The sentence that got Maurice Rucker fired from an Albany, New York Home Depot was mild and coherent compared to the bizarre and vulgar rant he says a customer dropped on him last week.
“‘You’re lucky I’m at work, because if I wasn’t, this wouldn’t be happening, or you wouldn’t be talking to me like this,’” Rucker, 60, remembers saying to the man during a shift last Thursday. Rucker says the customer had just finished calling him an “asshole” and a “piece of shit” for daring to inform the customer that the store didn’t mind having dogs inside but preferred they were leashed while indoors.
“‘If Trump wasn’t president, you wouldn’t even have a job,’” Rucker says the man told him. “He said, ‘You’re from the ghetto, what do you know?’”
Rucker’s managers didn’t appreciate their employee standing up for himself in even the mild-mannered fashion implied by reminding a belligerent person they’re only able to abuse you because you’re on the clock. He was fired Thursday, according to a report in the Albany Times-Union.
“The problem here is that he had several opportunities to disengage and contact management to deal with the customer,” a store manager told the local NBC affiliate. “We’re appalled by this customer’s behavior, but we also must require associates to follow proper protocol to defuse a situation for the sake of their safety and the safety of other associates and customers.”
Rucker had been with the company for a decade but earned just $13 an hour when he was told to hit the bricks, the station reported.
Customer service work has always been a frontline in America’s persistent war against the dignity of working-class people and people of color. Anyone who has worked retail, whether short-term to pay for college or as their primary means of making rent and keeping the fridge stocked, has likely experienced disrespect at the hands or tongues of a customer.
But such incidents — and the race-panicky character that so often attends an industry that is now the primary forum for economic opportunity for men and women of color — have gained new media attention over the past few years. A determined optimist might look at a rash of stories from coffee shops, picnic areas, grad school dorms, suburban cul-de-sacs, golf courses, and public pools, and say that at least nobody called the cops on Rucker.
Many demographers and sociologists point to racial segregation as a driving force for these episodes of snarling harassment. While almost no city in the U.S. performs particularly well on measures of residential or educational integration, Albany exemplifies the kind of modern pulling-apart that exacerbates centuries-old historical patterns in the modern age. A study measuring how residential segregation — and the wealth inequality and immobility associated with it — had changed from 2011 to 2016, a group of academics found Albany had the seventh-largest increase in its racial divides of any metropolitan area in the country.