In the Mix

December 25, 2019

It was a White Christmas at the United States Postal Service

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Written for: Communicado Magazine
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I recently had occasion to buy stamps at the United States Postal Service (USPS). Sounds pretty simple, yes? It was not. What is to follow is nothing short of gutted. Get comfortable…

I like to use the lobby kiosk at the post office because there is usually no line and I like flags. Simple.

I started through the prompts to make my purchase. I chose my denomination. Inserted my credit card. Waited for it to process… Processed.

Out popped White Santa Stamps. This is where you have to know a little more about me…

I’m a Black man in my early fifties. During the 1970’s, Hallmark hadn’t come to Mahogany gift cards yet. In those days, Black folks bought greeting cards with white people on them and colored them black…

During the holidays, Black folks bought white angels for the top of the Christmas tree and colored them black…

And Black Santa was not real. He is now real…

I say all of this to say, when the White Santa stamps popped out of the machine, it was almost as if I got stabbed. To continue…

I got in line for window service. My clerk happened to be a Black man. I said the following:

“Hello. I just bought these stamps out of the lobby kiosk and this is what popped out. I can’t use these stamps. I can’t send these stamps to my Jewish friends or to my Black or Latino friends. I need to exchange them for flags.”

He said nothing. The look on his face was as if he had been stabbed too. He understood what I was saying and said…

“Let me get a supervisor for you.”

15 full minutes later and two separate conversations with a random White female clerk – who kept saying to me that the USPS can’t REFUND stamps when I asked to EXCHANGE stamps – the supervisor finally comes out. Latina…

I explain to her the same thing I explained to the previous two people and she also says stamps can’t be REFUNDED. I again asked for an exchange because I would not have chosen these stamps had the kiosk offered me a choice. But it didn’t. She said it does. I invited her to the lobby to show me. It did not…

She pointed to a round picture of White Santa in the top right hand corner and said, “This is how you know what stamp is in the machine.”

I explained to her that a small picture of White Santa in the corner of the screen is not a clear indication that White Santa stamps will come out. She insisted it is.

This is the equivalent of jargon. Everyone at the USPS knows this as common knowledge, but, fails to realize, it’s not common knowledge…

Now this incident gets delicate…

I decided to end this conversation by asking the supervisor for her name and a phone number for the USPS in Washington. She said she would get it in just a moment and attempted to move on to another customer in the lobby.

I stopped her and asked that she finish with me as I had been waiting – at this point – 30 minutes. She again tried to put me off. I stopped her again. The impatient other customer – a white man – tried to jump in suggesting I was being rude. I thanked him to wait his turn and again insisted the supervisor get the information for which I asked.

She threatened to call the police…

She threatened to call the police to handle a customer service issue for which she had failed. I pointed this fact out to her and AGAIN insisted she get the information for which I had requested. She went and got the information…

All of this because I wanted to buy stamps in the easiest possible way…

So how many problems have you identified in this incident?

FIRST, the stamps in the lobby kiosk should be 100% neutral. If it only dispenses one type of stamp, it should be something that is inclusive, not specific.

SECOND, stamps don’t depreciate or lose their value in any way. In fact, in some cases, they appreciate. While the option to give refunds may be reasonable from a revenue perspective, how does an exchange injure the USPS’s bottom line? If the stamps can still be sold at full price to a customer who chooses that stamp… ?

THIRD, the LATINA USPS SUPERVISOR failed to stop a customer service issue from escalating, revealed that she is not equipped to problem solve within her job description and violated the sensitivities surrounding race and gender in our current climate by threatening to call the police because a Black man insisted on being provided with proper customer service.

But this story is not over…

I decided to take this personal insensitivity and turn it into a professional victory for diversity and inclusion. I called the USPS press office and requested an interview about diversity and inclusion at the USPS. What followed was equally unqualified.

But the interview did yield some answers that explain a lot. To cut to the chase, The United States Postal Service does not have a Chief Diversity Officer and does not have a diversity outreach and engagement or diversity and inclusion program.

To the issue of why the stamp in the lobby kiosk is specific to one group and not inclusive, Carl Walton, Senior Public Relations Representative|Corporate Communications|USPS answered in an email, “This year, [the self-service postage kiosk] actually featured an image from the 2018 Sparkling Holiday’s stamps as the 2019 Holiday Wreath’s stamps were not yet ready to be revealed.”

I read this statement to my cousin who asked, “Don’t they have a whole year to get the holiday stamp ready for the holidays? But beyond that, did they not have a star or something else neutral they could use?”

To the question, “Why didn’t you use a Star of David stamp or a menorah or even Black Santa?”, there was no answer. My thought is that it was obvious those would be too specific, but, White Santa is for everyone…

Mr. Walton went on to write about the history of the White Santa stamp and how to buy stamps, but, had no answers for the remaining questions.

As of the moment of this report, there is no indication that the USPS has any awareness of this diversity issue.

But the most significant question for which I posed to the USPS was, “The USPS markets its stamp business as a way to show your individuality. A singular stamp option that is not neutral takes away a consumer’s ability to show their individuality. How do your respond?” The USPS did not have an answer…

Of note is the fact that the USPS is such a diverse organization. Most of it’s workforce is from underrepresented groups. According to the U. S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), there are five categories for race and two categories for ethnicity:

Race = White, Black or African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaskan Native.

Ethnicity = Hispanic or Latino or Spanish Origin, Not Hispanic or Latino or Spanish Origin.

So I next asked for a demographic breakdown of the USPS workforce – 630,473 employees. It is as follows:

White 52.32%
Black or African American 26.36%
Hispanic 11.49%
Asian 7.48%
Native Hawaiian or
Pacific Islander .038%
American Indian or
Alaskan Native .066%
Two or more races 1.31%

And so, not only is the USPS insensitive to its customers, its insensitive to its employees as well.

I’ll leave you this: When I worked for a Fortune 10 company as a corporate spokesperson, we spoke a lot about what we called, societal alignment. The way we look inside the building and the way we think inside the building should match what’s outside of the building.

This experience has been your inclusion litmus test USPS. Your paper has tarnished…






 
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