Out Of Africa

, , , , , | Working | January 21, 2019

This is when I was working on the sales floor of a large bookstore. I got along with my coworkers pretty well and we tended to chat during slow moments of the day. As it is with retail, we would abruptly stop those conversations when customers approached us needing something, and then we would continue it later on when we had another slow moment.

I had been discussing with my coworker her most recent — of many — trips to Tanzania and how she was eager to return, but we got busy and had to put the conversation on hold. After twenty or thirty minutes it died down again, and I happened to be walking by her and said, “So, when are you going back to Africa?” Then the phone rang and she turned her back to answer it before she had a chance to respond to me.

I turned around and saw a customer glaring at me. I asked if she needed any help and she very curtly said, “No, I don’t!”

It took me a moment to realize that the customer had just witnessed me — a white man — go up to my coworker — a black woman — for apparently no reason and ask her when she was going back to Africa without any other context. I’m sure she thought I was being a complete a**hole bigot!

I felt so embarrassed! But the woman left the store before I had a chance to explain it to her.

I later told my coworker about it and she thought it was funny. But she suggested I make sure to reference Tanzania directly in our future conversations about her trips.

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