Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Welfare Mother In the Mercedes Benz (aka: F**k Giant Food)

Sad, but true story.

So, I'm on my way into the office this morning, and AverageSis rings my cell. She is irate. She had just visited our neighborhood Giant Food grocery store, and experienced an incident of discrimination no customer should have to endure.

AverageBaby (our son) is pushing 14 months now and eats like a little piglet. Since he isn't too keen on solids, this means several trips per week to the grocery store to pile up on Gerber Organic Chicken and Wild Rice, which is the only thing he will reliably consume. Each time we go, there are no more than 10-12 jars on the shelf at a time. Since the store won't sell you this stuff by the caseload, this often means we have to go in to re-up every other day. My wife usually makes this trip, and unless something else is needed, only buys the baby food and seldom anything else. Pay attention, because here's where the trouble begins.

Today, she goes in, grabs the customary dozen or so jars, and heads to the checkout line. When she finally gets to the front of the line and empties the jars from her basket, the cashier, whom my wife had never seen before, asks her the dumbest question in the history of mankind.

"Are you using W.I.C. for this?"

Aw, hell naw!

If you're bourgeois and somehow unaware, W.I.C. stands for Women, Infants, and Children.

Here's more info from it's Wiki entry:

W.I.C. is a Federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for health care and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five. The eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines. If a person who participates in other benefit programs, or has family members participate in the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, they automatically meet the eligibility requirements. This program is unrelated to the USDA's "Food Stamp" program.

WIC participants often receive a monthly check or voucher. In many poor areas, "WIC stores" exist that only sell food for vouchers issued by the state WIC program, and do not accept any other form of payment.
My wife (nicely) asks the woman why she would make the assumption that she needed to use W.I.C. to pay for baby food? The woman simply says it's store policy to ask first since they would otherwise have to void the order, but fails to provide any further explanation. My wife (nicely) asks her why she wasn't asked this very same question the other dozens of times she comes in, but the cashier (who is white, though it doesn't really matter) simply repeats the company line. A white man in line behind my wife witnesses the whole thing, but doesn't say anything. My wife finishes checking out, grabs the baby food and AverageBaby, and leaves the store.

When she gets in the car, she thinks about it for a moment, and decides she just can't let it slide. She goes back in the store, receipt-in-hand, and heads to the customer service desk. She is virtually ignored for 5 minutes while the customer rep attends to an issue for a white customer. When she is finished, the customer service rep directs her attention to a white woman standing in line behind my wife.

Aw, hell naw!

My wife (nicely) interjects and lets the rep know she was in line first, and the rep (not so nicely) asks my wife "what's the problem?". My wife (nicely) asks the rep what the store policy is on asking people whether or not they are using W.I.C. The rep simply says "it's the store policy", without any further elaboration. My wife (nicely) asks to speak with the manager. 15 minutes elapse. The manager shows up, and when prompted, doesn't elaborate any further either. My wife notes the names of each person she has interacted with while in the store, and asks the manager for his last name and the number for their corporate office. He declines to provide either, and walks away.

Aw, hell naw!

My wife (who is irate by now), simply leaves the store, goes home, Googles the number for Giant Food's Corporate office, and dials in the complaint. She asks why this store seems to have a selectively enforced policy on asking people whether or not they are using a W.I.C., and whether or not they have ever considered that this might be, just slightly offensive to some shoppers. Corporate files the complaint and promises to call the store and discuss this issue with the manager, then report back to my wife.

End of story (for now).

I know some of you are probably reading this and thinking "what's the big deal?". The big deal is, why in the hell would a cashier look at my wife an assume we're in need of public assistance? My wife is a statuesque former college homecoming queen and beauty pageant winner. She also (pre-AverageBaby) was a bank vice president. She is educated and intelligent. She is home by choice, not by circumstance, because her husband (who is also intelligent and educated) can afford the luxury. She took the baby food outside and placed it in her Mercedes Benz. She drove the Mercedes Benz back to a half-million dollar home.

But all the cashier saw when she looked at her was a welfare mother.

She didn't see a dedicated mom raising a child prodigy. She didn't see a husband who works his ass off to ensure their child has the best opportunities to succeed in life. No, she just saw a welfare mom.

And since the store, at all turns confirmed that this was indeed a company policy, I can only assume that Giant Food doesn't look at my wife and see anything more than a welfare mom.

So, yeah. It's kind of a big deal to me.

I always tell you guys to pick your battles wisely. So, here's my challenge: don't keep letting sh*t slide.

Sometimes when you're black (or heck, any minority), oppression and discrimination are so much a part of everyday life that in a dysfunctional way (think battered woman's syndrome) they feel normal. Think about all the times you are followed as you shop in a store. Think about all the times you're completely ignored when you actually want help. Think about all the times you go to a restaurant and the hostess attempts to seat you at the rear, despite all the empty tables at the front. Men, think about all the times you board an airplane and get asked whether or not you play pro ball. Think about all the times in a store the person in line in front of you was greeted with a smile, while you were greeted with indifference.

Think about the welfare mom with the Benz.

I'm not asking for any letter writing campaign or a boycott of Giant Food. I'm not calling the NAACP or Al Sharpton to fly in and protest the Evil Grocery Empire. I'm sure as hell not asking you to consider us sympathetic victims (a la: Trent Benefield), because I will mess something up, and I don't need that hanging over my head.

Nope, we're going to do it all by the book. The complaint with Giant Food is filed, and we should have a response in a couple of days. I fully expect someone to apologize to my wife for making such an ignorant assumption, and furthermore, change the policy to ensure more customers aren't discriminated against in the name of speedy checkouts. In short, Giant's outlandish and stereotypical corporate policy needs to either be 1) universally enforced 2) modified to eliminate possible discrimination or 3) eliminated completely. If they can't do either of those, then we just might have a bigger problem on our hands. Stay tuned.

What should you take away from this? Call things out and don't just let them slide. Whether's you're talking about a $6/hour clerk or a multinational corporation like Giant Ahold, peoples' minds don't change unless they are challenged. If just you allow things to happen to you without checking folks, you are (in a way) just as guilty as the person discriminating against you. And if you're white and observe such an injustice, you have a duty to point it out as well. Unlike the white guy in line behind my wife who wouldn't retell his account of this incident to customer service when my wife asked him to. Punk ass *****.

Either way it doesn't matter, because Giant Food won't be getting my money anymore.

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