Neo-classism: A tech worker and a janitor walk into the ladies’ room…

SF ferry building morning commuters

Hi. I’d like to share with you my experience in a bathroom.

The bathroom was closed for cleaning, so I asked Carolina, the cleaner, if I could run in anyway.

There was another woman doing her make-up in there. She turned around, looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “Yeah, why would you be cleaning our bathroom during lunchtime?” She was looking at me like she was expecting me to join in with her.

So Carolina finished what she was doing, and came outside to let me in. She was teary-eyed, clearly shaken.

I closed the bathroom door so that we would not be in earshot of the other woman. I told Carolina, “I’m sorry about that.”

Carolina used her limited English to try to explain to me that she got a phone call to come refill the toilet paper — it’s a busy floor. She kept trying to explain that she didn’t choose to clean the bathroom during lunchtime, that she knows it’s not a good time: “I know no lunchtime. Bathroom busy. Phone call no toilet paper…”

I went to the bathroom. I came out. The woman was still doing her makeup, so I decided to inquire while washing my hands…

“Did you call the cleaning lady to come up here because we were out of toilet paper?”

She looked at me surprised and shook her head.

So I went on to explain, “Carolina received a phone call to come replenish the toilet paper. I just want to let you know that she did not choose to clean the bathroom during lunchtime.”

She stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

I explained, “Nope, you don’t need to be sorry to me. I just wanted to let you know you made her feel dumb, which upset her when she was doing her job.” I left it at that and walked out.

I went into the men’s bathroom to apologize to Carolina one more time. She responded “No, no…” and shook her head, still teary-eyed.

And I told her, “No, that lady was wrong.” Then I thanked her for her hard work.

This happened at my work place in San Francisco, CA.

If you thought we were safe from classism, from racism, from all the big, bad -isms here in our little “liberal” bubble like I used to, well it was a rude surprise for me too.

If you see someone with a small voice being unfairly treated, and you happen to have a voice, please stand up for them. Be their voice.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. -Desmond Tutu

How I chose to respond to this classism:

  • Take a breather (in this case, it was the time it took me to use the bathroom).
  • Let the person with a small voice know that they are seen and heard, and apologize on behalf of the person with a small heart.
  • Give compassionate feedback to the person who is doling out unfair treatment. Meet them where they are, with plain facts couched in empathy, not condescension, so that they can actually hear you and not discount you.