Australian Newsagency Blog

A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

Racisim at the newsagency counter

Mark Fletcher
October 16th, 2013 · 23 Comments

Earlier this week I saw several customers refuse to be served by a newsagency employee who is Asian. Even though the employee’s customer service skills and English are excellent, these bigoted customers declined to be served until a caucasian employee was free. It was disgusting behaviour that I am told is common from customers in this newsagency when ‘confronted’ with the Asian employee.

The employee accepted the behaviour as normal when it is anything but. Have others seen this?


Category: Ethics · Social responsibility

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Angelo // Oct 16, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    Sad but very true and a raw nerve for me.

    I had a lovely Thai lady working with me a couple of years back who was behind the counter dong some training. After some curious looks from some of the town folk quietly asked if I had sold the Newsagency and was now going through the hand over training!

    There was then the combination of some customers deliberately speaking slowly when served by her or others that I perceived to be trying to confuse her particularly when it came to Lotteries sales. Others positioned themselves so that they were the next customer I served and avoided her.
    Over time she became one of the most popular staff I have ever had. The sad thing in all of this is that some of the customers exhibiting the negative behaviour were otherwise friendly and outgoing regulars but the sight of the Asian person switched on something ugly in them. I understand the whole war thing implicitly and that some will never forget but this generalisation in this day and age is completely out of place in this day and age.
    And here’s the thing she was one of the best workers I’ve had. Way smarter than me (not hard!) thorough, honest, pro-active and an overall lovely person to have on the team with a smile that would charm anyone she came into contact with. Regrettably she found another job and left but the racism towards her both thinly veiled and obvious was disgusting to see.


  • 2 jessie // Oct 16, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    Aneglo, similar story here, we are a family business and when my dad took sick my neighbour who had recently moved here from Mexico came to help us out working with me while mum and dad were at the hospital. One customer approached me on the other side of the counter (within ear shoot of my neighbour) and asked if we were “selling the shop to Indians” because he would not continue to shop here if we did… not only was this incredibly rude but the sheer ignorance of confusing Mexican for Indian astounded me, I politely introduced the man to our new staff member but he only started shopping with us again after she had stopped working with us.
    I often would get very upset at the way in which customers would treat her but was often amazed with her resilience.
    As Angelo has said I see no reason for this kind of behavior in this day and age after all, it is differences that make the world a richer more interesting place.


  • 3 DavidinSA // Oct 16, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    No. I haven’t seen it, but believe it.

    I am interested to know how the employers handled this because as business owners, employers and (hopefully) community minded people, if we do not challenge these customers then we are condoning the behaviour and letting down our employee(s).


  • 4 Shayne // Oct 16, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    Exactly right DavidinSA, Jesse I would have told the customer not to bother coming back as he was no longer welcome in my store.


  • 5 michelle // Oct 16, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    It is genuinely disturbing to read these comments, we live in Australia in 2013 FFsake and I guess I chose to believe that racism if it still exists only does so in very small pockets around the country. Hard truth time – my shop is in a small rural town and considering comments I hear nearly every day from customers about headlines of one description or another I don’t know that I could employ someone who was not caucasian in appearance. I can not believe I am saying that but I can think of 15-20 daily customers who would probably drive the extra 15mins to another town to avoid being served by a non Caucasian person. Moreover as I look around our town it both saddens and scares me to realise that apart from the wife of the owner of 1 business there are no non Caucasians working in or own any other retail business in the town. The community generally sees itself as richeous and caring but there is an underlying racism that exists, ask them on the street and I am sure it would be denied yet observing from the outside it is there. As a business owner I have not had to make that decision as yet but I now realise that I would have to think very carefully in terms of both my business and putting an innocent person under undeserved pressure. I know that because of my own strong held beliefs I could not stand by and say nothing if someone exhibited racism to one of my staff in front of me. Equally I already do not stand quiet if a customer verbally abuses/is rude to one of my Caucasian staff.


  • 6 jessie // Oct 16, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    I tried not to fight fire with fire and did not want to make a scene in front of customers, and I think I was (naively) thinking that and an introduction would help in some way, needless to say it didnt.
    DavidinSA, we now promote the “it stops with me” anti racism campaign and have posters and flyers in store, we also randomly run their ads on our promotion screen at the register, we also promote local multi cultural events, and engage in discussion with locals about cultural events and groups.


  • 7 Angelo // Oct 16, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    Mark, I’d be interested to know where you observed this. City or country though I suppose it makes no difference really.

    The last really ugly incident that happened in our store was after the Tsunami in Japan. With a shop full of customers I made a sympathetic remark about the painful loss of life and destruction this event caused when one customer who is otherwise completely rational and a pleasure to deal with blew up about the WW2, POWs and how each and every one of them deserve everything they got. It left me and some of the customers gobsmacked but others seemed to not mind at all at such as contemptuous comments. Some even told me it had to be said and that we are all too politically correct. I’m not making some of my regulars sound nice am I?

    Being the son of immigrants perhaps makes me a bit more sensitive about this issue witnessing what my parents went through in the 60’s in their retail and personal lives with racism. They are quite well adjusted now but it was very painful when I was a kid to see people have a go at us.

    Perhaps some of this has to do with the generally older demographic we serve in our channel who harbor equally bitter memories from another perspective. I go back to the fact that we should have well and truly moved on by now.

    Sorry for the rant but this issue really gets me going.


  • 8 Alex // Oct 16, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Not so much racism, but we do have this man who always complains about women. Last week, a lady was checking her tickets and I asked if I could help her after I just served another customer. Standing behind her, he started complaining about women and how they shouldn’t have any rights.


  • 9 June // Oct 16, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Those people are all going to die soon!!!!!
    I have 6 grownup children and they and their children are growing up in a different world (no white Australia policy etc) and I
    find that they are very very tolerant and accepting of a different society and all other cultures – thank goodness.
    In our centre we have Indian cleaners and I make sure I know all their names just like I would know the names of the past caucasian cleaners and they are so reciprocal and they have beautiful manners
    and it must be awfully painful for them to be treated this way.
    I get nasty comments about them all the time in the shop and I find myself having to defend them to rude customers.


  • 10 carol // Oct 16, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    Our daughter has years of newsagency experience and worked in a Kew newsagency. She had bright pink streaks put in her hair which in no way changed who she was but some previously friendly customers refused to have her serve them. Discrimination has many forms.


  • 11 Bruce // Oct 16, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I haven’t witnessed any obvious racism toward my CAUCASION staff but I do have a regular who is East Asian who is terribly terribly strong about not letting coloured people in to the country. Yet he immigrated to the country himself and is brown in colour. Like others here I hear daily lots of racist comments about what they see in the papers. nearly always people over 40 women are the same as the men. Murdoch is not helping since making his papers more tabloid in nature to grab sales from this ever decreasing demographic. Fuel to the fire. Younger people generally have a more balanced yiew because they realise that the media distorts things, and it is wise to get your news from several different sources.


  • 12 Mark Fletcher // Oct 17, 2013 at 6:34 AM

    Great discussion folks. The different stories are fascinating.


  • 13 Hayley // Oct 17, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    My background is newsagency 25 years and health for 3 years and it never ceases to amaze me how a perfectly sweet patient can turn on a dime when they believe that a non caucasion nurse or doctor is about to administer an episode of care…truly amazing…I hate to say it but by far the most outspoken and racist rants come from those over the age of 65…interestingly in both newsagency and health I never entered into any conversations that may cover certain subjects eg politics, asylum seekers, refugees etc.. in retail I dealt with customers who were for the most part well and healthy…now I deal with those who are ill..interestingly I still do not enter into those conversations as those who are ill sometimes feel they have the right to say whatever they want be it in many cases incredibly vicious and aimed directly at anyone working in health who is not caucasion…


  • 14 Jarryd Moore // Oct 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    I’m glad there are so many here speaking out against racism. The industry does, at times, have a bad image as “old white guys” and everything that goes with that particular generalisation.

    It’s important we speak out when we see it. It’s important we actively work against even casual racism whether it be from our team, our customers or ourselves.


  • 15 Mark Fletcher // Oct 17, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    I thought of this thread while watching the 7.30 on ABC Tv tonight.


  • 16 Allan Wickham // Oct 17, 2013 at 9:40 PM

    What a great interview. Christos is right on the money. Australians are always going to be racist, hopefully more tolerant as each generation comes through.


  • 17 Allan Wickham // Oct 17, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    I should of clarified that Australians of “all” ethnic backgrounds are always going to be racist, as Christos alluded too.


  • 18 Mark Fletcher // Oct 18, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    Yeah Al it’s the first interview of Christos I have seen and I was blown away. Smart, articulate and insightful.


  • 19 Richard // Oct 18, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    It is alive unfortunately. Just had a man in touting his glass repair company and left a magnet in case we need broken glass repaired. He went to the florist next door and told her that it was nice to see an Aussie behind the counter!!! Too many Asians in the places he had visited. She consigned his magnet to the bin. How does he know who is speaking too. Ours has gone the same way.


  • 20 P // Oct 18, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Jarrod wrote -It’s important we speak out when we see it. It’s important we actively work against even casual racism whether it be from our team, our customers or ourselves. just want to know did anyone say or do anything to these people


  • 21 Mark Fletcher // Oct 18, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    P, As I wrote The employee accepted the behaviour as normal when it is anything but.


  • 22 June // Oct 18, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    I also saw Christos last night and I absolutely must read “The Slap”. What
    a positively gorgeous man.
    He seemed quite shy about his books but
    they are obviously being very well received.
    I didn’t watch the TV series because I hadn’t read the book and I didn’t want to
    spoil the experience.
    I felt sad when he said he felt “alienated” from his family after he became educated
    but he still valued his upbringing in a working class family. A very interesting topic – so much more interesting than newsagency???


  • 23 Jenny // Oct 18, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Wish I’d seen this interview.
    June read The Slap, I loved it.
    My first job I worked with a Thai an Indian a Chinese Malaysian (still one of my best friends today) a Hong Kong Chinese a Croatian a Serbian a Greek a Vietnamese a New Zealander and a few Aussies.
    What fun we had and how interesting a time I had learning about other cultures and their food!
    I think racism comes from many different nationalities not tolerating others beliefs and way of life.
    I hear the opinion of some that Australians are lazy and too easy going and don’t push our children hard enough at school and have no culture or tradition and I see that as racism and I don’t like it but that’s just how some cultures see ours.


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