Everyone who listens to Sistah Speak knows I’m “old school.” I like to think I know about most things this world puts forth, mainly because I read a lot, listen carefully, and pay attention. With that being said, I wasn’t prepared for what I encountered at a discount store. Now, this store was in a rather “depressed” area of town, but the store advertised low prices for named-brand products, and said they locked in low overhead costs. Also, a few people in my office recommended the store as a way they saved on their weekly grocery bill. They encouraged me to check it out.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, with birds chirping and a light breeze blowing, I walked up to the building where large, green plastic grocery carts sat parked outside. I reached for a cart. It didn’t budge. I yanked again, and then I noticed the problem. The carts were locked up! They were chained together like criminals doing the “perp walk.” Each one had a huge orange or purple lock on the top bar and a slot for a key. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never seen such a thing. I surmised that the store wanted to discourage people from taking their carts, but why chain them up?
Saying that I was irritated is an understatement. I went inside without a cart and asked a cashier how to get a cart. He said, “You have to use a quarter.” I said, “You gotta pay for a cart?” He said, “Yep, it costs a quarter.” I shook my head and mumbled something I don’t remember now as I went back outside. After rummaging around in my purse for several minutes, I found a quarter and stuck it in the slot. That cart wouldn’t budge! By now, I’m getting peeved. There wasn’t a soul around in the parking lot, and I didn’t relish going back in the store without a cart and ask that cashier to come outside to show me how to get a damn cart. Lucky for me, and that cashier, a store clerk came outside to smoke a cigarette. I stopped her and asked about the cart. She put my quarter in the key slot, turned a knob on the side of the orange lock, and poof…the chain fell off! She explained that the quarter stayed embedded in the slot until you returned the cart. Then, you’d insert the end of the chain back into the front of the lock, popping out the quarter.
What the hell? I’ve been to a lot of different stores, huge malls, and specialty shopping blocks, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I even went to this same discount store in a different part of town and I didn’t see this. Then it hit me…that store with the locked-up carts was in an area predominately occupied by black and brown folks. A public housing complex–albeit a fairly decent one–loomed across the street from this discount store, and pedestrian traffic was plentiful, particularly on sunny days. The owners of this particular store no doubt had stereotypes embedded in their psyche that led them to this deed. The more I thought about their obvious disrespect for their customers, the hotter I got. Although some individuals in economically-depressed areas are sometimes locked into cycles of low-paying jobs, homelessness, or criminality, they deserve to be treated with respect simply for being alive, in my opinion. With those locked-up carts, the owner of that store reminded his customers that he believed those customers were not deserving of the same respect as the rest of the community. That’s not acceptable.
Now, y’all know I called the manager of that discount store and voiced my displeasure about the locked carts. And, I asked why the carts were not locked at the store in my neighborhood but they were in that neighborhood. The manager told me that “those people over there” barely work, hang around on the sidewalk all day, and steal everything not locked up or nailed down. I let him know that I was one of “those people,” even though I didn’t live in that neighborhood. I said that I didn’t appreciate his comments. Predictably, this manager said he had nothing against “them,” it was a business decision made by the owner of the company.
Why do business people do that? When confronted with their stereotypical views of an entire area and its occupants, they profess that their locked-in prejudices were nothing more than business decisions. I say let’s get rid of the locks on those carts and the locks on their minds by demanding everyone get the respect we expect in return. And, operating a business in the black, one should not care from which hand the money comes. I’m just sayin….