Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cultural Rupture

I thought I had become racist. For a second.

A Hispanic woman who did not have extensive English or seeming of much wealth (for lack of a better description) came into my store the other day and I immediately knew she wasn’t going to buy anything. I thought this conclusion came from me starting to breed that terrible mental illness known as racism. But It wasn’t. Of course, I work in a linens-and-furniture retail store and it’s my job to attend to customers in the store as soon as I see them and attempt to sell them merchandise….and I did. She told me she was looking for a circular dining table and we started on our pre-determined path of no fruition. I showed her all that we have, each piece individually costing as much as open heart surgery, and last but not least, the cheapest round table we had, the quality of which matched the price. She, of course, left without buying anything and I stood asking myself why her race was able to tell me that this would happen ahead of time. The answer ended up being that it’s a dynamic consequence of the fact that our store is in a neighborhood that can barely afford anything we sell.

If I had to guess, the President of the company picked the location of this store, a lower class Hispanic neighborhood in the South Bronx, because renting the property would be cheap. It’s built over a sewer which odorously makes itself known to anyone who walks inside. It’s built next to a river that’s so polluted the fish would have better chances of survival if people fed them opium everyday. There are as many rats in the store as there are customers and employees combined. Cheap electric and heating bills. Cheap water bills. All to upkeep a franchise made for the economic class that lives in the Hamptons, Long Island, Manhattan and New Rochelle, while keeping money in the capitalist’s pocket. Makes perfect sense to someone who just considers their own pockets in their decisions. And why should anyone be considerate of anything else when making decisions? Years ago, a decision like this wouldn’t have made any difference in whether the President of the store made his millions or not.

Circa 1999, citizens of the neighborhood were able to afford all of the ridiculously priced things the linens-and-furniture was selling. Italian sheet sets flew off the racks. Classy handmade chandeliers were pulled off the ceiling almost as soon as they were hung. Brand name leather sofas were bought up like iPhones. Two years later, a couple of planes consecutively crashed into the Twin Towers, making an economic vacuum that sucked loads of cash right out of American (and international, subsequently) circulation. A certain Texas-bred Fascist used the media, anger and sentiment over this to direct the country towards more violence. And the war started, with him spending $80,000,000 of taxpayers money per month on this. Then concepts like bad mortgages and housing bubbles bursting started coming into reality. And now here we are. The company is not making any real money, because it’s still busy trying to force high prices down people’s throats.

I’ve heard billions of complaints from customers about the smell of the sewer over which the building is built. Billions of inquiries as to whether the neighborhood is safe to walk through. Plenty of people who can’t make it to the store before closing time because they live and work in Long Island or Manhattan or New Rochelle and then have to travel to the Bronx to shop (without a car). Economically, if we cater to these areas, shouldn’t the store be located there? If we are stationed in the Bronx, shouldn’t the merchandise be affordable to Bronx residents? Then we’d have customers. Even people with money are complaining that things are too expensive, although this could be because they think everything in life should be cheap, regardless of the fact that it’s not really doing them any real damage to purchase things at the prices that are already there.

I originally questioned whether placing this business in poor neighborhood was right or wrong. A co-worker says that question really doesn’t apply to the situation at all since there really isn’t any obligation to the community you enter. I say that you have no business being in the community unless you’re supporting it somehow or are not really affecting it in any major way. Of course, selling furniture and bed sheets is not about any moral obligation at all, but I also don’t see the point of entering a culture without positively adding to it. We could talk about the company hiring local residents so that a few more of them would have some income, but that isn’t even the case.

The co-worker said that you cannot put your beliefs on other people, and that free will should not be violated. So, the company is free to posit itself wherever and run however it likes. This is true, but when you have this as the basis for all other thoughts, it leaves all kinds of room for immoral activity. People who mow down forests to setup corporations and test products on animals and “constitutionally bare arms” that end up in high school shootings solely have the free will argument behind all they do. If the world is to heal somehow, good ideas need to be guiding those actions. Only thinking about how you would materially benefit is never a good idea.

1 comment:

  1. The area where I live is pretty run down, but is at the start of a renovation plan to build new housing and improve the area - the idea being that Smart New Money will move into the area, spend money in the area and generally improve the atmosphere of what is largely an unemployed majority.

    However, reality has shown with similar schemes is that rich people move in, spend their money elsewhere and the poor become ghettoised.

    So there is an argument to suggest that by charging high your store could potentially bring in money to the area and surrounding shops that the locals use, but i totally agree with you that it should service the locals first and foremost.

    And i don't think it was racism - i guess you've just learned to spot a serious customer from a browser


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