PSA: Don't Harass Our Asian Staff
Our Asian staff has been getting micro-aggressed lately to an extent that we want to make a public service announcement. What are they experiencing?
- Customers asking if they speak Japanese, and sometimes persisting to speak in Japanese even when the answer is no
- Customers guessing their ethnicity ("What are you?) or demanding to know their familial origins ("Are you from ____ ?")
- Customers fixating on Asian staff for service while ignoring other staff present
- Customers commenting on Asian staff's appearance ("You're exotic."), and in the worst scenarios, soliciting Asian staff for dates either explicitly or implicitly
This is wack, embarrassing, stressful, unacceptable behavior to deal with on the job. Our other staff, particularly our white staff and our more masculine presenting staff, experiences these kinds of invasive customer behaviors far, far less. We are in the middle of figuring out appropriate team responses to curb these unwanted behaviors as they happen. We are also considering posting a visible in-store Standard of Treatment that we require from our customers (much like we require mask wearing).
Yes, working a sales floor requires treating patrons with a professional and proactive level of attentive service. However, we sell stationery and items for home and life. Our Asian staff is not here for consumption nor being fetishized.
Yes, Omoi has its origins in the Philadelphia metro region's friendly academic exchanges with Japanese institutions abroad. If you didn't know the story by now, "Omoi Zakka Shop is a nod to the many amazing Japanese boutiques with evocative foreign names, which planted the seeds of inspiration that led to our existence." Owner Liz's high school had a direct exchange program with a high school in Kobe, Japan. Liz, and later online director Monk, both studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai in Osaka prefecture, as well. So Omoi undoubtedly has a strong connection to Japan, stemming from these collective experiences had at impressionable ages. Monk also seriously studied Japanese language、ほぼJLPT２級レベルまで、up until the 2011 Tohoku Disaster altered their course. Aside from that, no one at Omoi "speaks Japanese".
Having a business with a Japanese name has invited all manner of assumptions from people over the years. Do we sell kimono? Do we sell swords? Why don't we have a bigger selection of fine washi papers? Why is this rare item that no other stateside store carries priced at six dollars when it's 300 yen in Japan? Do we carry [insert anime here]? We get it. This has been our reality, and we make great efforts to showcase that what we carry and why goes beyond these limiting assumptions.
If we had an English language business name but carried all the same stuff, would we invite such intense Japanophile assumptions? Would our Asian staff have to put up with being asked all manner of invasive questions just because of how they look? Did you know we don't exclusively sell items from Japan and never have? How do you describe this store to your friends?
Please refrain from asking our Asian staff questions that you would not also ask other staff. If you are zeroing in on or demanding service from one of Omoi's Asian staff members, simply because of them being Asian, please check yourself or we may have to do it for you.
The Omoi Team