What Micro-Aggressions are:
Micro-Aggressions are those common slights that people can perceive throughout the day and that appear to be the result of racial or other bias. For example, a Black, Indigenous or Person of Color may notice that they are being singled out for extra scrutiny while shopping, or that a salesperson is making assumptions about them based on their race, ethnicity or religion. Each slight may seem small, but they add up and cause great harm to an individual.
No one is immune! Even if you self-identify as the same race, ethnicity or any other descriptor of the customer, you still might be perpetuating micro-aggressions. This is true regardless of what’s in your heart and conscious mind.
Luckily, there are some simple habits that we can all develop to help avoid unintentionally inflicting pain on others.
Circulate without hovering
It may be your job to walk around the store, front and face product and ask people if they need help. Be mindful of how this may feel to a customer who doesn’t know that is your job and is used to being followed and watched by store employees. Suspicions of your motives can be disarmed with a friendly greeting and by continuing to circulate away from the customer. Be sure to greet everyone in the same, friendly way.
How to Accept Payment
When you work at the register, there are simple, humanizing behaviors available to you that can help make every customer feel acknowledged and welcome:
- Greet them when they step up to the counter.
- Use eye contact. It’s true that some people are not comfortable with eye contact. This is a problem that solves itself, since they won’t be looking at you in the eyes anyway.
- If you are required to run a counterfeit pen over larger bills, do it this way: First accept the bill and ring up the transaction so that the cash drawer opens. Place the bill to the side, less in sight of the customer and hand the customer their change. Then, briefly touch the marker to the bill before putting it in the drawer. This avoids the discomfort of a long, drawn-out “testing” of their money right in front of them, implying that they are not trusted.
- When handing back change, ever so slightly allow your hand to touch the customer’s. You may be accustomed to dropping the change into a customer’s hand, avoiding contact. Some people interpret this as the cashier being afraid to touch them, which can feel dehumanizing. While not everybody wants to be touched, you will find that this subtle gesture can defuse tension and even bring a smile to people’s faces. Very briefly, you have connected to someone in a way that a thousand words wouldn’t have accomplished.
Encountering a Customer Who Looks or Sounds Very Different Than You
If you find yourself tensing up or nervous about interacting with someone from a different walk of life or a person who looks different from you and the people you are used to, try this trick: Look for some quality that reminds you of someone in your family you love. Are they the same age as your son? You they dress like your favorite aunt? Do they smile like your grandmother? Remember that this is someone’s beloved son, aunt or grandmother, and they likely want to be treated the same way that someone you know and love would like to be treated in the store. Keep your loved one in mind while you interact with them. As they walk away, imagine them being safe and having a wonderful rest of their day.
Work Might Not be the Best Place to Express Your Curiosity
You may be curious about a person’s accent, dress, ethnicity or disability. Curiosity is wonderful, but it’s not appropriate to put a stranger in the position of having to explain themself to you in public. From your point of view it’s innocent and shows a genuine human interest. From their point of view, it may just be annoying and exhausting; they just came in for milk, for God’s sake, and now they’ve been singled out (yet again) as different. While “Cool shoes!” Or “I love your ear rings!” is almost always appreciated, questions or comments, even positive ones, about their identity cross the line. Keep it superficial. You like the band on their t-shirt.
Is Your Place of Work Inviting to Everybody?
Perhaps your store has one of those signs welcome people of all races, national origins, gender expressions, religions, etc. Does it include all sizes? Can you think of other attributes of people not included in your sign? And does merely putting a sign on a door mean that all people will feel welcome in your store? Try this experiment. If you are not in a wheelchair, walk in your store and navigate the isles, picturing the three-foot wide gap needed to get around in a wheelchair. Does anything have to be rearranged to accommodate a wheelchair? If someone can’t reach an item, is there an obvious and easy way to get assistance? What do the employees look like? Are they lacking in, say, age diversity? If you come up with anything that you think might be a barrier to a customer having a wonderful experience at your store, make a suggestion to your manager or the store owner.
We are all going to make mistakes, and no one should expect you to be perfect. The suggestions above will take some conscious effort before they develop into habits. As you grow in your awareness of how the little things you do can affect people even in the briefest of public encounters, you will reduce micro-aggressions that you may not have been aware of. Together, we can help increase the loving-kindness that we share in our world, and show everybody the respect that they deserve.