Choose Your Battles: Why Do Some Black Folks Snap On Customer Service Workers Over Petty Things?

July 10, 2012  |  

For Father’s Day a few weeks back, the boyfriend and I decided to go out for breakfast. He’s not a father, but the alternative was Froot Loops dust and an egg to split between the two of us. We bypassed Perkins Family Restaurant which had clusters of families waiting and they were deep. Not only were there moms, dads and children, but grannies, aunts, and godfathers too. Our detour led us to Denny’s. But no sooner did I order my Strawberry-Mango Pucker was I reminded of something: Holidays bring out the “brand new” in some black people.

A young man no older than 20 swaggered into Denny’s like he had just walked into the 40/40 Club, probably in an effort to impress the girlfriend he had in tow. A few minutes after they were seated, he barked at the waitress to see the manager and the next thing I knew he was pointing at the ceiling about what I only assumed was a leak from the air conditioner, 5 feet behind his table, out of walking distance. As he made a belligerent unnecessary fuss, fellow diners were treated not only to his condescending speech towards management, but also a view of his Polo boxers since his pants rested mere inches above his knee caps.  All this only for the couple to eventually move to an empty table inches away from their original one.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t have complained. Better that than soggy ceiling tiles dropping into his date’s #33 Milky Way weave, but there is a way to talk to people, and many of us haven’t learned it. Instead, many of us choose to clown and put on a show that makes us look more pathetic than empowered.

By the time we had to pay, the weary manager looked like he would rather be home with his own grandkids than ringing up Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruities. I could just about see a sign flash across his balding head that read, “I’m so tired of black people.”  Before I could pass him my Visa, a heavy-set gentleman decided he was going to wander in and cuss out the manager because his family had been waiting for a table for 20 minutes. Uh…hun, we waited for a table for five minutes as the waitress proceeded to call out names on a list of unresponsive families. She called yours three times and was met with silence. You, my friend, were in Best Buy next door. Denny’s doesn’t give out pagers and the waitress is not going to look for you in the home theater section to tell you they’re ready to seat you.

It’s like, where do we get the audacity to expect decent service when we have nasty attitudes for no reason? Why are we so quick to “see the manager” or ask to be compensated for trivial inconveniences?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all races don’t have their share of rude, disruptive people, because all do for sure. But it bothers me when my people act so entitled and want to be treated politely with respect and then turn around and call service people out of their names (and a flurry of other expletives sometimes) and complain about problems that with a little patience and understanding are not as serious as they make them out to be.  It’s life and you can’t always have it your way. If we spent half the energy fighting for low-cost healthcare and positive portrayals of our culture in the media as we do water spots on a fork, 20 percent off on a shirt with a deodorant stain or for our retail rewards to be honored, we’d be lethal.

Why do we always have to be seen and make a scene? We think we’re making a statement against being taken advantage of, but instead all we do is make it harder for ourselves and fellow diners and shoppers. It’s not right, but in the end all it does is make service people hesitant, awkward and prejudiced in trying to work with us because they never know what minor issue we will flip out over.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t call people out on poor customer service or ask to see management because a careless cashier doesn’t want to give us the full discount but would rather give attitude, but choose your battles wisely. You attract more flies with honey. Just because you’re a paying customer doesn’t mean you get to treat service people with disrespect. Half the time you’re preaching to the choir since the problem may be bigger than the position that person is working in.

So spare us all your colorful language and excess attitude until it’s something worth hooping and hollering for. All I wanted that morning were some pancake poppers and an omelette. If I wanted a show that has us acting the fool, I would have stayed home and watched Vh1.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .

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