you got served

Are your choices of service professionals racially motivated? Some of us people of color seem to dance the fine line of wanting to support minority-owned businesses and wanting to get good service from whoever can provide it at a good rate. But what about even simpler daily choices? For example, if there are 2 open cashier lines at the grocery store, do you make a decision on physical appearance or race? We know this is the case for our prejudiced caucasian brethren. Personally, I would try to observe which cashier appears to be quicker, more competent and friendly. But if there is no clear distinction in those categories, I would probably gravitate towards the person of color. Why is that? Unspoken kinship? Playing the percentages? Reverse racism (haha)?

One recent customer service experience (even though it didn't involve choice), made me think of this issue. Recently, I purchased an HDTV and called for Comcast to hook up the system. A Hispanic technician named Carlos went about his business, but once we started talking, he opened up about race. "You know some people in Cherry Hill and Medford (surrounding affluent areas) they're WEIRD!" I chuckled, saying that money makes people funny. Carlos replied, "Its not just money, b. I've worked in Brooklyn houses that cost more than these homes. And those homeowners were cool. But here, they watch over you with an eagle eye. My partner is African and he rested his hand on the wall while wiring. The homeowner, this white lady, yelled at him to take his hand off the wall cuz he might break it. It was a concrete wall! Concrete aint gonna break! Then she told us DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. I mean aren't we all supposed to be the same - all human? They bleed like we bleed." We shook our heads at the story and lamented on others as he wired the back of the TV. Eventually we simply rationalized that all people don't think like us and moved on to more cheerful topics. Then almost as an appreciation for our bonding, Carlos hooked me up with some additional services for free, exchanged a soul-brother handshake and left for his next appointment. I wasn't expecting to talk race issues with the cable guy, but it convinced me to ask for Carlos next time I needed help. Bottom line is to get the service completed, but isn't it icing on the cake to have someone who relates to your experiences?

Getting service from fellow Filipinos goes both ways according to my parents and elder titos & titas. They are affluent high-achievers, so maybe its a class issue. I've seen them happily tsismis-ing (gossip & chitchat) with fellow Filipinos who are servicing them. But I've also heard them caution against patronizing Filipinos when it involved serious matters. And if anything went wrong, they would jokingly perpetuate typical self-mocking stereotypes of the lazy, corrupt, fun-loving but incompetent Filipino.

I've only had two bad experiences with Filipino service professionals. Each time, I couldn't stop myself from bitterly retelling those old ingrained stereotypes. One incident involved a middle-aged Filipino tax accountant who came across more like a familiar uncle during our consultation. We shared laughs and bonded as he wove long-winded stories of the homeland and joked about his americanized kids. Meanwhile, he misinformed me out of a refund and into an audit. Afterwards, I echoed the taunting words of my dad, "Ohh, that's what you get for going to a Filipino. Too busy joking and tsismising to get things right. Don't pick a Filipino next time."

Another incident involved a Filipino ticket agent who messed up my airplane tickets, forcing me to run back and forth twice through the Las Vegas airport to correct it with another agent before catching a plane almost as it lifted off the ground. I verbalized the same reaction to my wife, "Damn Filipino messed me up. Talking to me like we were fam. That's the last time I use them." The positive experiences outnumber these incidents by a wide margin, but its so easy to fall back on those catchphrases.


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