What Racist Customer Service Looks and Feels Like
Writers Note: After reading an essay by Sam McKenzie Jr. regarding how the Associated Press (AP) determines the terms we used to write about incidents of racism, such as using the “racially tinged,” or racially motivated which are used to mask racist acts instead of calling racist acts what they are and providing the racist context to support the action, I edited my essay to be more explicit about the racism I encountered.
Notice (see the AP link above) two White women (Paula Froke, lead editor, and Colleen Newvine, product manager, AP Stylebook) get the privilege of determining how the media describes racist actions and injuries caused by racism.
These women are in charge of the words White writers use to talk about issues impacting Blacks and other groups impacted by racism. Ain’t that something?
I wanted to show how racists use existing systems to covertly disguise actions, and how not using the correct words to describe those actions can give the appearance we support these actions or that racist actions aren’t as bad as they sound. When we do so, we minimize the real-life damages of racism.
My most recent trip to DC I will say without a doubt was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced because of my terrible hotel stay. I wrote about my check-in experience at one of the world’s largest hotel chains (Marriott) and all the passive-aggressive behavior I experienced.
It bothered me so because it was so unnecessary, so late that evening at our nightly reception, some of my colleagues with various professional backgrounds got together and discussed how the stay at the hotel was different this time. We meet there annually, sometimes 3 to 4 times or more per year, so we are quite familiar with the inner workings of the hotel. Also, some of the hotel’s staff has worked at the hotel for years making the experience like a family affair.
But this year, things were different.
Racist Customer Service
There was a crew, younger, multi-ethnic, and they used their positions to represent their employer poorly by giving our group racialized customer service (Racialized customer service is good or bad customer service based on the color of one’s skin, which is racist). It was racist customer service at the hands of a young White woman, an older Hispanic woman, and a White man we may have been unaware of if we all weren’t close enough to feel comfortable mentioning it to one another.
My experience as a Black customer was intentional misinformation, being charged a much higher room rate nightly and incidental fees, when challenging the young White female rep she lied as if I wouldn’t know she was a newbie, feeling slighted because staff did not greet me with respect upon entering the hotel for the first time like a White uniformed male checking in, pissed at the rep trying to give me nearly $100 dollars in one-dollar bills, and placing me in a room not conducive to my work schedule deliberately underneath the hotel’s gym. On the next day, the racist Hispanic rep attempted to charge me an additional $30 more per night for a room change. Next, she tried to insist the hotel was completely booked, refusing to give me a new room until I called her bluff. After informing her I had been down to the front desk on two occasions prior to her shift, only then would she do the right thing and change my room.
It was a constant struggle to get this group of customer service people to do the right thing at this hotel. For example, I witnessed racist customer service reps provide White guests stellar customer service with no issues, in particular White men in military uniforms or men who gave the appearance of being associated with the Pentagon on travel orders.
The racialized (racist) and sexist differences in treatment was obvious.
Others Experienced Racist Customer Service Too
Another colleague, a Black middle-aged, professional female, received poor customer services, the Hispanic customer service rep shushing her when asking a question, and making snide remarks disrespectfully in front of other guest and customer service representatives. She also experienced misinformation (like a White/White passing male rep giving her the wrong floor for her orientation. When she came back to the front desk to notify the racist rep, he pointed her into a direction not wanting to deal with her and never apologizing for his mistake) as if she was some kind of animal. She too was overcharged for incidentals per night compared to our White colleagues. I know some folks will say it’s no big deal, you’ll get the money back.
If that’s your attitude, you’re a part of our problem and you condone racism.
They also charged another Black woman in our group the higher incidental rate per night which was $55 per night higher than we were accustomed to. They refused to allow her to check in without it. This woman had to locate the logistic contractor responsible for arranging our hotel accommodations thankfully was on site to get the matter sorted out. He too had trouble convincing the same racist troublesome customer service crew of the negotiated rates because… he was Puerto Rican. He ended up getting his boss involved (who was not on sight) who apparently has connections to the hotel chain’s founder himself.
That’s three Black women and a Puerto Rican man treated racistly.
White colleagues on this same business trip had no issues with rooms, or customer service quality related to the check-in process, but they discovered after our conversations the older White male in the group was charged less for his daily incidental rate than the older White female in the group was. They upset the White female in the group because she felt the hotel staff had too much power to make decisions which allowed them to discriminate based upon one’s age, gender, and/or race.
We all informed the contractor of the collective racialized micro-aggressions and the awful customer service formally. The contractor forwarded our complaints to the hotel’s management.
The Meeting With Management
The contractor arranged a meeting with hotel management for the very next day besides requiring us to write up our accounts of all incidents for their records.
The three Black women who received racialized customers service (including myself) met face-to-face with the hotel’s Operations Manager. For whatever reason, the hotel’s manager was not available. The young manager did what most manager do when receiving similar complaints about racialized customer service. He took notes, questioned our accounts, passively appeared to be interested, attempted to convince us it was his employees’ poor training and naiveté that led to the incidents we experienced, and to put icing on the cake, he questioned our perceptions of our experiences because — he doesn’t have to deal with such bullshit. Like we just go around making up this kind of thing for no reason.
With matters of racism, Blacks are always being questioned about what happened, and we’re always questioning ourselves. It’s another form of abuse. We all felt as though the meeting was a worthless endeavor.
The Insulting Peace Offering
Later that night, we received a little fruit and berries tray, with a dish of nuts and a handwritten note asking us not to lose faith in the hotel chain. The rep didn’t know or care if I had a nut allergy. He didn’t inquire about whether I liked fruit. The manager’s gesture further highlighted the lack of thought he put into making things right that would not further injure me, the other women, or the hotel chain he represents. I gave the fruit and nuts away.
I was quite insulted at the gesture, but I excused it away as the ignorance of youth. I viewed it as a good example when people with no life experience and few references are placed in customer service positions. It was also an invaluable lesson confirming for me why not all young people make good leaders. When you don’t know people, you can’t serve people. When young managers don’t take the time to get to know people outside of their tiny, limited worlds, they don’t know what their customers value, and they don’t know what offends them.
Knowing your customers (all people patronizing a business) is a must for good customer service.
When young managers haven’t lived, they don’t know when other folks are experiencing trauma from racism, and they sure as hell don’t know when one of their own employees is a racist, responsible for inflicting trauma upon their customers. Because of his life deficiencies, he clearly could not create an acceptable remedy for an old Southern bird like me.
The olive branch extended was something the young manager apparently believed would be of value to us.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was an inconsiderate effort to move away from the racist matter, as I would be checking out the next day after my four-day hotel stint from hell. My time, my feelings, my health, my mind, and my overall well-being is worth far more than a plate of bitter damned blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and honeydew.
People (White people and those passing) are too quick to dismiss the traumas of racism as casual and accidental incidents, especially when they don’t witness or aren’t directly impacted by them.
Talking About Racism More Helps Us Spot It
All of us in this work group would discover on the last day of our trip there was a huge increase in complaints received by the contractor because of people coming forward to disclose the racist customer service they misidentified or excused away because it is such a large part of our daily living.
If I had kept the incidents and my discomfort to myself, none of us would have ever known these patterns of racist behaviors were occurring, possibly impacting countless others. Silence is consent.
Not talking about racialized (racist) customer service experiences puts others at risk. Let me tell you, racism leads to real, raw, emotional trauma most of us cannot erase. It’s scrapping the scab off of a wound and re-injuring a sore that never heals because we live in a racist nation.
The Stress and Trauma of Racism
The stress and trauma of this past week are indescribable, but I’ll put them into words to share what it’s like to live in a country where citizens are entitled to not like you and mistreat you because of the color of your skin.
I didn’t sleep well because the difficulties surrounding the check-in process made the rest of my stay uncomfortable. Racistly being charged more by a White young lady young enough to be my child and a Hispanic woman old enough to be my age because I’m Black is disheartening. Can you imagine that? Then imagine being alone when it happens to you.
I felt as though I couldn’t trust the hotel staff. I felt the customer service reps in question were racist shysters, like criminals looking to make life hell for some innocent victims. The lack of sleep each night caused me to be off each day, impacting my work and my happiness for 3-long days.
I suffered from digestion issues (a flare up of IBS), which are still lingering. Racism irritated my stomach. As a Black woman, I can’t lose my composure or I’ll be given the stereotypical label of the “angry” Black woman, which causes internalizing and over analyzation. The internal thoughts of interactions with racist female hotel staff and realizing how easily racists anywhere can injure me made me sick. People have no problem hating me even if they don’t know me. And tomorrow, I’m expected to rise again, all chipper and shit, to make another good day despite all the bad, racist shit I encounter.
My mental and emotional health yet again have been impacted because of racism.
The Lessons My White Colleagues Learned
We all sat around amazed at how quickly and easily these women could ruin our week. White colleagues could not believe that in 2019, people are still attempting to mistreat people of color Jim Crow style. They were oblivious at how quickly we were mistreated and surprised at how frequently racist perpetrators are successful at it. What stood out more than anything for all of us was the fact the perpetrators were two women.
They were two women who used their power for evil instead of using it for good.
Our White colleagues got a first-hand lesson in institutional racism, and they were unwittingly a part of that lesson. Being White has its privileges, but being a White man is the best privilege to have in America. White men reap many benefits from racist actions whether or not they know it. White women can benefit from racism and be a victim of ageism and sexism in the same instance. Being victim service providers and DOJ-Office of Violence Against Women contractors made it an interesting discussion no doubt.
It taught us all that in the age of Donald Trump and the resurgence of Southern Strategy politics, people have no problem using their positions, no matter how small to be racist. Racism against Black people, in particular, Black women is real, and it’s violent even if you cannot see my scars.
©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved. No reprinting or republishing without explicit written permission.
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