Two Infinities

Thu, 14 Jul 2005


Phil over at has insightful observations of an incident he witnessed recently (his July 8th entry). This anecdote is far less dramatic but, perhaps, more common.

I went to buy a wireless card for a laptop at Compusa today. "Buy" is a bit of a euphemism, the card, counting the pain-in-the-ass rebate, was $7. I went looking for it because I found it on Compusa's website and I needed it today.

Well, let me say that race relations in Detroit in general and Dearborn in particular have been especially problematical. For an easy read see "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides; for Dearborn Google Orville Hubbard. And let me observe that the African-American community forms the back-bone of the retail clerk workforce in the area.

When I got to Compusa, the cheap card was not to be found among the network cards. I saw several white bodies in the store uniform but did not catch an eye. Just as I'm on my way to ask for help at the check-out counter, an African-American clerk asks *me* if he could help. Tony, if you happen to go in, has a youthful manner, but also has a little gray creeping in at the sideburns.

Now while Tony was looking up the card information at a store terminal, a young (i.e. no gray) causasian male comes up to Tony and, in front of a customer, reminds him that he has yet to perform some menial task, explaining that he didn't want him to "remember" at 4:30, at which time he would not have time to do it. Tony seemed unfazed, but if you think about it, the caucasian guy was more than condescending, he was insulting, and in front of a customer. Anyhow, I proceed to the cash register and find a familiar face but a totally unfamiliar manner. Cliff, also African-American and also a little older, has been at the cash registers there for years. He has always been rather exuberantly friendly. But not today. I don't think about what's eating him, I'm just getting angry that I'm getting flak for the credit card I'm using and that I can't get the details of the rebate before I sign the credit card slip.

So, at the end of the transaction, I rather sarcastically thank Cliff for his patient assistance and turn away. Then, suddenly there is a twenty-something caucasian woman obviously prompting Cliff on his forgotten lines. Hastily, Cliff re-engages my attention and asks if I would like to save $20 a month or more on my telephone bill. Oh, I see, Cliff has to ask if I want a 2 year warranty on a $7 card and has to ask if want to buy some kind of phone plan, and maybe he has to ask if I want fries with that card, but he forgets and gets berated by a girl who was still in middle school the first I transacted with Cliff at that store. And again, it wasn't so subtle and it was in front of a customer.

Maybe it's not racism; maybe with all this outsourcing to India, we're insourcing a caste system.

posted at: 15:29 | path: | permanent link to this entry