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Pay The Lady

January 14, 2010

In workshops when trying to explain privilege to folks first being exposed to the concept I often cite examples from my retail shopping experiences. For me these are the most concise way of demonstrating how institutionalized most forms of oppression are.

I have the receipt for EVERY single item I have purchased within the last 90 days, organized by store in an expandable file wallet. I keep each receipt until they expire (generally 90ish days) and then they are scanned and saved to hard drive. The hard copies of items under 20 bucks are pitched; the hard copies of items over 20 bucks are stored in envelopes – marked with the store name – inside a shoebox.

I do this partly because I am probably OCD and also because I do not like being treated like a criminal if it should so happen I need to return or exchange an item.

While I haven’t spoken to every single marginalized person who has ever returned an item, many (flag bearers from a variety of -ism groups) I have spoken to have noted being treated with suspicion when they have sought to exchange/return items sans receipt.

I remember going to the mall with a friend some years ago and watching her return an article of clothing she had clearly worn to a store with NO receipt in a cheesy plastic grocery store shopping bag and receive nearly seventy bucks in cash with NO ID requested and NO QUESTIONS asked.

I don’t need to tell you she where she fell on the privilege/oppression continuum.

We’re not talking Nordstrom’s, which has an excellent system utilizing a POP (Proof of Purchase) barcode sticker thingie affixed to the tag of an item after purchase. It tells the date, time and price paid and as long as this tag is attached to the merchandise you can exchange the item with no hassles and no dramedy. From what I understand this is the policy and that’s that. No POP label, no return. I’m always for system like this one, which limits the amount of discretion folks have and is applied across the board.

My issue is rarely that a policy sucks and I don’t feel it should apply to me, but rather I do not wish to be subjected to inconsistent policy application and I won’t. I don’t care how many names I get called or threats of unleashing security on me. I don’t care if you try to shame me into backing down with allusions to me being “rude” or “loud” or “pushy”. I don’t give a shit. Pointing out the obvious just doesn’t really hurt my feelings. You’re gonna give me what you gave the rich white lady and you’re gonna like it.

Hell, you don’t have to like it, but you do have to give it.

Tonight I was in JcPenney returning boots I decided I didn’t like. I had my receipt and was all set to go when I noticed a white woman next to me returning two cans of some kind of shoe spray SANS receipt and the salesclerk saying, “Well, do you remember how you paid?”

The first thing I hear when I wish to exchange an item is, “DO YOU HAVE THE RECEIPT???” even as I am handing that bad boy to the clerk.

Anyway, the woman mumbled that she did not remember how she paid and unfazed the salesclerk said, “I’ll just give you cash back.”

What? Now JcPenney’s return policy is quite specific:

Our Return Policy

With a receipt: Any returned items accompanied by a receipt dated within 90 days of purchase will be refunded at the original purchase price, plus applicable sales tax, in the original payment method. No refund will be issued after 90 days.

Without a receipt: Refunds and exchanges made without a receipt and purchased within 90 days will reflect the lowest “on sale” price within the last 30 days, plus applicable sales tax. A refund will be issued only in the form of Merchandise Return Voucher or credit on a JCPenney account.

Emphasis is all Snarky!

Nowhere does it say, “Hey you don’t look like someone who takes items from the shelves and then returns them. I’ll just give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Stupidly, in a previous visit, I had been talked into a store credit when I opted for a price adjustment on an item, which had gone on sale eight seconds after I purchased it. I should have demanded my money back, but the clerk was newish and frazzled and it was the holidays so I was feeling generous. Besides I usually order my Goddess Bras from the catalog.

back to today’s story.

So embolden by this liberal interpretation of the return policy I decided to ask for cash back rather than the store credit. Hey, I had the receipt, thus in my mind I was in even better shape than the woman next to me.

The sales clerk who handled my transaction starting spouting policy, unaware that her colleague had just run afoul of it. I said, “Well, she just gave her last customer a cash refund WITHOUT a receipt so I’m going to be needing my cash back.” More scoffing and policy reciting. I then said, “Call the manager.”

The manager smiled and recited policy. I smiled and recited recent history. The manager said, “Well I’m sure if she was behaving like you it helped her get her way.”

Hold, up dawg. I don’t think so. You aren’t going to make me bad about catching your staff inconsistently applying the return policy.

I smiled and said told her she wasn’t going to shame me into backing down and that I was leaving the store with my cash and that’s just how things were going to go. She could do it the hard way or the easy way and well, that’s up to her.

The hard way involves me writing an email where her embarrassed manager does exactly what I wish and I get the stinky eye the next time I pass through there on my way to Taco Bell.

She opted for the easy way.

In thinking about the way in which privilege expressed itself in this case, the thing to remember is nobody was called a nigger. Nothing was burned or scrawled on my lawn. Getting the benefit of the doubt is something I rarely expect.

We can debate long and hard whether or not I create a self fulfilling prophecy by entering situations with my world view, but what is not up for debate is how problematic it is when policies are loosely enforced for some, but strictly enforced for others and how often this is to the detriment of marginalized groups of all kinds. I have no doubt that Trans People, Fat People, People with Disabilities, Poor People and all intersections of those various groups have had similar fucked up experiences in this regard.

Which is why I waste my time on something as petty as a return (in case you were about to ask why) because maybe, they’ll remember my ass the next time they’re about to give someone shit about a fucking return.

Dismantling oppression isn’t merely about the grand fucking gestures, the marches, the boycotts. It’s boots on the ground shit too. It’s the daily little moments of, “Oh, I know you ain’t about to discriminate against my ass. Not me. Not other marginalized groups I don’t even belong to and certainly not today. I look too cute today for my mellow to be fucking harshed by your bullshit.”

Or in the words of Bard of faux boxing Robert Balboa Sr.“It’a ain’t how hard you hit, but how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” or there abouts.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 11:48 pm

    Perfectly said.

    And really, I should adopt your receipt saving habit…no matter how much The Guy (my partner) razzes me for being a pack rat.

  2. January 15, 2010 8:34 am

    Nice work getting the clerk to do it the easy way for all us sinners. You have a force-like way of getting to the vulnerable core of these seemingly impenetrable entities.

  3. January 15, 2010 2:03 pm

    I’ve just discovered you through this post and will definitely be returning! Good for you for sticking up for yourself, and for explaining the concept of privilege in such easy terms.

  4. January 15, 2010 4:49 pm

    I’m like the Dude, except motivated into action.

  5. TheHobo permalink
    May 5, 2010 1:18 pm

    See, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to have privilege, since I fall into the camp that is supposed to have it, and at the same time, I’m part of the FA movement, and a woman, and that means there are times when I very much don’t have it. My own thought was that most people seem to have some privilege, and some lack of it, depending on the situation or the scenario.

    However, your post spelled out exactly what I do have in terms of privilege because I return stuff all the time with no receipt, and never have any issues. And I do normalize that behavior because that is how it *should* be.

    Sometimes I think if you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt like you were being The Other, the person not getting the privilege treatment, it’s easier to forget all the other times when you did. I don’t think privilege is a fixed thing that you either always have, or always don’t have, but something more fluid that fluctuates depending on the situation.

    Anyway, while I’m still working out what it means to have privilege, I wanted to say thanks for the very clear example. :-)

  6. May 8, 2010 12:21 pm

    Dismantling oppression isn’t merely about the grand fucking gestures, the marches, the boycotts. It’s boots on the ground shit too. It’s the daily little moments of, “Oh, I know you ain’t about to discriminate against my ass. Not me. Not other marginalized groups I don’t even belong to and certainly not today. I look too cute today for my mellow to be fucking harshed by your bullshit.”

    YES YES YES. This is something I’ve tried to express to a good number of activists I’ve known, because often they have a lot of privilege but ignore that fact, and then think of themselves as being so incredibly moral because they went to that G8 summit with pickets or because they buy five dollar eggs. Meanwhile, people in their very own community are being discommoded, hassled, and worse, all the time just because they’re alive and in the world, and sometimes by those moral activists themselves!

    I say this as a white woman who is trying not to be a Nice White Lady, even though I know I will still get all the privilege that comes with that just because I’m alive and in the world. So, yes, the highly privileged can have our mellow harshed, but we usually have to step into the ring for it, proclaim ourselves intentionally political beings in order to get political backlash and related social unpleasantness. Whereas visibly marginalised people, all they have to do is exist.

    And having one’s mellow harshed on a regular basis just for having left the house? That IS a major issue; it makes it so much harder to do every other fucking thing, and then there is no room for a sunny disposition. And it’s a fucker of an equation, because: People are rude to you -> which makes you unhappy -> and then expressing this totally undeserved unhappiness = makes them call you rude! And then there’s double harshing! HELLO?

  7. May 8, 2010 1:21 pm

    See, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to have privilege, since I fall into the camp that is supposed to have it, and at the same time, I’m part of the FA movement, and a woman, and that means there are times when I very much don’t have it. My own thought was that most people seem to have some privilege, and some lack of it, depending on the situation or the scenario.

    The Hobo, thank you for the response. I’m really glad you got something from the post and moreover, that you didn’t feel personally vilified for having privilege in one area of your life.

    Thanks for stopping by and look forward to seeing you around more often.

  8. May 8, 2010 1:29 pm

    I say this as a white woman who is trying not to be a Nice White Lady, even though I know I will still get all the privilege that comes with that just because I’m alive and in the world. So, yes, the highly privileged can have our mellow harshed, but we usually have to step into the ring for it, proclaim ourselves intentionally political beings in order to get political backlash and related social unpleasantness. Whereas visibly marginalised people, all they have to do is exist.

    Definitely agree and feel this is the best thing I’ve ever seen written in terms of breaking down privilege in a way that is applicable across many marginality lines. Small fats are not marginalized in quite the way that larger fat folks are. They aren’t hounded by ignorant medical professionals and so in a lot of ways those possessing that kind of fat – I am myself am one of this – where they can pick and choice when they wish to have that identity politicized and it being mindful of that privilege, which tend to be FAR more useful to those who don’t have it than whatever half ass activism folks do in order to absolve the guilt they have about it.

  9. May 11, 2010 10:14 pm

    Angelina, I’m really glad that you stand up for yourself that way. Every time you do it, it chips away a little bit at the fucked up attitudes out there.

    As a trans woman who doesn’t look like most people’s idea of what a woman is, I’m gradually working on building up my self-confidence to confront more of the things I face. One time I went into a women’s clothing store and was told I couldn’t use the changing rooms. I had to go to a little storage closet in back if I wanted to try on anything, so I wouldn’t make the other customers uncomfortable. And the staff spoke with the voice of Authority, and I did what they told me to. I bought a couple of outfits, supporting their business, and meekly went home. I hope the next time I run into a situation like that, I have the strength to handle it differently.

    Stories like yours help to inspire me, so thank you very much for sharing that.

  10. Alex permalink
    May 31, 2010 12:17 am

    “The hard way involves me writing an email where her embarrassed manager does exactly what I wish and I get the stinky eye the next time I pass through there on my way to Taco Bell.”

    I found the above sentence a little vague. What exactly is “the hard way”? Who would you send the email to, and what would it say?

  11. May 31, 2010 1:27 am

    Alex – the “hard way” = email to corporate, which is then sent to store manager who is expected to follow up on the customer complaint. Fairly certain the entry in its entirety alludes to this. That said, this isn’t a 101 blog, and therefore it’s assumed the reader is a bit more savvy and capable of parsing things out. I don’t write for the cheap seats. Hopefully, that clarifies things for you. If not, google’s a great resource.

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