Trader Joe’s offered me a gift card for the racism I received from a manager.

In 2021, the world has gained more clarity at how lies are what sociopathic racism practitioners use to get away with harassing, obstructing, denying, killing, attacking, belittling, insulting, undermining, supplanting, and/or objectifying POC. If done successfully practitioners and their supporters escape accountability and end up taking no responsibility, free to continue practicing their sociopathy. That’s not the societal stance I expected Trader Joe’s to take or support in 2021.

I tried and succeeded in using Trader Joe’s liberal, trusting return policy. I say ‘tried’ because I encountered stoic and heart felt resistance to include me in the group of customers allowed to benefit from this policy. I had three items worth 10$ or so. Two were unopened. Wait a minute. That’s not what I want to say. That’s sounding like I’m trying to justify my usage of a policy that doesn’t consider those variables in it’s application. What I want to say is the manager continuously told me that I needed a receipt to return the items. He also said I was wrong about the store policy being as liberal as it was: no receipt, bring it back, half eaten, or package opened. I looked like a fool and felt even worse thinking that my years of hearing and applying this policy was simply an incorrect application of the policy by those other employees in the past.

Before I continue, I am African-American (Trinidadian born). The manager in question is black but not African -American. African-Americans reading this know the cultural implications of that mention. I’m not learned enough to start or finish that conversation intelligently so I won’t do either. It is a conversation that can provide some perspective on why it was possible for that black man to practice sociopathic racism towards this black man.

Foolishly standing there I just take the questioning of my honesty and integrity. I acquiesce to this person’s assuredness in authority and delivery. At least that is what I thought I was doing. I was just trying not to make a scene. I breathed my calming breaths and created a focus on a center that grounded me at that moment. It worked. I didn’t get the kind of upset that makes for cart upturning disquietude. After inspecting the items and my recycled bags with impressive deliberation he eventually made the return happen. Even after doing that, while he was leaving, he still took the opportunity to remind me that if I ever want to return something I can only do it if I have a reciept.

While I was shopping, the feeling of not being true and clear and honest about my misgivings was eating at me. I shopped for food and stuff and more stuff. I paid for it and asked this new cashier about the return policy. He directed me to look behind myself to see the policy written. On. A. Wall. 30ft from me, 15ft above me. The manager in question lied to me. Lied to my face without any blinking or hesitation.

First, my feelings. The lie, in and of itself, is a big cause of hurt.

The next hurt is that he tried to make me internalize that lie by offering me denial after denial of my claim of having a place in that space. The heinousness is so real. I was being denied the truth that was written right behind me. Something that everyone else could see and point to. His denial told me that I was wrong to think the trust that the company gave customers also was mine to share in. The feeling of trust that I saw myself reveling in and claiming for myself all these years, was being rubbed in my face. The cashier who was there at the return failed to hide his shock of hearing the lie as his eyes darted around screaming at me to do, I don’t know what. Duck? Run? Turn around? Probably turn around. I don’t know how this would have turned out if I had turned around, saw the lie in it’s mid-morning clarity, and the manager still standing there in front of me.

Another place of hurt is knowing that Trader Joe’s leadership knows, like everyone now knows in 2021, that sociopathic racist lies harm POC, threaten POC livelihoods and extiguish POC lives yet, in this instance, they support this employee’s sociopathic racism through the lie he told me and about me. He told his captain that the dispute that I detailed in the letter below concerning his actions was “really only about what form of payment I wanted’.

I try as a hard as possible to use a positive outlook to live the life that I want. I must. Challenges are abundant so I use my loved one’s support to power me through. Some things I have to deal with on my own, in my own way. That is why I am writing my experience and how I feel about it.

Now to the letter.

This is the original letter that I sent to Trader Joe’s and a details of their responses.

I had an experience in Trader Joe’s Georgetown that made me question my honesty, integrity and place in that space which I considered my community grocery store.
I am black. I am big. I am male. I know what kind of treatment is waiting for me from people who practice sociopathic racism. I know what reactions and expressions of power are waiting for me from those who practice sociopathic racism. What they do is consistent and constant. Because of that I have to navigate when I want to move like white people move (all of my rights, right now, with no hesitation) or how I think I should move to reduce the chance of abuse that I know I can face. Trader Joe’s has a well known, long established store policy regarding returning items to their stores. I think that it is gener- ous and respects the partnership that the company makes with the people who support it. I think it is based on trust. You may return anything, partially eaten, package opened, etc. to a store for a refund or exchange. No questions asked. ‘We trust our customers’ is what that says to me. Most of the products are Trader Joe’s brand so that also may not be as challenging economically. It would still sound like a challenge to their business model but, again, it respects the partnership it made with its customers- we trust our customers, we believe in our customers, we respect our customers, we also believe in our products, service, environment, company. That respect earns loyalty. Loyalty can be profitable. I have utilized this return policy before, sparingly, reluctantly but appreciatively. The process is different also. Instead of going to ‘customer service’, you are told to do your shopping and at check out tell the cashier what you are returning. Again, this requires respect, trust and a strong belief in your customers and your company’s ethos. I don’t like to do it that way if I can help it. When I enter the store, I like to walk through the check out area so everyone can see that I am bringing in what I am returning. Cameras can see that, customers can see that, employees can see that. I feel safer that way. I do what I can to reduce the chance of anyone questioning my integrity, honesty, and inclusion of my place in this space. That method didn’t work this time. I understand that the extra-ness that people who are subject to sociopathic racist practices have to do to live with respect dosen’t always work. There are no guarantees attached. I think those actions are just responsible reactions to face irresponsible acts. ‘Three bells’ means a manager/supervisor is needed at a register. He came to the register, heard from the cashier that I wanted to process a return and immediately asked me for a receipt. I stumbled out that I thought that wasn’t necessary but he kept saying no, you need a receipt to return this. The return policy is clear. I assume managers are there to enforce and support the enforcement of the stores policies and to do so in a way that symbolizes the company’s ethos. I, though, was not to receive the enforcement of that store policy. “You” need a receipt. I said ‘I don’t have one’, didn’t bring one, didn’t search for one because the store policy says I don’t need one. He insists I produce one and starts to look in the used Trader Joe’s bags that I brought. He even finds an old one. But of course that’s not the receipt that he says I need in order to return the items. The cashier who was standing to the side and behind the manager, did something at the beginning of this experience that was interesting. When he first heard the manager say I needed a receipt, he looked at the back of the managers head, then looked at me dead in the eyes and then looked at the ground and everywhere else for the rest of the experience. His eyes looking everywhere else. Very telling is what that is in retrospect. Eventually the manager relented in requesting a receipt and processed the return. I asked for a receipt for proof of the transaction, ironically he said I didn’t need one. I wanted one. He didn’t even try to give me one. He left. The cashier finally looked at me. I looked at him and then left to go do my shopping. I came back to check out. I asked the new cashier at the same register I was at before what the return policy is. He said that you should just bring whatever it is back and we’ll refund or exchange it. Do I need a receipt. No. Are you sure. He said, “It’s written on the wall right behind you”, which it was. It was the same wall that the previous cashier and manager were both facing when I first started this experience. It was also right above the customer service desk. The customer service desk where the manager, who insisted I needed a receipt, came from. I thought to myself, and finally, “Hell to the nah!” That ‘nah’ made me consider being upset. I refused and just went to the customer desk where a plethora of managers were. As soon as I was noticed, a manager that I recognized from another Trader Joe’s asked to help me. I told him the story. He looked puzzled when I told him. He immediately apologized that that shouldn’t have happened. I said ok. I then left. The manager who helped me question my honesty, integrity and place in that space had also left. Before I continue, I want to point out that the manager who left is black. Black as any black man who would be subject to sociopathic racist practices by people who want to practice sociopathic racist practices on black people. He practiced sociopathic racism with me, on me, around me, through me. The other part, mostly important to american black people reading this is that he had a british-y, definitely, non-american accent. The reason I say this is because black americans already knew after reading the first few sentences how this experience would go down and why it would go down the way it did. I can assume a lot to explain the behavior. I won’t. I just know that because anyone can practice sociopathic racism, anyone can be subject to it. I’m no expert at understanding, explaining, addressing, or anything-ing racism- structural, sociopathic, systemic or otherwise. I am an expert at experiencing it just like a lot of POC in this country. I know it when I feel. The part that hurts more than the sense of betrayal to the collective experience of sociopathic racism by POC in the this country is the amount of intention, focus and commitment on the selling the lie that the manager exhibited. He knew that his actions were wrong in every way that exists for that place, at that time and his position. He did think that I deserved that lie which was supported by every effort he made in his eventually revealed racist sociopathy towards me. Back to Trader Joe’s. I’m going to share this post with management at that Trader Joe’s. What I hope that they do are things that make me, my son, brother, father, cousins, uncles, black friends, white friends with black kids, black friends with asian kids, latino kids with white/latino parents, etc. feel safe and welcomed in that store and any of their stores. I’m not going to make suggestions as I’m no expert at determining the best way to make sure no one ever experiences this or it rarely is done by an employee. Never has been and never will be my job. Personally, they could even explicitly support the Love and Appreciation Day movement to show that the company supports movements in society that are focused on strengthening the compassion, empathy, love and forgiveness that allows our society to thrive. We’ll see. There’s still space on this post to add more to the story. -Andre Lee

Update- letter shared: I return to the store to give the familiar manager (captain) the letter. I forget the letter in the car. As I turn around from retrieving it, I see the black manager who is holding a tray of coffee cups peeking out from the entrance looking at me and then heading back inside as soon as I see him see me. I give the captain the letter. He wants me to talk about it. I decline, I just want Trader Joe’s to have a chance to respond to my experience. He mentions talking with the manager. He says the manager said the problem was confusion about how I wanted the money refunded. I still decline to respond and insist on sharing the letter with the company. He gives me the number for Kenya Friend- Daniel, PR Director for Trader Joe’s. I call Kenya, leave a message detailing my email and phone number. I get an email from Kenya asking about the experience. I don’t discuss anything in the email, I just attach the letter.

Update- PR phone call: The next day I was called by “Perry” from Trader Joe’s. He asked what happened. I said the manager insisted that I needed a receipt to return the items. No more details. I assumed he read the letter. He asked who it was. I described the manager, “black man, british-y/non- american/african accent”. He said he knows who that is, “Matt”, I think is what he says. He says he thought it may have had something to do with someone who was returning a lot of items. Sorry about that, they’ll talk to him. He then offers me a gift card. I repeat that I’m documenting my experience and that’s why I shared the letter with Trader Joe’s that I’m going to post. He says ok. I ask did he read the letter. He says he did. I ask if offering me a gift card is what Trader Joe’s response is. He says yes and to text him if I want it. I don’t text him, I don’t want it. So my thoughts: Simply put, that response doesn’t address any of the issues I detailed in my letter, which was my hope. The lie. My place in that space. Trust. Honesty. Integrity. Respect. I see a gift card addressing a embarrassing mistake, a monetary or even a momentary inconvenience, etc. I am unable to see a gift card, a monetary non-monetary loss to Trader Joe’s, providing a feeling of safety for my son, dad, brother, cousin, cousin’s kids, etc. Nor do I see a gift card as proof that Trader Joe’s unambiguously welcomes POC . I know I won’t be going in Trader Joe’s any longer. Nor will my family members. I don’t require them not to. They just won’t. They have my back. They want me to be treated with respect, integrity, honesty. They want me to have a comfortable place in any space. I don’t see a gift card, a monetary non-monetary loss to Trader Joe’s, as evidence that everyone who has a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood will be seen as someone of value who is afforded the enforcement of policies that protect the valuable partnership that the company has made to anyone shopping at Trader Joe’s. Things like this happen to other people is what I’m thinking throughout this experience. It is definitely my turn. If you read all of this, you should understand why this experience was important to share. — Andre Lee