working in retail while white, fit, tan and privileged

abercrombie-and-fitch-ad-campaign-courtesy-fo-abercrombie-and-fitcholiver lee bateman’s recent article for salon chronicled his experience as an assistant manager for abercrombie & fitch and is an eye-opening account of bias and discrimination. according to bateman, the company recruits people who are “quality and collegiate” and define such to almost exclusively include college-educated white people who are physically fit and tan.  the elitist environment is condoned by regional managers and corporate executives who want to build a brand based on “you can’t sit here” type of marginalization, and bateman’s account of how a black employee was treated at his store made me cringe:

the regional manager’s adoration didn’t extend to our finest worker, a tall, chubby, and openly gay african-american who had bright green braces.  although we tried to avoid scheduling him when we knew the RM was due to visit, chronic labor shortages on account of the company’s low starting wages and obsession with brand representative beauty ensured that he was often working 30+ hours per week.

“you have to get that guy off the floor,” he’d tell us. “he’s a fucking disasterpiece.”

this piece resonated with me not because of bateman’s revelations about the company — absent his article, one can figure those out by the racial discrimination lawsuit, nearly all-white models in in the company’s advertisements and extremely loud techno music in the stores — but because i could relate to the black employee who faced microaggressions by his all-white peers. i worked retail after college and as an assistant manager in a high-end store, i helped supervise a store that lacked staff and customer diversity. one day, i was written up by my manager because i hurt the sales representatives’ feelings by not building a more “personal” relationship with them (i’m not making this up). despite the fact that after sitting down with each employee no one could give me a clear answer about what i had done to offend them, i internalized my manager’s criticism, seeing myself as the stereotypical angry black women. i now know the real issue was that i didn’t fit into the store’s “brand” or dominant culture, and for me this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because i had goals to achieve that were much larger than my co-workers’ microaggressions.

you can read the rest of bateman’s article here.


One comment

  1. Wow…. How sickening is this… I bet you that so called regional manager hardly fits the physique of their “brand”. Emphasis on the quotations!

    OnRae L. Watkins 


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