Let’s Stop These Racist Retailers

Oh please, post-racial apologists of the world.

Spare us your watery excuses for the horrible and demeaning treatment of two Black shoppers who have both accused Barneys of discriminating against them while they made highly expensive purchases in the highly expensive store. 

We also don’t want to hear any more retail expert yammering about rates of fraud, or that such bigotry is hard to prove, or that it’s hard out here for a pimp.

Save it all.

We know good and damn well that Black folks have been followed up and through store aisles, probably since we were sharecroppers. There are racist retailers out there, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not. They are not being vigilant. They are practicing racial profiling, and it’s a blind, dimwitted dragnet.  All the statistics in the world could not defend what happened to engineering student Trayon Christian at Barneys when he saved his hard-earned money, bought a $350 belt through U.S. currency, and somehow ended up in somebody’s holding cell.  And I was horrified to hear about the treatment of Kayla Phillips, who has also come forward about an incident at Barneys where she was surrounded by undercover police after using a temporary debit card.  You’d have thought she bought some uranium, the way she described her treatment.

It may not always go to that drastic level, but the profiling definitely happens.

I recall going to one of my favorite beauty chains in a Chicago suburb where a saleswoman followed me, my sister and good friend everywhere we went.  We practically bumped into this goofball at least twice as we checked out samples of lip gloss, consulted with each other on our new summer nail polish shades and then traveled over to the shadow area for a lil’ smoky eye exploration.

Every time we entered an aisle, we saw her perky little head pop up asking if we “needed help” though there were plenty of other customers that she didn’t seem to believe needed as much assistance.  It’s important to note these independent, no-needing help individuals were all White.

Finally, my friend, in a stroke of genius, stopped looking at lotions and started following the clerk.

The offending woman stopped immediately, whirled around and asked: “Um, ma’am, can I help you?”

And my friend tartly responded: “Oh no, we are wondering if we can help you, since you’re basically our new shadow. Can you, in fact, let us follow you to your manager?”

We reported her to the store manager right then and there, listening blankly as she tried to explain away her odd behavior to three brown girls who –to paraphrase Method Man– have clearly been there, done that before and didn’t want it no more.

Even though we had filled our baskets with potential purchases, we dropped them where they stood and proceeded to the nearest exit, leaving the blubbering clerk in our wake.  We don’t know if Miss Missy was following established store policy or listening to her inner Klansman, but we didn’t care.  Our money was good, but the store experience was bad, so we decided not to support it.  We can smoke our eyes elsewhere.

I could go on and on with similar experiences, but the fact is, people who don’t believe this is profiling won’t buy it (see the Oprah Switzerland flap) and those who have felt the hot breath of a retail worker on the back of their necks don’t need to hear it again.

But here’s what we all need to know.

By continuing to support these stores, and those who work with them (ahem, Jay-Z, do you really want your holiday collection mixed up with this Barneys mess?), we are sending a message that we as African Americans are willing to be treated like rubbish just because we want their wares.  And though cussing out a seemingly bigoted person may be cathartic, it does not help your cause or justify your continued patronage.

So don’t bother.  If you feel you’re being discriminated against, follow these steps for starters in an effort to stamp out systemic bigotry in these streets.

(1) Report the offending party to a manager immediately.  And if the manager is the offender, find out who signs his/her checks.

(2) Take notes on paper, or via your smartphone, about the incident and follow up with corporate or the owner through e-mail or a hard copy letter (sent registered or with delivery confirmation).

(3) Post about the experience online via Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Better Business Bureau to let others know of your experience.  Keep the write-up calm, measured and detailed for maximum effect.  Name-calling won’t help, though admittedly, it will amuse.  Be restrained though.

(4) If it’s widespread and you can learn that via the feedback you get, it is easy to join with your fellow scorned shoppers and mount a petition on a service such as

(5) Is it completely crazy and out of control?  Contact a local news outlet and back up your outreach with remarks on your own platform, from Twitter to Facebook.  As we can see, the media today (aided by social media) are a powerful shaming force.  Right, Hooters?

(6) Don’t purchase anything else there until change has actually arrived in a visible, meaningful way. If you walk home with a shopping bag after being offended by a clerk, you’re not really buying anything.  You’re selling your soul.

YOUR TURN: Share your story. Have you ever felt discriminated against while shopping or dining?  What did you do in response?