Pssst, Barneys …You’re Profiling the Wrong People

Guest writer E. Holman explains what it’s like to be shopping while White at Barneys. Check out her perspective on this latest rash of retailer profiling.

I don’t go to Barneys very often, but when I do, I feel instantly uncomfortable.

The salespeople seem to look me up and down with disdain, judging me for being a size 8 instead of size 2 and for being closer to age 40 instead of 20.So I was somewhat surprised the last time I went there, when—after I put on a certain Isabel Marant jacket—a young salesman, whom I could have sworn was glaring at me just a few moments earlier as I tried on cotton button-downs, cheered me on: “You HAVE to get that!”

Why is he suddenly paying attention to me? I wondered.

“You REALLY need it,” he urged. Note that he didn’t say “it looks great on you,” because it didn’t. The jacket made me look kind of lumpy. But he was so persistent!

“Maybe,” I said. Then I glanced at the price tag and gulped. It was about three times what I’d planned to spend on a jacket. The salesman just smiled. Suddenly it dawned on me: This guy thinks I’m loaded, so now I am totally welcome in this store.

As I stood there awkwardly looking in the mirror, trying to figure out if the jacket flattered me or just made me look fatter—was Dude actually mocking me?—I realized I sort of didn’t want him to think the price was too steep for me.

“Um, yeah, I’ll take it,” I finally mumbled.

A week later, after coming to terms with the fact that I looked awful in the jacket AND couldn’t afford it, I returned it, slightly damaged (I didn’t notice a button was nearly torn off when I’d bought it). No questions were asked. I felt like an idiot for having fallen for the hard sell at Barneys—but now, after hearing about the crazy events involving Kayla Phillips, Trayon Christian, and now allegations against Macy’s by Robert Brown I realize things could have been much, much worse.

Hey, I’ll take a pushy, judgmental salesperson any day over getting the cops sicced on me and being treated like a common thief!

Ironically enough, I AM a common thief. Or rather, I used to be– a very long time ago.  As a teenager my friends and I viewed ourselves as “skater punk.” And to us, that meant spiking up our hair, wearing Doc Martens, listening to the Dead Milkmen… and stealing things. Things like full cartons of cigarettes from the local grocery store (I had the perfect Quiksilver jacket for this, with extra-large inside pockets—so convenient).  And jewelry from, well, from anyone who sold jewelry adorned with skulls, snakes or big crystals.

Somehow nobody EVER seemed suspicious of us. We’d just walk in, talk, smile, pocket things and leave.

I even once embezzled money on a dare, from my mall job at a nut and candy store. “When people order ten dollars’ worth of cashews, you should just NOT ring it up, and then slip the cash into your pocket,” my best friend urged me one evening, while munching on red pistachios. “Then we can save up to buy skateboards!” And we did. It was so easy, I kind of wish I’d kept doing it, because I’d probably be rich by now. Almost as rich as that Barneys salesperson seemed to think I was… just because I was a late-30s woman trying on something expensive and—oh, yeah—because I was WHITE.

But guess what, retailers? I can’t believe I even have to say this, but Blacks and Latinos are no more likely than Whites to steal merchandise, according to shoplifting expert Dr. Richard Hollinger, who conducts the yearly National Retail Security Survey. Also from that survey: Shoplifters are most commonly between the ages of 35 and 54. So all things considered I am a WAY, WAY bigger threat than Robert, Kayla or Trayon.

Maybe you should look around and start seeing all the Winona Ryder types who are lurking around your chi chi store—instead of stereotyping and harassing innocent Black patrons.