Thursday, September 16, 2010

Racism??? Really???

I've been stewing over this post for weeks now. I wasn't sure if I wanted to post about this experience, or just let it fade into history. My reason for this blog (sporadic as it might be) is to help other small business owners learn from my experiences. So with that in mind, here goes:

When you serve the public, you have to be prepared to deal with all kinds of situations. You have an expectation that people come into your establishment because they want to purchase your product. The customer and the business owner should approach the transaction with a reasonable expectation of mutual benefit. The customer gets a quality product at a fair price; the business owner succeeds in selling his product, providing a service to the public, and hopefully makes a profit. If any of these factors don't happen, then the business eventually goes away. That is our free market at work, and it works quite well I might add.

That description should work for the majority of your interactions with people in your store. However, there are going to be a few people who come in, looking for free stuff, looking for some drama, or maybe not even knowing what they are doing (drugs, drunk, mental illness, etc)... As a business owner, we have to evaluate each situation and decide how to handle it. If someone is disruptive, bothering other customers, or creating any kind of a problem, we will ask them to leave. If someone is just looking for a bathroom, a glass of water, or a place to sit and relax for a few minutes, then we will do our best to accommodate them and show kindness.

We recently had a gentleman come into our store and set up for a meeting at one of our tables. Tracy makes it a point to verbally greet every person who comes through the door, regardless of what is going on. It is her commitment to customer service to have an interaction with everyone. She greeted this man and asked if he would like anything. He replied that he was not going to buy anything, but was just there for a meeting (he was there for the free Wi-Fi). We prefer that patrons who utilize our resources support our business, but we do not require it. The only time we will address the issue is if non-customers are using tables at peak business hours (like lunch) and we need the table space for paying customers. This scenario has occurred a few times, but is quite rare.

A few minutes passed, and the gentleman asked Tracy to help him connect his laptop to the free Wi-Fi, as he was having trouble with it. Tracy went to his table to assist and noticed he had brought outside beverages into our store. We have a "No Outside Food or Drink" sign at both entries, and this is one policy we do not bend on. Tracy mentioned that he was welcome to stay for his meeting, but he would have to remove his outside products from the store. This gentleman took great offense and became very vocal. He said some very rude things, mocked Tracy, mocked our store, etc. He decided to pack up his laptop and leave instead of simply complying with our posted policy.

We don't like to have anyone leave our store unhappy, for any reason. This patron chose not to be a customer, chose to use our resources for his meeting, and chose to bring his own beverage into our store in violation of our posted policy. One can say he was wrong to act the way he did, but regardless, he is a person who left our store angry, and that is never good. When he speaks about us to his friends/coworkers/Facebook/Twitter, etc he is not going to go to any great lengths to describe his own behavior. He probably won't even mention it. He is only going to tell people not to go to Nemo's because "we are jerks." That's not good, but it is going to happen once in a great while. Ces't la vie...

Approximately 30 minutes later, a woman came into Nemo's and confronted Tracy about this gentleman's experience. Tracy explained what had happened. The lady asked Tracy if she had a problem with "people of color" (she and the gentleman were both African American). Tracy replied that she does not have a problem with people of color. The lady asked Tracy for a business card, and Tracy refused to give her one. This upset the lady and she ended up leaving, proclaiming to be on the board of the local NAACP, and something about launching a FULL INVESTIGATION!

I was at work at my Project Engineer jobsite and missed everything that had happened. I checked our Nemo's Facebook page mid-morning and saw where this lady (who was one of our Nemo's FB friends) had posted about her 'horrible experience at Nemo's, and how the owner had made racist remarks.' I immediately sent her a private message and indicated that I'd like to find out what had happened, and that I would like to speak with her. I then called Nemo's and spoke with Tracy, and she described the above events to me.

Not long later, this lady called me on my cell and I spoke with her about the incident. To her credit, she was honest with me about her friend bringing in outside product, and about him not responding well to Tracy's request that he remove the outside product. However, the only thing she was concerned about was Tracy's "racist" remark. I told her my understanding is that she merely answered her question, and that Tracy had not made any racist remarks to either her or her friend. At the end of the conversation, she agreed that there were no racist remarks made, but she unfortunately felt she could no longer support Nemo's as a customer. I said that is unfortunate, considering the circumstances, but that was certainly her prerogative.

OK, at this point, I thought it was over. I checked Facebook again a little while later, only to find that she was still posting remarks about blatant racism at Nemo's, not only on her FB page, but also on numerous friends' pages, and a Colorado Springs Small Business page. WHAT?????!!!! I couldn't believe it!!! I called her again and she answered. I told her I thought we had come to an agreeable conclusion that there were no racism issues, and she again agreed. I asked her if she would please remove her Facebook posts. She said she was not willing to do so. She said it had taken on a life of its own on Facebook, and she was not going to try to stop it.

OK, so now you know what we are dealing with here: Community Organizers.
To make a very long, very horribly long, story short, I spent hours and hours replying to FB posts, chasing down Twitter broadcasts, contacting individuals, trying in good character to defend against these false claims. I decided very early on to try to do so without ever saying anything negative about the gentleman or the woman. She demanded apology after apology from me, publicly on Facebook. I agreed that her and her friend left our store unhappy, and I apologized for that, as we do not like anyone to leave unhappy, for any reason. Well, things seemed like they were settling down, smoothed over, and fading into internet oblivion.

The next day, I found additional posts making negative statements about Nemo's. I finally had enough. I had humbled myself and apologized publicly to unknown hundreds, if not thousands of people on Facebook and Twitter, for a problem we did not cause. I’m OK with that. Sometimes you have to step up to the plate and be bigger than the situation. Sometimes it is more important to swallow your pride instead of proving you are right. At this point, though, I was tired of people lying about what they did, lying about what we did, and putting it all on public display to try and damage us. I responded to the new posts and said as much. I offered to post the security system video and audio, and the hundreds of people who had been drug into this discussion could decide for themselves what really happened that day. The surveillance video would show who was a racist and who was not.
Well, this lady wanted no part of that. She had fully invested herself into her story, her accusations, and she had hundreds of people watching and listening via FB and Twitter, including the local business community. When she saw my offer to post the audio and video, she immediately un-friended us, deleted everything I had access to. Her and her friends who were most active in the discussions all blocked me from their pages, so that I could no longer see what they were posting. She also did not want her friends to be able to see anything I might post, like the TRUTH! I called her later that morning and spoke with her. She said she was SOOOO done with this situation – stick a fork in her. She suggested that I would probably alter/edit the video and audio to try and make her look bad. Whatever…
That is how this ended, for me at least. She may have continued her anti-Nemo’s campaign, but I no longer have access to anything she posts since she blocked me.
And now, we get to the best part of the post: What have I learned?
1. There are WONDERFUL people, everywhere… Through this event, some of her friends were willing to take her accusations and run with them, spread them, re-tell them as if they had been a part of it. However, other friends of hers TRULY wanted to know the truth. They sent me private messages to ask questions, offer advice, give insight. A number of people in this discussion went out of their way to visit Nemo’s and get an idea for themselves how we treat people. They observed how they were treated, the sat in the cafĂ© and watched other people come and go, took notice of their interactions. They then went back to Facebook and reported their findings, their observations, their thoughts - - - all of which were POSITIVE! When you find yourself in a difficult or bad situation, look around. There will be good people involved, or at least watching from a distance. ENGAGE those good people; you will come away from the experience having won a friend or two. God creates good in all things. Sometimes you have to look around for it, but it will be there ~ if you have invited God to be a part of it.
2. Some people are not interested in the truth. I tried for an entire week to present our character, and allow people to decide what they will about us based on our interactions. A small percentage responded positively, most just sat back and enjoyed the show, and a small percentage took up the campaign to try to damage us. No matter what you do in life, you are going to find a small percentage of people of good character, loving, truthful, honest people. You are going to find a whole bunch of SHEEPLE. The masses who won’t develop their own thoughts, those who just go along for a ride, enjoying the drama. You will also find a small percentage of people who are willing to inflict damage, just to support their friends, to support an agenda they agree with, or just for their own enjoyment. I have seen this throughout my days in the Navy, my years in the semi-conductor industry, my years in construction management, and now in our several years of operating a small business.
3. You can never defend yourself from an accusation of being racist. If you try hard to defend yourself, people will assume you are guilty because you are trying so hard to prove otherwise. If you ignore the accusations, people will assume you are guilty because you don’t care. If you apologize, even if you are not at fault, they will run your apology up a flagpole for all to see, and proclaim with great veracity that you truly are a racist, since you apologized for it (or something else, just trying to be nice). No matter which road you take, you will not have a positive outcome. People who make false racism claims are looking for drama and hate and tumult. The truth is not what they are after; there is no confusion, no miscommunication. As soon as you actually offer some proof of your innocence ~ POOF, they vaporize and disappear.
4. If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, just say “I’m sorry you feel that way. I wish you well.” Walk away. If you have a quality operation and you care about your customers, then your reputation will not be damaged. Your customers will love you back. There might be some negative chatter for a few days, but it will dissipate. They need someone to take the bait in order to get their drama mo-jo going. Don’t be the person who takes the bait, as I was.
5. If you are accused of being a racist, and it is because you are a racist - STOP!!! There is enough hate in the world without people adding to it with racism.
6. At the end of everything, go back and read #1. Remember there are good people everywhere, in every situation, and that God has your back. You can’t go wrong with that…

1 comment:

pondering said...

Don't delete this post. This is awesome. I'm sorry you went through this. It stinks; which I understand, as I have had many years of dealing with false accusations against me(not for racisism for other things, and not against a business, but against me as a person). The things I was accused of were not even close to the truth, and it was very painful. Sometimes it would become the cause great fear in me, but eventually I got through it all. I learned to trust the Lord with all I have and He would be my defense, and He was my defense when it was needed, and other times it just wasn't needed, because people can just go ahead and believe what they want. The world will go on.
I learned God knows the truth, and that's what counts in the end! Like you said, sometimes you just need to ignore it and wait for it to die down. I love your 6 lessons learned, they are so true!! I learned those same lessons. So it's too bad this all happened to you, but at least you learned some valuable things. Keep this post here as I think it could help some people.