SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Anna’Re Frassetto

Clash of the Classes

Late afternoon in April of 2002, my boyfriend, Justin, and I went shopping for a couch at a local furniture store in the Arrowhead area of Northwest Phoenix. Arrowhead would be classified as an upscale middle-class neighborhood. Since Justin had just purchased his very first home, he wanted to spoil himself with a brand new leather couch. We both agreed that leather would be appropriate since the majority of the furnishings already in his home were very classy. We decided to meet at the furniture store right after work since we would both get dirty anyway from loading and unloading the couch. Justin works as a drywall stocker and tends to get very dirty on the job. He looks like a drive-through car wash is the only way to get him totally clean. Additionally, his work attire is not the nicest, as one would imagine. Most of shirts look as though they once resembled white. His work pants have holes scattered in various areas of friction and his shoes are so scuffed the steel toes protrude freely. My attire, on the other hand, is that of a businesswoman; dress slacks and a nice shirt describes my wardrobe at worst, definitely the opposite of Justin.

I had arrived prior to Justin and was able to enter the store unnoticed. I had told Justin if I arrived before he did to meet me inside. I would start looking for that perfect couch. When I noticed Justin enter the store, I happened to be in an area of the store out of his view; however, I was able to see him. Justin had walked in and immediately went to the leather couches. It would be hard to ignore them considering the strong, distinct smell of new leather that pervaded the spacious interior if this building. I was amazed by the endless options of furniture, all properly color-coordinated to signify the spring season. A white salesperson walked up to him and made it quite obvious that he was unimpressed with Justin’s attire. I interpreted his facial expressions as though he was thinking look at the way this guy is dressed; I think I’ll show him the cheap furniture. He proceeded to tell Justin that he would show him the furniture that would best fit his finances, assuming Justin had little funds.

  If you have any knowledge of those in the drywall business, you are aware they earn a substantial income. Certainly enough money that there wasn’t a single piece of furniture in that store Justin couldn’t afford to buy. From the distance, I could detect Justin’s frustration and walked briskly over to come to his rescue. At first sight, the salesperson immediately directed his attention towards me, brushing off Justin. He must have felt there wouldn’t be a commission based on Justin’s appearance. The salesman politely asked if there was something he could help me with. Before I could respond, he suggested that I take a look at the new line of leather couches they had recently received.  I walked past Justin and gave him a coy wink of the eye as if to say, “don’t let the guy know we’re together yet.” I wanted to play a little game with this arrogant young man to teach him a lesson I hoped he would not forget. I have worked since age sixteen in a customer service position and have made it a personal policy to treat everyone equally regardless of the clothing they wear.

Since I had seen Justin eyeballing a particular couch, I walked over to the exact one and told the salesman I would be interested in purchasing it. I informed him that I first wanted to consult with my ‘husband,’ imagining what this guy would think as soon as I claimed Justin as my husband. The salesman was very polite and said he understood; his wife usually wants a mutual agreement on large purchases as well. I remember thinking that this guy sees me as the good subservient women who knows who’s boss.

At that moment I motioned for Justin to come join us. I stood back staring at the salesman as total awe dawned on him that the two of us might be together. I found it entertaining to observe the embarrassed salesman attempt to cover his remarks and attitude towards Justin. Justin boldly and proudly stated that he loved the couch and would find it at another store where he felt more comfortable spending his money, somewhere that did not discriminate against people who worked hard for a living. At this point the salesman was still stumbling to find words and excuses, wishfully thinking he may still be able to sell the couch and earn a commission.

 Justin and I left the store arm-in-arm and felt gratification that the arrogant smirk that had once occupied the salesman’s face had turned into a stunned expression, humbled to say the least. I could imagine his thoughts now: I think I just lost this sale! Maybe I can kiss up to him and cover my tracks. Is it too late for that? How are these two even a couple? She’s so clean and prissy-looking; he’s so gross and rough looking. I’m pretty sure his thoughts were firing off a mile a minute. This was the first time I had ever been directly involved in a situation where I had witnessed someone being discriminated against because of his appearance.  It was rewarding to know that rather than get angry, I took the opportunity to teach this man a lesson. The revenge was sweet, knowing that the salesman was beaten by his own stupidity and assumptions.

I believe this incident has stuck with me for the last year-and-a-half, because it has put a damper on my perception of salespeople. I can no longer smell new leather without re-visiting all that had transpired that day in the furniture store. I can no longer look at a young sales associate without wondering if they have motives, like how much money they might make off me, or if they honestly want to assist me. And I perceive upscale neighborhoods as being filled with arrogant people too involved in their own lives to look through a piece of clothing and see the person that truly exists underneath it all. I sometimes feel that if I am not extremely dressed up, in Fashion Square Mall for example, that people are watching me and wondering what neighborhood did I venture out from.

I think of Justin being denied quality service because he was dirty after working from the wee hours of the morning, until getting off fifteen hours later. One thing that bothers me the most about this whole situation, enough to make it linger, revolves around the fact that Justin looked like or could be identified as a construction worker with his t-shirt, jeans with holes, and steel toe boots. That furniture store would not be standing if not for people like Justin who work long hours to ‘build the city.’ I would like to see the salesman switch roles for a day; doing various types of jobs in the construction business, and then going to a store after work to be denied good service because of his clothing.

The Arrowhead area has pretensions and strategies to keep the west side image of Phoenix from pulling it down. Its strategies of exclusively master-planned neighborhoods and include incorporating gated communities, private golf courses, etc. Do they have a master plan for a dress code, which is to be enforced for all members of the construction industry? Since the Arrowhead area is striving to maintain the ‘upscale’ classification, it suggests to me that the people living in this area are prone to ‘judge a book by its cover.’ It makes me wonder what kind of service, if any, Justin would have received had he been of a different race, say black or Hispanic. I envision a Hispanic construction worker walking into the same furniture store and being lead to the back of the store where all the out-of-style or out-of-date furniture is hidden. Would this be the case?

What I have witnessed with Justin’s scenario, is a clash of the classes. My initial preconceptions of class were that it is a type of prejudice that is a lesser extreme, than say race or gender. However, it may be more primary and last longer than racism or sexism. These borderlands all share the principle underlying all prejudices: they have little to do with the individual and who they are or what they’ve done, but more to do with the assumptions attributed to the categories we place people in. This appears to be a long battle between the intersecting borderlands of difference.

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