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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Racist Double Standard in Customer Service Positions for Black Men

There is an unwritten discriminatory double standard in the workplace when it comes to African-Americans and customer service positions. This discriminatory and arbitrary set of unwritten rules and policies are the reason why many Black men can’t retain employment in the workplace when they finally find work.

From my observations and personal experience I’ve noticed that African-American women can get away with some of the most unprofessional behavior and still keep their jobs.

I have personally witnessed Black women mistreating customers with unprofessional behavior like rolling eyes, speaking to them in a harsh belligerent tone and even extreme behavior like cursing them out. Some will even spend time on the sales floor getting into heated arguments with customers and a few will even get violent on the sales floor.

I have even witnessed Black women getting belligerent and hostile with supervisors. Some have even argued with store managers district supervisors. A few have been downright insubordinate.

All without customers complaining. And without any disciplinary action taken against them by management. In fact, some of these Black women were promoted for their unprofessional and abusive behavior.

Meanwhile mild-mannered African-American men like myself who merely try to do their jobs in a professional manner are often reported by customers as insubordinate, unprofessional and hostile.

Black men like myself who were pleasant, friendly and even kind were told by customers they’d report them to the manager for having a hostile tone just trying to answer the most basic of questions in a professional manner.

I have watched as customers went to management to complain to senior employees about the way a Black man speaks to them over the phone. Even with the most pleasant phone manner and the smoothest tone of voice, the Black man is often considered hostile and threatening by most customers when they hear their voices.

I have watched as customers and even co-workers will complain to management about a Black Man’s work being too slow. However, a Black woman, White, Asian, Arab or Hispanic man can work at whatever pace they feel like without the threat of disciplinary action. Some can take an entire day to do the most simple of rudimentary tasks as stocking a single shelf or filing papers without the threat of a write-up or termination.

But a Black man has to work as fast as The Flash when he’s doing the same tasks. He’s paid by the hour but clocked at the miles per hour he works.

And thanks to these complaints in service jobs, many a Black man is threatened with being written up, suspended or even terminated.

All for trying to do his job to the best of his ability.

This discriminatory double standard has kept many a Black man from keeping employment even when he manages to finally find it. It has prevented most brothers from finding economic and financial independence. It is why the unemployment rate is so high in the Black community.

Entry level sales and customer service positions are often the gateway into moving up in some corporate organizations. But thanks to this unwritten institutionally racist and sexist set of double standards, most Black men are prevented from retaining employment even when they manage to find it.

Under these draconian policies I have watched as Black men were punished harshly for minor infractions or implied infractions. Decent hardworking Black men like myself who try to stay professional and follow the rules of the workplace are often rewarded with the Black mark of a write up, suspension termination on their work record for just being late once or simply misunderstanding a company policy.

Meanwhile while Black women literally got away with flagrant violations of company policies and basic social decorum. In all the service jobs I had no one has ever sought out a manager to report a Black woman for being belligerent with them. No one has ever complained to a corporate office about rude customer service when a Black woman cursed them out or argued with them. No one has ever taken time out of their day to report a Black woman for her hostile and harsh tone whenever they got on the phone with them. Heck, no one even complained when a Black woman I was working for was late to work every day for close to an entire year.

But they will make that extra effort to report the minutest perceived violation of company policy when they encounter a Black man in a service position. I’ve witnessed this personally. And I’ve had this done to me in service jobs I was employed in.

Worse, these same customers will talk about how they are so afraid to approach a Black man like myself when he is at the front desk. The Black man can be mild mannered and pleasant and they’ll be afraid to ask for what they want.

However, a Black woman can roll her eyes, snap her neck and suck her teeth at them and they’ll be eager to walk up to that same counter. In fact they’ll say they got great service from said Black woman for displaying such a hostile attitude toward them.

Confront many a customer or a manager about their feelings regarding being served by a Black man and they’ll deny they have any prejudices about us. They’ll say they’re not racist. They’ll say they treat everyone fairly. That this double-standard doesn’t exist.

But their actions speak louder than their words.

In most of the service jobs I’ve had, I’ve seen people hesitate before coming up to the counter to approach me. I’ve seen some come and go out when they saw me working there. The same people came back later when a Black woman or other minority was working the desk. I’ve even seen some clutch their purses and hold their backpacks. I’ve seen men take the time to put their bags between their legs when they had laptops.

All because a Black Man was on duty at the front desk or working on the sales floor.

But those same people were downright kind, pleasant and friendly to Black women who were rude, surly and hostile towards them. No threats of reporting them to management. No threat of a write up or termination. No threat of having their lives disrupted or their means of making a living taken away from them.

The unwritten racist and sexist policies in the service sector prevent many good hardworking and professional Black men like myself from taking the first steps in the job market. Thanks to the double standard imposed by these unwritten rules many good brothers are denied an opportunity to build their work record, learn valuable skills and start their careers in entry-level positions.

Managers and customers must take efforts to be more sensitive towards Black men when they are in the workplace. We’re just trying to do our jobs. When we are judged by an unfair set of standards it impedes our productivity in the workplace and keeps us from moving forward in our lives. Sometimes it takes years for us to find a job. And the draconian disciplinary policies enforced with these double standards can destroy all that hard work in three to six months forcingmany a Black man to pick up the pieces of his life all over again.


  1. Shawn, I don't know what to say about this one. It's sad, for certain, brutally unfair and something needs to be done. But what? Every customer deserves the best any employee has to offer. The very least supervisors can do is remind employees that customers pay their salaries.

    This is worth a roundtable discussion. I'd like to hear some of the black women in this field discuss this and other black men tell what their experiences have been.

    Something can be done about anything once we stop, look, listen and discuss. Then set the wheels in motion to do something about this situation that doesn't have to exist.

  2. I have encountered rude Black women in customer service positions and spoken to their managers. I'd do that with any sort of rude customer service worker.
    I've not had that experience with any Black men... of course that goes with the caveat of mostly having encountered Black men from Africa in those positions, and not too many Black American men.
    So I agree and disagree.

  3. Being able to observe proper phone courtesy is very important.

  4. You are so full of sh!t. Bm are mean bums to BW customers.

    BM sercurity guards in nightclubs are like the KKK towards BW yet ass kiss wp.

    BM suck up and do the coon and tom routine. Every nonblack man is his bro. He bucks it up for ww. Cold and mean to bw.

    You keep showing yourself as the typical closeted and quite powerless homosexual bm. You continue to fail to realisitically examine bm.

    When I see BM cashiers unless he is a nice-openly gay man, they are usually smiling, I avoid them. I avoid BM in most service positions cause they are mean bums with an attitude of entitlement.

  5. Uh-Oh-Here comes the fanaticism charge in the book of shaming tactics.

    Someone's mad because they weren't given VIP treatment at the club.

    I've been nice to all the people I worked with at the library 5 years ago and at the library almost 20 years ago. Most people were very happy with my service.

    Unfortunately, most Black women don't want to take the time to see themselves how the rest of the world sees them: Rude, obnoxious, and with the worst attitude known to man. This is what's at the front counter at most businesses.

    The charge of Homosexuality-Another classic shaming tactic. Been hearing that one since I was 12. Still laughing at it 28 years later.

    Sounds like someone just hates Black men. Just love how people get emotional over a blog I wrote almost two years ago....