New Bill of Rights to Protect Black Shoppers Is Total Waste of Paper

Ericka Sóuter Rant

black shopperThere has been a lot of talk recently about how black shoppers are treated at high-end stores. The issue? Several people made discrimination complaints against popular shops in New York City. The scandal kicked off after two shoppers accused Barneys and the NYPD of racial profiling. In one case, 21-year-old Kayla Phllips was surrounded by cops after purchasing a $2,500 Celine handbag. They demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it. It happened to be a temporary card until her new one arrived. She avoided arrest but not complete humiliation. To them, she didn't look like someone who could afford that swank accessory.

There are similar complaints about Macy's. Shameful. But if you are black and like to buy things at upscale stores, this is nothing new. It happens all across this country. In fact, I have long referred to this as "Shopping While Black." However, now there is a proposed fix -- a Bill of Rights to protect black shoppers.

Under this bill, employees who profile customers will be disciplined or fired. Additionally, inappropriate language and excessive force when holding a suspect are no longer allowed because store employees must "respect the basic civil and legal rights of any person suspected."

Presumably, that would help prevent what happened to actor Rob Brown (you may remember him from HBO's Treme and the film Finding Forrester). He says after purchasing a $1,300 Movado watch and then shopping for sunglasses at the Macy's flagship store in New York City, he was stopped by "three white guys" who were undercover officers. They began publicly accusing him of committing credit card fraud, cuffed him, and paraded him around the store "like an already convicted common criminal." He was then thrown into a holding cell and berated for an hour. When cops realized who he was, he was released. He has since filed a class action lawsuit against Macy's.

For some readers, this may seem unbelievable or unlikely. But it's not. I have been the victim of profiling at that very same store. One winter while shopping for a pair of leather gloves, I was followed like I was some sort of known criminal. The security guard didn't even try to be subtle about it. Every time I touched something, he would check it as though I did something to it. I was incensed. But to be honest, I was as hurt as I was angry. I have never stolen a thing in my life. I am professional, working woman in New York City, who pays her taxes and has never committed a crime. But to him, I looked like a thief.

It's the same kind of preconceived notions at play when people of color are targeted and watched from the moment they step through the doors. And it happens in other ways too. Some salespeople don't even bother to wait on us because they assume we cannot afford to buy anything.

Doesn’t matter if you have an Ivy League degree or own a home, some people can only see one thing. So while I hope that this Bill of Rights has a positive effect, I won't be holding my breath. The issue goes deeper than having the right guidelines for employees to follow. Until we work to change those underlying racist attitudes and the negative stereotypes too many people buy into, Shopping While Black will continue to be a problem.

Have you ever been the victim of racial profiling in stores? Do you think racial profiling by store staff is a problem?


Image via Strauss/Curtis/Corbis

Read More

discrimination, racism