Shopping While Black, Money Shaming and Everyone’s Right to Spend
Recently, two African-American teens walked into Barney’s, the high-end luxury store located in Manhattan, NYC, to purchase goods only to be racially profiled by store employees after they say plainclothes police officers followed them shortly after they left the store.
Trayon Christian, 19, said police detained him after leaving the luxury boutique with a $350 Salvatore Ferragamo belt which he purchased with his debit card. But even after displaying a receipt, Christian was taken to a nearby police station. Christian says the officers asked him how he was able to afford the belt and despite showing them his receipt, debit card, and I.D, they still ran a background check. Did I mention he was taken to the police station? For Kayla Phillips, it was a $2500 Celine bag that made store employees suspicious. Police stopped the Harlem teen at the train station where she says, took her by surprise:
“I was, like, panicking,” Phillips says. “I thought something happened, that they would attack me like that. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ She (the female cop) said, ‘Let me see what card you used. What are you doing in Manhattan? Where do you live?’ ”
“And she asked me how did I purchase this expensive bag? I said, ‘How did you know I bought an expensive bag?’ She grabbed my bag from me, and I gave her my receipt and my card. They started bending it, to see if it was authentic.
According to the Justice Department, a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistic reported that racial profiling is widespread and occurs at an alarming rate against black and Hispanic people. Unfortunately, consumer racial profiling or “consumer racism,” is a tool used in many retail giants to target African-American shoppers who they believe shoplift the most but no credible statistics verify their claims. In a 2003 report, criminologist Shaun L. Gabbidon found that the majority of false arrest complaints in retail stores are filed by African-Americans while a Harvard study found that 35% of those interviewed said that they received negative treatment while shopping in white neighborhoods.
This is all nothing new. Shopping while black occurs to the best of us, even media-mogul Oprah Winfrey who has opened up on three different occasions about being racially profiled in retail stores. The latest being in Zurich, Switzerland this past August when the store clerk rejected the billionaire’s request to see a $38000 bag and instead opted for her to look at the cheaper version that was in her hand.
“No, it’s too expensive,” Ms. Winfrey, said the shopkeeper told her.
“One more time, I tried, ‘But I really do just want to see that one,’ and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’ and I said: ‘O.K., thank you so much. You’re probably right, I can’t afford it.’ And I walked out of the store. Now why did she do that?”
“It still exists,” said Nancy O’Dell, the interviewer, speaking about racism.
“Of course it does,” Ms. Winfrey replied.
But its not the issue of racial profiling that disgusts me the most about these incidents but the scoffs and judgmental commentators, both black and white, who find it more pressing to focus their attention on the victim’s choice of goods than on the racist perpetrators.
Even Melissa-Harris Perry of MSNBC decided to jump on the “I can’t believe you spent your own money how you please,” bandwagon in a segment that left me reaching for the mute button. The newscaster who is usually on point when discussing issues affecting the black community, fell short when she went on a cheeky tirade using her “Nerdland Guide to Other Things Oprah Could Buy for $38,000,” which included a “3-bedroom, 2-bath, 1700 square foot apartment in Buffalo, NY, or to “cover a year of tuition for our intern Sarah.”
Nevermind, Winfrey’s contributions to non-profit organizations and foundations around the world or her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, a billionaire simply doesn’t get empathy for spending what is probably considered $38.00 to the 99 percent. That’s right. I know it hurts and makes us all slightly jelly but it’s probably not a stretch to say that $38,000 is not a lot of money for someone with over $2.7 billion in the bank so why doesn’t Perry turn her nose down and refocus her energy on the more important issue at hand. For her to mitigate racism because Winfrey is of the one percent is ridiculous. It doesn’t matter if it occurred at Target.
No matter who it happens to and where, racial profiling isa troubling loss prevention tool that is used in retail stores around the world. While its not uncommon for store clerks and security personnel to profile a would-be shoplifter (two teens at the mall with no adult supervision or a lone shopper pushing an empty cart in scruffy clothes), race has become one of the main detections used to profile shoplifters.
And even if you are not of the one percent, who hasn’t splurged on what may be considered a luxury to others? Concert tickets, a cruise package, pair of Ray-Bans, or crab legs two nights in a row (guilty!), everyone has the right to be selfish with their own money as they see fit. Does a billionaire media-mogul darling not get to cry foul? What about two black teens who live outside of Manhattan?
Don Lemon (who just might be the real-life Tom Dubois of The Boondocks) doesn’t think so in his recent piece, “5 Things Americans Should know about Racial Profiling,” when he ruined it by ending with this:
“to be fair I don’t like to tell anybody how to spend their money…but here’s the truth: you know who buys $300 dollar belts and $3000 purses, people who don’t have real money or wealth.”
Eck. So Lemon insinuates that Trayon Christian, who said he purchased the belt after saving up money from his part-time job, and Kayla Phillips who may have purchased the purse after receiving her tax refund, or with a shoebox stash, or money from a granny’s will, had no business spending their own money in the first place. Silly me.