In a candid social experiment that has gone viral on social media, a cafe employee’s abuse toward an apologetic customer who is illiterate does not go unnoticed. Other customers, overhearing the shocking transaction, decide to intervene, responding in heated outrage, heartwarming acts of kindness, and even tears … all of which is caught on hidden camera.
The provocative scenario was staged as a social experiment on the social experiment show “What Would You Do?” in August 2019. A cafe in Jasper, Alabama, played host to the scene while hidden cameras caught bystanders’ reactions to the condescending cashier.
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The cashier and a customer named “Brad,” who pretends that he can’t read, are both actors. Brad sets up the scene by appearing to struggle with the cafe’s milkshake menu then discreetly confiding to her that he “can’t read,” but rather than respond sympathetically, the cashier mocks him and asks him to head to the back of the line.
A young couple standing behind Brad overhear the conversation. Outraged, they step in; the young woman helps Brad to read the menu, while her partner chastises the cashier for her rudeness.
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— What Would You Do? (@WWYDABC) August 24, 2019
The scenario is then repeated with several more customers, and the results are heroic. The town of Jaspar, Alabama, shows huge heart in its treatment of the polite, apologetic Brad, struggling to place his order, as two young women help him navigate the menu yet again.
Then finally, the show’s host, John Quinones, reveals the hidden cameras. And one of the helpful women recounts an anecdote about her grandfather, a coal miner, who also cannot read. “Why would you publicly humiliate this person?” the kind young woman asks in disbelief.
Another customer, appalled by the cashier’s inconsiderate treatment of the illiterate man, steps in to stand up for Brad while asserting how to act, “It’s the right thing to do. It’s being human.”
One of the final customers to become an unwitting player in the social experiment has a surprise for the hidden cameras. Equally outraged as the previous customers were, when asked by the cashier if she knows many illiterate people, this women replies in the affirmative; she is an educator, she says.
Responding to the cashier’s disbelief at serving an adult man who can’t read, the educator comments, “Apparently, you were brought up under a situation where you had every opportunity in education. Not everyone does. Not even today.”
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Moved by the customer’s defense of Brad, Quinones then reveals the hidden cameras and proceeds to ask the educator why she thinks so many people have stood up for the illiterate customer standing in the queue ahead of them. Through tears, she says, “We’re a close-knit community.”
Since being posted on YouTube on Aug. 24, 2019, the social experiment has garnered over 8.5 million views and counting. Many viewers left comments praising the show for raising awareness.
“Even though they are actors,” one viewer observed, “I still teared up.”
“This hits home,” wrote another, “both my parents were illiterate, there just [wasn’t] any school available while they grew up.”
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“In my opinion the people who stepped up and helped this man (even though he’s an actor) are the epitome of what we should all aspire to be like,” one netizen reflected. “Decent human beings!”
“No one has a perfect life,” they continued. “Everyone has a weakness or two. Some more then others, but unless you have personally walked in their shoes you have no right to judge.”
Adult illiteracy is a very real national issue in the United States. According to a 2014 large-scale international study of working-age adults by the National Center for Education Statistics, 43 million U.S. adults possess low literacy skills and could be classified as “functionally illiterate.”
By asking “what would you do?” this provocative, candid scenario between Brad and the cafe cashier illuminates an issue that affects millions. In the show provoking conversation and bringing illiteracy into the limelight, viewers are collectively invited to contribute in their own way, with sympathy and compassion for others.
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Author: Louise Bevan