It was late evening of Midwest summer – hot and humid month of May. I was running a few errands. My last stop was a local grocery store, just to pick up milk and some fruits before heading home. Already a long day, but winding down!
The line at the grocery store was long, but moving quickly. The whole process of check-out was quite robotic, like an assembly line – the customer stepping up with the items to purchase, the clerk scanning the items, the customers sliding the credit card through the card reader, signing the digital pad, collecting the items along with the receipt, and leaving. And, then next customer, same steps.
The clerk, the name-tag confirming his Indian ethnicity, was quick and efficient at his job.
At my turn, I stepped forward and followed the same sequence. As my grocery items got scanned and bagged in no time. I slid my American-Express through the card-reader, getting ready to leave as soon as the clerk would hand me the receipt.
No receipt. Instead, out of nowhere, the clerk politely interrupted the flow of the line, “Sir, can I see your card and an ID?”
Ready to leave, I was caught a bit off-guard. I took out my driver’s license and handed it over, along with the American-Express. I was annoyed a little at the whole thing, I must admit. My credit cards are always in good standing.
“Something wrong with the card?” I asked, almost demanding…
He took his time, casually inspecting my ID.
I was hoping some response or explanation, so I asked again, “Why do you need my ID?”
He grabbed the receipt from the scanning machine as it printed out.
“I am just doing my job, sir,” he finally spoke with a calm demeanor, handing back my license along with the card and the receipt.
“Have a good day, sir!” He added as I walked away.
Walking to the car in the parking lot, my brain was playing back the whole incident. Everybody in the line ahead of me was white, I just thought. I wondered if the clerk was really doing his job; or if he had been watching his American colleagues too long, and followed the same pattern they follow. I wonder if he is consciously or unconsciously biased against his own race.
It is bad enough when we get discriminated because of the skin color, but it is much worse when we get singled out by someone of our own race – with our own brown skin color.
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