I just paid someone for services, and my decision was partly a race-based one.
How’s that for a teaser? Let me explain.
Earlier today, I discovered one of my outdoor plugs was dead. I tested both plugs, tried pressing the reset switch, checked the circuit breaker repeatedly…………no dice. It wasn’t working. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the handiest guy in the world, so I decided to call an electrician.
Before I did so, though, I decided this was more a handyman-level job. There was no need to pay top dollar for an electrical contractor. I suspected it was just a dead GFI outlet, and even a dummy like me could deal with it, but I didn’t want to do so (plus, although my heart’s in the right place when I try to fix stuff, I invariably screw it up the first time, and I didn’t want to waste time on my own services). So I went to Yelp and sent out a message to about seven handyman companies.
The responses tumbled in very swiftly (I have blotted out the identifying information for all but one).
Before I even started going through the messages, a little voice in my head said, “Pick a Hispanic one.”
Now why would I think that? Do I have something against whites? Do I yearn for the darker skin color of a Hispanic man? Am I trying to hurt America by potentially paying money to an illegal immigrant?
No, no, and no. And “no” to just about any other question you might ask along these lines. Although I had a “racist” bias toward my imminent hiring decision, it wasn’t really about race. Because I reasoned to myself that, to be blunt, a Hispanic male would (1) get the job done (2) be honest in his work (3) charge less than the others.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to pay, but I knew a super simple job like this shouldn’t cost much. One of the guys who responded, as you can see above, told me it would be $175. Intuitively I felt that was simply too high. Now, believe it or not, Yelp doesn’t have icons next to names to tell you their race, but I honed in on one guy in particular…………”Hector”.
Responding to his message, I asked Hector if he would charge anything to come check out the problem and give me a quote. No problem, he said, he’d happily come out for free. We exchanged a few messages to coordinate a time, and at 3 p.m., he showed up. After a few minutes doing some checks, he confirmed my suspicion and said it was a bad plug. “I’ll charge you thirty dollars to fix it.”
That struck me as extremely reasonable – – kind of low, in fact – – so I instantly agreed. He did the work, the plug worked again, and before he left, i walked him around the house so he could give me some quotes on some other work I’ve been meaning to get done. As before, the price quotes he gave me were extremely reasonable, almost to the point of me feeling guilty.
And this entire episode, in my mind, is kind of how free enterprise is supposed to work. He didn’t come to me because he was required to. I doubt he acquired his skills through some lame-ass government retraining program. He probably just learned step by step on his own. And I didn’t hire a “person of color” based on some quota I needed to fulfill. Nor did I make a judgment based on some jingoistic or “patriotic” notions. I simply made a choice based on getting the job done at a price I felt was fair.
So Hector has thirty bucks, I’ve got a working plug, and he’s got a satisfied customer that will almost certainly be a repeat customer (who also left a very positive 5-star Yelp review). Some might consider my decision “racist” since, strictly speaking, it absolutely was. I do judge people based on what I see and know about them. I make judgments based on all kinds of things I’m not supposed to use as data points: skin color, hair length, the clothes they are wearing, their shoes, their teeth, their job, and on and on and on. I think we all do. It’s just that one or two of us as stupid enough to actually put a blog post up about it.
And I don’t feel bad at all.