|SWB: shopping while black|
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Some of the views, opinions and perspectives of my white friends and associates on Race in the Obama era offer me a glimpse into the inner angst of white America -- whatever that means.
Instead of being mere figments of my imagination, their invisibility comes into focus. In other words, to semi-borrow a line from the movie Sixth Sense:
I see white folks
I believe that mutual understanding is derived from honest conversation -- and this is a two way street. On the contrast, when the dreaded racial conversation occurs we usually man (or woman) our historically assigned stations:
- Black folks are the victim and white folks are the perpetrators in the psyche of progressive whites and to many black Americans. Or;
- White racism is the blame for the condition of the black underclass.
- And to Red State America Black folks are the incorrigible boogie man and white folks are justly defending their culture of honor from the savages (this included Native Americans and Latinos). Or;
- Black folks (and other minorities) are lazy moochers who expect big government to take care of them.
But, and I put strong emphasis on BUT: Living in the real world, the white community has vastly more power, wealth, media and resources to frame the conversation.
Therefore, with the history of slavery, share cropping, KKK terrorism, Jim Crow, economic and social apartheid it is a false equivalence to assign equal credence to both camps. Yes, a certain amount of equal bias can or may exist. But to assert that African Americans have the same leverage to impose thy will is pure crazy talk.
And once again, we see the manifestation of this unequal truism:
We have driving while black issues; we have (thank you Mayor Bloomberg) walking while black issues; we have wearing hoodie while black issues; we know folks can shoot first when nervous around us and ask questions later; and now we have:
Shopping while black
I recall when Oprah had a shopping while black moment and many of us thought, stop whining and count your billions or just buy the store and fire the ignorant clerk. But recent events in Barneys and Macy's -- in of all places, The Big Apple -- has demanded us to not be that dismissive of Miss Oprah's ordeal:
The usual scenario involves suspicious glances, inattentive clerks or rude service — not handcuffs.
Yet when a black teen said he was wrongly jailed after buying a $350 belt at a Manhattan luxury store, it struck a nerve in African-Americans accustomed to finding that their money is not necessarily as good as everyone else's.
Shopping while black, they say, can be a humiliating experience.
Much attention has been paid to the issue over the years — Oprah Winfrey complained that a Swiss clerk did not think she could afford a $38,000 handbag, and even President Barack Obama has said he was once followed in stores. But according to shoppers interviewed Monday, many people don't recognize how prevalent retail discrimination is, and how the consistent stream of small insults adds up to a large problem.
"It's one thing if you don't understand. But don't ever tell me it doesn't happen to me," said Natasha Eubanks, who shops often at high-end stores in New York City. "You can't assume it doesn't happen just because it doesn't happen to you."
Sometimes, Eubanks said, it takes clerks more than five minutes to simply acknowledge her presence. Or they brush her off after a token greeting. Or they ask her question after question: "You're a black girl up in Chanel. They want to know what you're doing here, and what you do for a living."
She says she has dealt with this type of treatment at least 20 times in New York City.
"I don't look like that typical chick who walks into that type of store," said Eubanks, owner of the celebrity website theYBF.com. "It feels differently than when you go into a store and are treated properly."
Trayon Christian's problem was not how he was treated when he went into Barneys New York — it was what happened afterward. In a lawsuit filed last week, the 19-year-old said that he bought a Ferragamo belt at the Manhattan store, and when he left he was accosted by undercover city police officers.
According to the lawsuit, police said Christian "could not afford to make such an expensive purchase." He was arrested and detained, though he showed police the receipt, the debit card he used and identification, the lawsuit said.
After Christian's lawsuit was filed, another black Barneys shopper said she was accused of fraud after purchasing a $2,500 handbag, and the black actor Robert Brown said he was paraded through Macy's in handcuffs and detained for an hour after being falsely accused of credit card fraud. source