time.
Anonymous said…
Damn, that’s messed up. I had a similar situation happen to me and my son. I had bought an ink cartridge for our printer from Walmart, it was the wrong one, so a day later my son and I went to the Walmart to EXCHANGE the cartridge for the right one, which was slightly more expensive, so I knew I would have to pay the difference.

We get there, the white female manager informs me that they have a no exchange without receipt policy for “high theft items” and this was posted by ink cartridges. I said “really”, sent Black Adam Jr. over to the electronics section, he reported no such sign was present.

She then goes onto her computer, scans the product and informs me that “We haven’t even SOLD one of these items in 3 weeks”. This in front of a growing line of customers, basically calling me a liar. Wellllllll you know how a brotha is about insolence, so I went to the car (where most of my receipts are) and FOUND said receipt. I marched back into the store, went to the front of the service desk line and fought every urge in me to say: “Now what!!”, and told her very loudly: “It appears something is wrong with your inventory system, as I have a receipt showing I bough this item YESTERDAY from THIS STORE, NOW, you may kindly render me a COMPLETE REFUND, I will purchase this item from a store that RESPECTS it’s customers.” She just put her head down and complied.

I called Walmart corporate the next day, they apologized and the store manager from that Walmart called me to apologize.

Race the social construct is always a factor.
Anonymous said…
Glass in your food.

Now, honey - how close to our lives have to run?

Seven months preggo and there is glass in my spinach salad. The manager conveyed, through the newbie waiter, that I didn't have to pay for the food. Thanks!

Honey, if I wasn't working on my Zen in that moment, I would have walked across the street to ABC Broadcasting and spoken to John Johnson, and run their asparagus' out of town.
West said…
DJBA's story reminds me of a less interesting, but similar experience I had.

Oncet I tried to return Christmas presents I purchased, but never did present to anyone. I didn't have the receipts, anymore.

The cashier somewhat jokingly asked if I stole all that stuff. I already felt the guilt associated with the possibility that someone else MIGHT THINK that I wasn't on the up-and-up. I didn't need her making me feel worse, when I hadn't done anything wrong.

I couldn't help wondering if she ever "joked" like that with white customers who tried to return items.
Jameil said…
the manager acted like that? you need to take it up the chain again and write to the CEO. UNacceptable. Limited Brands would not be appreciative of that attitude. No company would. Especially since you just put them on blast. Never been that much of a fan of their over-priced clothes, anyway. I know you weren't necessarily starting a boycott, but I'm joining it anyway.
Liz Dwyer said…
See, people's racism just makes their lives more unpleasant and it compromises their own integrity. Why lie like that and say that none of those cartridges had been sold. We keep ourselves from advancing socially and spiritually when we cling to these backwards ways of behaving. On another note, we have to talk about not shopping at Wal-Mart.

Because black folks just roll around with shards of glass in our bags so we can get a free meal, especially when we're ravenous and hungry, right? Goodness, such ridiculousness...

That's just flat out unprofessional to joke like that. What do they say "Many a true word is spoken in jest"? So she probably meant what she said. You should have been like, "Yep, I stole it. Stole it all." (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)

Absolutely sending it to the CEO. I think companies are so worried about lawsuits these days due to high profile judgements awarded to plantiffs, which shouldn't be the only reason to not let your employees act in such a manner, but if it motivates them to do right, then I'll take it. Does the same company that owns Express also own Banana?
MartiniCocoa said…
you are a better person than me because me and my nappy hair would have had to have a scene up in BR.

I've bought many gifts at BR and thought they had a gift receipt and policy to avoid these kind of incidents.

Although I do believe it was racial, I have to say customer service lately has been lacking from call centers to in person encounters I've been incredibly SHOCKED at the lack of professional and people savvy that everyone is grooving on these days.

I believe that laziness and disrespect has become a contagion in our society.
Jon said…
Go get em!
My sister married a Native American and feels the racism all the time. Her husband and kids are always watched, if not followed, when they are in a retail store. I would explode if I were ever with them and it happened. Sometimes when I talk about it with my sister I feel myself getting excited at the opportunity to unload on some racist idiot!

Don't ever quit fighting for what's right!
Liz Dwyer said…
I would have thought they'd have some sort of gift receipt/ or something but even the pair of earrings my husband purchased on Sunday to compensate for not being able to return them...he told the cashier it was a gift and the cashier threw them in a box, sure, but it was a wallet box. Yeah, I think customer service is really lacking these days. It's a real surprise when I get very good customer service these days.

I love that you stand up for your sister. Good for you. You make me think that sometimes people can get used to being treated in an unjust way, and if those who are the recipients of unjust treatment were to become angry every time it happens, the anger would be the dominant force in their lives.
I have too many stories to tell about this kind of thing. Sorry you had to go through it, people's sense of entitlement to mistreat others is breathtaking sometimes. People pretending to not notice these things or rationalizing them when they happen is all part of the unspoken conspiracy to make people of color think they are crazy and don't really see what is going on around them. It's all in your head they say. No my friend, it's all in YOUR head and what's in there is pretty ugly.
Jameil said…
oops. no. not limited brands. the gap company is the same as banana and old navy.
Squirmy Popple said…
This sort of thing really, really upsets me. It's hard to imagine that people can be so ignorant in this day and age. I am apalled.
Sundry said…
Wish I shopped there so I could stop.

I witnessed something disturbing like this about 8 years ago. I received my first paycheck from my then new employer and took it to BofA to cash it, because I was a member of the UCLA credit union and I didn't want to drive over there to deposit it. It was no problem. (Yeah, I'm white.)

The next week or so, one of my coworkers, a black woman, went to the BofA branch she'd been visiting off and on for the past 5 years to cash her check. Neither of us had accounts at the bank, but it was our employer's bank.

I don't recall being asked for more than a driver's license. But they made her wait while they called our boss to confirm that she was an employee. How humiliating.

I didn't know her well enough to do more than express my shock and empathy. It still hurts when I think about it. Nothing gets back those moments of frustration at injustice.

Yours is a particularly good example, especially because of the phone calls. I really wish you'd find a wider audience to share this experience with. I'm just so damned sorry to hear this crap is still going on.
This is so painful and horrible. Thank you for telling the story here, and hosting all these comments. I linked this post today.
Liz Dwyer said…
Just to let you all know I'm in the midst of an 80+ hour work week and so I profoundly apologize for my delay in replying to your comments!

You're right, it's not all in my head but ouor society trains us to doubt what's right in front of me, staring me in the face. The more time goes by, the more upset I get about what happened because I keep thinking how some of us know that this kind of thing happens all the time and then some of us have no idea that this happens.

Oh that's right. Old Navy is the stepchild, Gap is the youngest son, and Banana is the oldest, most favored son.

The thing is that the people in Banana believe they are right and justified in what they are doing/how they are behaving. They don't believe they are ignorant. I'm sure they believe we were ignorant because we just wouldn't go along with what they were saying. I do know there's progress because this is not every store and not everyone facet of my life, and I know that that was the case for previous generations. But, I feel it when I go to buy a car, when I think about moving to a different apartment... it impacts a whole lot.

Oh that's so sad. Because what do you say to your co-worker? I think BofA is really bad about that kind of thing. Something similar to your friend's situation happened to my husband and the last time I went to withdraw some cash (around $800) from my own bank account at the BofA in Los Feliz, I was told I needed a PASSPORT as photo ID. I keep saying I'm going to switch to WaMu. I need to make that move...but then I wonder if they just do the same thing, you know?

Thanks for linking to this post. I just wish that more people who don't believe this still happens could read this story. I think this kind of stuff happens more than most people think it does.
the last noel said…
You know, I get asked my ID because my name sorta sounds French. I think they expect my last name to be Wong or Yamaguchi or something.

When I go shopping, I try to go somewhere in San Gabriel Valley where there are more Asian people working in them. Less hassle.

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