That time I was a bigot.

Feel free to comment on my story or share your own embarrassing story.

Back in the day, when a fresh faced Bill Clinton was President, and I was just out of college, I worked at Radio Shack as a commission salesmen.

In walks a pair of dudes, who are wearing dirty working clothes, and give off that low guy on the totem pole vibe. Myself, and some of the other employees are ignoring the guys who are clearly not going to do anything but waste our time. Eventually, one of the salesmen gets to talking to them, and they buy a $900 stereo system.

I felt like a fool. Here these guys were, looking to buy a big home stereo, I prejudged them as being poor, and missed out on a big sale. I felt like this for a long time, whenever circumstances would bring this incident to mind, I remembered how foolish I felt.

What I didn’t feel like was a bigot, but that’s exactly what I was. If those guys had been interested in a cheap boombox or a pack of batteries instead of a $900 stereo, they still didn’t deserve to be ignored as not important enough to work with. What once was a humorous anecdote about how I screwed myself out of a big sale, is now an anecdote about how I deemed myself so superior to working class guys that I felt justified in ignoring them rather than respecting them as people. I feel especially disappointed in my prior self because my dad fixed cars for a living. I should have had a lot more respect for people who do hard work every day than I apparently did.

This is a good story. Thanks for sharing it.

I’m sure I’ve done similar things, though I can’t recall a specific instance at the moment. What I’ve been aware of in myself more and more is how my tone and attitude is affected by my assumptions about the person I’m speaking to. I think I generally outwardly act about the same but with me it’s the subtle things. Sometimes I’ll wall away from an interaction and think, “I would not have said that to a white person” or "… to a man " I hope I’m getting better but sometimes I’m pretty disgusted with myself.

This isn’t really on topic, but your story reminded me of the scene(s) in the movie Ruthless People showing Judge Reinhold’s character as a stereo salesman.

What definition of “bigot” are you using here?

Yeah, he was an elitist, not a bigot.

ETA: well more of an elitist’s toady or something.

I had trouble coming up with a single word that meant “a person who is prejudiced against and looks down upon other people who are different than him”.

I suppose elitist works, but I was trying to be more encompassing of the concept of prejudice, and not single out elitism.

Back when I was younger and cared enough to play such games, I used to occasionally get a kick of dressing down when going shopping, and then paying cash for big ticket items.

Dude! Stop beating yourself up. You worked at FUCKING Radio Shack. You have suffered enough.

I know.

Most people who work in sales soon learn not to judge the book by its cover; some of the most unlikely looking people have money to spend.

My weird take-away from your story is, “Who buys a $900 stereo at Radio Shack?”

I would agree with those that said you were being elitist rather than a bigot.

Did you tell the salespeople “BIG mistake! HUGE!”

I was going to say anyone who’s ever been in sales has (consciously or not) done something similar to the OP, especially if they’re working on commission. Morally right or wrong, it’s only logical that someone whose paycheck relies on [del]leeching as much money as possible [/del]individual sales will gravitate to the person they perceive to have the most money.

The OP only mentions their “dirty working clothes, bottom of the totem pole vibe” but I’m wondering if they were also people of color, thus the “bigot” description.

I can confirm they were not also people of color.

Well then I agree your use of the word “bigot” is inappropriate. That’s not me piling on with criticism; that’s me telling you to give yourself a break :slight_smile:

This whole thing is the in the same category as the guy who felt guilty about being undercharged for some minor item at a store.

Cheesesteak, you’re no bigot, I don’t even think you’re elitist, you’d be a rare person if you never mistakenly judged a book by it’s cover.

I actually run up against this attitude pretty frequently when I go out to eat. My wife and I are in our late 60s and look like the typical “order the daily special, split a desert, and then leave a $5.00 tip” couple. For this reason, we often get shafted as far as seating and attention from the wait staff. About halfway through dinner, the staff starts to realize realize that we are spending twice as much as that big table of 30-somethings, but it’s only after we leave a very generous tip that they “get it.” For this reason, we usually try to go to the restaurants where they know us already and treat us a little better. I don’t consider the staff to be bigoted, but they are certainly making an assumption about us based on their experience with older, retired couples.

It’s just a missed commission. Don’t let it live rent-free in your head. Help customers you can and remember: no card player picks up every trick. Also, people who try to flutter a fist full of cash in your face are Jerks, no matter how they dress.

I once knew two African American men. One was the head of the Computer Science dept. and the other was the head of the Computer Center. They went to one of the big local PC stores back in the day to shop for equipment. (So this was quite a while ago.) The salespeople went out of their way not to help them. My friends eventually gave up and left. The store lost a good amount of business that day, never mind future business if they had started a working relationship with them.

I’ve heard a lot of tales like that over the years.

Salespeople used to ignore my wife and I since we dressed “simply” like in blue jeans, “tennis shoese”, and such. Doesn’t happen anymore since too many people dress like us now when shopping that it would be even stupider to ignore customers.

There is a fine restaurant around here that even the first time we went there dressed casually as we always do, treated us like kings. They are a bit overpriced, but we keep going back. We always give the standard 18% tip (essentially automatic on the CC machine, although you can overrule it). There was a time when an Ottawa restaurant didn’t want to seat us, but finally did. The meal wasn’t that good either and I would never go back. It was the restaurant attached to the National Arts Centre.

I was in graduate school at the time. We had a weekly seminar that all the ecology/evolution grad students and faculty were encouraged to attend. Sometimes faculty or grad students would present their research. Other times invited guest speakers would come and try to impress us.

One day a guest speaker was giving the talk. He was also auditioning for a new tenure-track position, so the audience was slightly bigger than usual. He started talking and I noticed a black guy in the room. I was accostomed to always being the only melanistic person in the room, so I was intrigued by his presence. But not in a good way. More like a, “Oh shit, there’s a homeless guy in here!” kind of way.

I don’t know why I assumed he was homeless. He wasn’t disheveled in any way and he was clearly paying attention to the presentation (which was more I could say for myself!) There was no past history of homeless people showing up for dry-ass seminars. And yet the belief that he was homeless seemed 100% right to me. And I was very uncomfortable that he was going to say or do something that was going to embarrass me, as the only other melanistic person in the room.

During the Q&A, the guy shocked me by asking a question. A question that went right over my peanut head. I’m sure my mouth visibly dropped. It suddenly hit me he was representing the mathematics department. The guest speaker was a modeler. So of course his research would be interesting to a math geek. He was no doubt on the hiring committee.

I felt like garbage for the rest of the day.