Have you ever been followed around in a store the minute you stepped foot inside?
Has a sales associate completely ignored you, continued chatting with a colleague without greeting you, then minutes later still not acknowledge your presence?
Or perhaps you are asked for photo ID when you whip out your credit card but you notice the three customers before you weren’t?
How about when you enter a store loaded down with shopping bags and a clerk practically wrestles them out of your hands offering to “hold them behind the counter” while you shop?
If you are a person of color these scenarios are likely very real for you.
They are for me.
I got pissed all over again last week after coming upon a series of video shorts shot by Rashid Polo, a young teenager from Minnesota. Oh, and he’s Black in case you were wondering.
Young Rashid has gained international media attention for his series of Vine shorts showing him being shadowed by store clerks who think he’s about to shoplift.
Here’s a snippet.
Now there is a lot of debate about the “validity” of Rashid’s observations. But the armchair pundits who say he invited the suspicion because he was walking around filming himself miss the point.
For many of us “shopping while Black” (or shopping as a person of color) is real and we are completely fed up with it. Rashid has exposed the truth about racial profiling in a visible and somewhat humorous way that’s hard to ignore.
And lest you think it’s teenage boys who are the primary targets of racial profiling, consider Portia Roberson, a prominent DOJ civil rights attorney, who was cornered by police and searched while shopping at a Talbot’s in Gross Pointe, Michigan.
Police searched her bags and checked her receipt.
Portia’s story made headlines after she posted her experience on social media. She handled the situation brilliantly returning her Talbot’s purchases and lodging a formal complaint with Talbot’s corporate headquarters.
These incidences stir up so many emotions in me.
Fury. Frustration. Helplessness.
I’ve had my own experiences being racially profiled.
A couple of years ago, I went into a Chico’s looking for a jacket I’d seen in an ad. The moment I walked into the store, the sales associate asked if she could help me.
I told her I didn’t know until I had a chance to look around.
She then proceeded to follow me at close range pretending to straighten up stacks of folded clothes.
I was the only customer in the store.
I finally turned around and confronted her with her behavior. She gasped and backed off.
Rather than walk out, I took the items I wanted to purchase and asked her to call the Greensboro store to see if they had my size and style in stock.
I told her to have the store put them on hold for me and then explained why she wouldn’t be getting a commission from my purchase.
I recall another incident with Dr. D. when I was seven months pregnant.
We were leaving the house headed to dinner, when a sherrif’s car pulled in front of our car blocking our way out of the driveway.
He got out of the car, came up to the driver’s side and told us the Sherrif’s Office had received a complaint of loud rap music disturbing our neighborhood.
My husband pointed to a house two doors away where a large group of White teenagers were lounged on their patio playing music.
Maybe you should check down there, he told the Sheriff pointing to the house.
To his credit, the Sherrif looked completely embarrassed and apologized profusely. I wrote down his name and badge number all the same.
I’m not so naive to think that we live in the “post-racial”world we all so badly want to exist.
But enough is enough.
I learned years ago that no matter how nice my hair looked, how well-dressed I was, how proper my English, or what brand of handbag I carried, racial profiling was and is a part of the Black experience – even in 2014.
That doesn’t mean I have to accept it.
I do not and will not accept being racially profiled as a norm. Never. Ever.
When I was younger and caught “shopping while black” I would get upset and leave the store.
I didn’t understand that being profiled was more about the person doing the profiling and not me.
You profile me, I’m going to embarrass the hell out of you.
In the age of social media, it’s easier to call out blatantly discriminatory behavior. But it only has an impact if we publicly start putting stores and institutions on blast for tolerating their employees’ racist behavior.
Barney’s was forced to do this soul-searching when several customers filed a high-profile lawsuit against them.
If we want to see behavior and store policy change, more of us need to follow Portia Roberson and Rashid Polo’s example and tell our stories publicly.
Too many of us let respectability politics squelch our voices.
I’m tired of Black people being accused of being paranoid or hypersensitive when we call attention to examples of blatant, egregious racism.
I’m tired of being told that Black people wouldn’t be profiled if we weren’t “acting suspicious” or weren’t more “prone” to criminal or otherwise deviant behavior.
I’m tired of being told that having a Black president is proof that racism doesn’t exist.
Regardless of your race, we are all diminished and made less human when we accept racial profiling as socially acceptable.
So Facebook it.
And the next time you or some you know get’s racially profiled, let your story be known.
What do you think? Have you ever been racially profiled or been with someone who has? What did you do about it? Let me know in the comments. I’m listening.
Thank you for writing this article. Although I am not black, I am a minority and the experiences you shared match mine in getting profiled at stores and even supermarkets. And you’re right no amount of nice clothes, glasses, proper behavior changes the scenario.
You’re right that most people who have never been profiled dismiss it as paranoia, hypersensitivity, or worse, saying that I was act suspiciously. It’s ignorant and it’s disgusting to make excuses for hatred.
Proactive methods like confrontation and social media are the only way to bring this disgusting behavior to light.
Tom, thanks so much for your comment. It’s a frustrating aspect of being a person of color. Rather than be bitter or angry about it, let’s vote with our feet and make our voices heard. As a Gen X-er I’m especially glad to see younger people stepping up and calling out BS. We are not crazy and the more we shed light on racial profiling the less institutions and the people doing it can get away with it. Blessings to you in 2015!