Adventures in racism at the supermarket checkout

We had people come into the convenience store where I worked asking if we took EBT. The answer was no, but believe it or not, businesses don’t care if the money comes from EBT, it still spends. My boss had it on her to-do list to set up our system for it. But people (mostly white, because of the demographics of this area) who do not use EBT would come in all the time and discover they didn’t have money on their debit cards. People who live week to week, or paycheck to paycheck working in almost-full-time jobs for minimum wage don’t always lack discipline, they do tend to lack money. Hell, I’ve been there. “I know I have around ten bucks in my checking account and I get paid tomorrow. This stuff comes to about nine bucks, I should be okay.” Then I’d get denied because I forgot I bought something the other day. Whoops. Shit happens. People also regularly forget their PINs. So I’m not too down on the cashier for the first incident. After that, it should have been obvious something was going on.

Meanwhile, a lot EBT schemes are set up so that the payment card industry can profit. Want to check your balance? There’s a fee. Want to withdraw? There’s a fee. Accidentally hit debit instead of credit? There’s a fee. Reset pin? There’s a fee. They are usually as punitive as most gift cards when you want to do fucking anything. Really, I’m surprised that there isn’t more outcry at the amount of welfare money that gets leached to the PCI.

Personally, I’d have told the cashier to keep her opinions about customers to herself. I’ve worked frustrating customer service/retail jobs myself. I’m working one now, and while I generally feel that people should not unduly harass and harangue people who get crappy pay and are largely not in control of your shopping experience, I have absolutely no qualms about confronting someone like this. If they’re not ashamed to say their piece, then I’m not ashamed to say mine.


Sometimes, the more well-off they look, the more shit they get from certain people.

At a previous job one of my coworker’s parents were Klansmen. He thought it was silly and he wasn’t a racist, but he said he sort of understood some of what they believed in, “Like keeping the race pure.” Sorry. People who aren’t “racist,” are often racist. Or am I supposed to believe that he acted with fairness in all his interactions with people of color, because you know- “a lot is going on.”

Meanwhile, I worked at a place that had a credit card minimum. A Black man came in and tried to buy something less that $5 and I informed him of our policy. He asked where that was written down. I pointed, only to realize the sign had disappeared (it later turned out that there was a second sticker right at the POS, but I wasn’t positioned to see it.) He was flabbergasted, and offended, and I am 100% sure he thought I was being racist, instead of the truth, which is that I was just chewed out for forgetting the policy a few times. It was an unpleasant experience all around. Do people get frustrated by card minimums all the time? Yes. Was there “a lot going on there?” Absolutely. One of those things was race-dynamics, which are hardly separable from issues of class.


A couple of personal observations about food stamps:

  1. I have been on them for a couple of times myself, when I was in my early twenties and had difficulty finding decent, permanent employment. Both times, I was deeply ashamed, although now I wish I’d applied for them any and every month I was eligible; I thought I’d get glares from the cashiers and whispered (or out-loud) comments from the other people in line. Never happened. Same for waiting in line for food banks and government commodities. Oh hey, did I mention that I’m white?
  2. Much later, I worked for a library system that had the idea to set up the bookmobile to help people apply for jobs and work on their resumes; part of this effort involved taking the bookmobile to places where you’d expect people who needed jobs to be, such as, say, the food stamp office. I stopped in the office to use the bathroom or say hi to the manager or something, and I was standing next to a white woman who was either applying or waiting while someone else applied. A couple of black women left the office, and apropos of absolutely nothing on my part, the white woman turned to me and said, “You know, they all drive Cadillacs here.”

Depending on the age of the system, touchscreens can, and do, drift out of calibration; and both mechanical and membrane keyboards are vulnerable to infiltration by contaminants. Key ‘matrix’ designs are particularly vulnerable to generating spurious keystrokes. Discrete key switches are more expensive; but contain failures better.

Could also be an unplugged or otherwise borked network connection, and a terminal failing stupid instead of throwing up a proper error message.

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I support POSes. PCI network availability is… Spotty. At least in my stores. Typically pinging the auth servers can take 300ms,and on a bad day upwards of 500ms. There’s issues with timing windows too. Our system fails if the latency gets worse than about 800ms, which happens all the time in the restaurant side of the business.

We don’t take EBT though, just credit debit and merch cards, and once a quarter we send out stored-value loyalty cards handled by a completely different vendor. They ALWAYS fuck up. Like clockwork, because there’s no way to do a refund if a loyalty card is used that doesn’t screw up end of day banking.

Truly POS systems have earned their acronym, fair and square.


Cash? That’s mighty suspicious…


When it comes to banks, nothing is free.

Allowing customers to use a credit card is just part of the cost of doing business for a merchant. A cost they pass on to their customers in aggregate.

The merchants don’t care if you use cash, credit, or debit, because the cost to them for your using a credit card is fully accounted for. All of your fellow customers who don’t have the option to make every purchase on their 5% cash back rewards card and pay their balance in full every month are subsidizing your privilege.

This is another example of the system arranging for the least well-off to make life easier for their “betters.”

Plastic cards are the coin of the realm in modern society and it’s just a fact of life that credit/debit systems are here to stay and will continue to grow in popularity as we move away from cash. The POS interfaces installed by merchants to make debit transactions more convenient disguises the fact that this type of payment carries risks to the cardholder that credit purchases don’t have. It behooves us to be better educated on the differences.

The bottom line is that (in most instances) credit cards are an overall better choice for making purchases versus a debit card. I am simply pointing out that when faced with the decision to choose credit or debit at the checkout line, it’s a smarter choice to pick credit even though it has a few extra steps involved.

As a consumer, I don’t give a rat’s ass about a merchants’ cost of doing business. There are hundreds of hidden costs that are passed along to customers in the aggregate that subsidizes one privilege or another - I can’t help that. At the end of the day I choose the payment method that offers the most protection and that which makes the best financial sense to me personally. If others have difficulty controlling their spending and need the self imposed discipline that debit cards provide then yes, that’s a better choice for that particular spending behavior.

Boing Boing, detecting prole racism since 2003!

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Yeah, isn’t that totally fucked up…

Also, the likes stuff is changed? When did that happen?

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Part of the reason the market I go to doesn’t accept credit cards - it cuts costs. They only take debit, check, or cash. I kind of like that.

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How is the likes stuff changed??

The “Like” list is now a button on the left side of each post in the same style as the “# Replies” button. I liked the old “Like” counter better. The new one is too easy to confuse with the button to show replies. It even has a dropdown chevron on it.




I was familiar in general terms with the fact that ‘POS’ means more than ‘point of sale’; but I’m honestly rather surprised to hear that they are so touchy about latency. Given that credit cards reasonably substantially predate ubiquitous retail computers, and were often used without any real-time verification(at least for smaller merchants and relatively low value purchases); and with even fairly fancy operations running over dial-up until pretty recently; I’d have expected much more robust support for less-than-entirely-real-time operation.

That isn’t to say that 300ms typical; with north of 800ms frequent isn’t utterly pitiful; but my naive expectation would have been that, having descended from a system that was substantially offline, with occasional batch verification, the contemporary systems would be a bit less touchy about having to wait a second.

Out of curiosity, do you know if it’s a security related thing, some sort of concern over replay or race-condition attacks, or whether some optimist who did all his firmware testing on the same LAN as the auth server just couldn’t imagine why anyone who isn’t still throwing spears for a living could possibly need to handle high ping?

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Aside from that being an utterly asshole move(and presumably based on the assumption that you were up for a little bonding over being better than them, which is pretty forward); hasn’t the ‘Cadillac’ brand actually been around long enough, and experienced enough ups and downs in popularity, that there are a fair number of used beaters that are ‘cadillacs’; but whose owners probably desperately wish that they were Japanese econoboxes with better mileage and mechanical reliability?

There are certainly specific cadillac models that are ‘luxury’(or at least expensive); but I’ve seen a fair few that may have been expensive a decade or two ago; but not so much now.


Yeah, what @LDoBe said… I dunno… I do keep thinking it’s replies for a second.

Yes, I see now, it is disconcerting, but I imagine I’ll get used to it quick enough.

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Noooo! I demand the button is moved!


Anyone who uses a credit card for consumables, i.e.: food, tobacco, gas, booze, etc. is wrong.