The strangest experience I’ve ever had at work was July 14, 2015. I was working the best job in the world as a barista in the Barnes and Noble Café in North Little Rock. We opened the doors unreasonably early that day for the release of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman,” and my opening duties were performed in a drowsy haze. We expected a huge crowd and were all sorely disappointed when only three people showed up for the book release.
One of these people was a man dressed in a tie-dyed shirt, torn blue jeans tucked into black leather combat boots and the most jewelry I’ve ever seen on any one person, much less on a grown man with a long gray ponytail tied back under a do-rag embellished with hot-rod flames. Among the jewelry were several cuff bracelets, pendants bearing the Hindu “Om” symbol, a red bandanna tied above the elbow and, most jarring, a lanyard bearing a six inch tall minion. This man was wearing a yellow, overalled, goggled Minion around his neck.
I was intrigued and slightly horrified by this person approaching my counter. He walked up to me and ordered a frappuccino, and when I asked for his name, he responded, “Adolf,” without missing a beat. And it clicked. All the symbols made sense. I was horrified. I was staring in the face of a Neo-Nazi.
I told him his total, and when he reached out to swipe his card, I saw what was engraved on his bracelets, swastikas — dozens of tiny swastikas. I handed him his receipt and turned to make his drink and tried to process what I’d just experienced. When I’d finished his order, I set it on the counter, locked eyes with the man and nodded to him. I couldn’t bring myself to call out “venti caramel frappuccino with extra caramel for Adolf.” I was all but paralyzed by the absurdity of it all. He left with three copies of “Go Set A Watchman” and his drink, happy as a clam.
I was shaken to my core. I’d heard of Neo-Nazis before, but they seemed like a group of people who couldn’t exist in North Little Rock, Arkansas, such a quiet and boring place. Yet here was a man with a Minion around his neck and views from the 1940s coming into my cafe to order a sugar high.
I was not scared of him because I didn’t have to be. But every day after that, I asked myself what would’ve happened if another of my coworkers had been working that day — someone who did have to be afraid of him. What would he have said to them? Would he have said anything at all? Would they feel safe?
In the last weeks, friends of mine have had to face this experience first-hand. Friends of mine back in Little Rock and North Little Rock have encountered Neo-Nazis in their places of work, and some of them are scared for their lives. They’ve been made to fear their workplace — made to fear their daily routines.
Richard Spencer and the Alt-Right movement are giving people with white nationalist and Neo-Nazi views the notion that what they believe is valid and acceptable in this country. These parties are telling Nazis that they don’t have to be afraid to voice their opinions anymore, that they can come out into the open and tell the people serving them at restaurants that their days are numbered because of the color of their skin or the religion they practice.
This is unacceptable in a fair and free America. No person should be afraid to enter their place of work because of who they are. No person should be afraid to go through his or her daily routine due to outdated ideologies held by insensitive people — even if they do just have to make that person a venti frappuccino.