Whole Foods visit underscores societal divide

It’s easy, especially in Manhattan, to be color-blind and, at the same time, viewed as a racist.

That was the lesson that I had driven home the other day at my local Whole Foods on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  As we all know, the divide between those who shop there and those who work there can be an unbridgeable chasm.  So it seemed that day.

In line to pay for my few items, I realized that I had purchased the wrong pie (at half price) and needed to exchange it for another.  The cashier at station No. 2, a pleasant tall, lanky black woman wearing eyeglasses, said she’d be happy to wait for me to collect the pie that I really wanted.

I hustled to the bakery section and high-tailed back to the cashiers, unwittingly depositing the pastry at station No. 4, where the black woman manning the cash register (or whatever they call that thing in this computer age) was stocky and covered with tattoos. So much was I rushing to avoid delaying anyone else, I never noticed that I was at the wrong place until she scanned my poor little pie.  She swelled with anger when I tried to point out that I should have been two stations away, where the rest of my shopping already was registered.

Raising her voice somewhat, she was unwilling to hear an explanation from either me or No. 2.  We exchanged words, but not at high volume or for an extended time, and I took my pie back where it belonged.

“What’s with her?” I asked the nice young woman at No. 2.

“I dunno,” she replied.  “Maybe it’s a racial thing.”


“You know, all blacks look alike.”


Some of my best friends, blah, blah, blah.   Asians, too.  I was horrified to have been branded racist or someone who just stereotypes individuals.  Although I seem to have problems recognizing anyone I don’t know well (would you believe a conversation with Elizabeth Taylor with me ignorant of her identity?), I easily appreciate the physical distinctions among my closer friends and acquaintances.

At least all’s well that ended well – superficially.  Once I understood what was going on, I made a point of explaining myself to No. 4, and she made a point of being receptive to my overture.

So I succeeded in exchanging my pie, and the two of us exchanged pleasantries.  What continues to trouble me, however, is the possibility that she still doubts what I think really happened.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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