Before people decided my silly jokes were worth paying me a weekly income for, I toiled for six years as a convenience store flunky. It was the complete opposite of both fun and useful, which is probably why Rashid Polo got my attention the way he did. PTSD is a helluva drug.
Polo just hit the viral big time with a series of Vines that purportedly expose convenience store racism. See, every time he walks into a bodega, employees — who look like they’re merely stocking and checking inventory — follow him to ensure he doesn’t steal anything. This, naturally, is because he’s black, and he exposes this by yelling SHE THINKS I’M STEALING into the camera, prompting the employee to stalk away in fear and embarrassment.
What a great, socially conscious narrative, except for one problem: It’s almost certainly bullshit. And this guy walking around filming this shit probably did nothing but make an already overworked, depressed c-store worker’s life even more miserable. See, every store I worked at (and I worked at many) made employees walk around and eyeball customers ALL THE TIME. We’d straighten up the shelves, dusting and dusting until we hacked up Bugs-sized bunnies, while always keeping one eye on you, the customer. Because you never know who’s there to snag free shit, simply because they can.
It’s like Robin Hood, except “steal from the poor, give to me”.
Convenience store theft is all but accepted in society, thanks to folks like Apu from The Simpsons turning it into a running joke. Hell, in one of these Vines, he flat-out says, “I’m not gonna steal all of it, just some of it.” Joke joke, steal steal, get Grandma fired because Loss Prevention was in a bad mood that day, haha heehee. Then there was the store that launched a David Hasselhoff-branded campaign, and over 500 cardboard Hoffs went missing after mere days. Everybody, even the company itself, laughed about it, because c-store theft is funny, cool, and a rite of passage into adulthood.
Right behind “questioning your sexuality after first seeing David Hasselhoff”.
But workers don’t trail everybody, right? Of course not. If somebody just walks in, grabs a Coke, and hits the counter to pay for it, nobody’s stalking anybody. That’s a legitimate customer, and the store’s happy to have them. But once they start aimlessly wandering around, staring at everything but buying nothing, that’s when the spy games start. Solid Snake could learn some shit from a really dedicated c-store people-watcher.
He already likes their products — he’d fit right in.
Polo’s actions are exactly what that would trigger a cranky manager to grab the nearest minimum-wage sad sack and say, “watch this guy”. He’s literally just standing there, phone in hand, not even pretending to study which 2500-calorie breakfast sandwich is right for him. As far as the employees scurrying away when he starts yelling SHE THINKS I’M STEALING? Well, no shit they’d run. Their cover was blown, and loudly, which is plenty enough reason to crawl into the cooler and hide for the next 15 years.
“You understand my pain, caramel eggs.”
Was Rashid Polo stealing? Probably not. Were these convenience store employees following him because he’s black? Also probably not. They saw a guy hanging around and not buying anything, and needed to ensure he wasn’t planning anything. It’s simple protocol in an industry where theft is high and every penny counts toward the store’s bottom line (not to mention the employees’ meager bonuses). They have to be on high alert at all times, no matter who’s shopping.
You could fit an awful lot of candy under that robe and barely show a bulge.
But hey, that selective editing and obnoxious yelling sure got him social media fame and shamed those workers’ grandkids for years to come. And really, isn’t that all the Internet Aggregate Machine requires these days?