Wednesday, October 30, 2013

And now: Shopping while black?

SWB: shopping while black
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
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.

It 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.
In the spirit of not falling into the trap of both flawed (and context lacking) points of views, I am reluctant to play the proverbial race card. To cry wolf at every perceived slight -- intentional or non-intentional -- undermines ones creditability.

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 "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 fraudsource


  1. Ben,
    This article covers issues pertaining to what Blacks experience daily while shopping. As indicated there is no age, economic class but just skin color that promotes false perceptions of Black et al. "Great" ... Your favorite fan age 70+. M

  2. What strikes me as somewhat surreal here is that these stories aren't about black folks who were bombarded by racists in a store in the south and typecast as indigent criminals. This is happening in what is pushed on the rest of the nation as a hub of enlightenment -- NYC. Where these lily white store owners and clerks probably punch the D and joke in their latte circles about how hokey and stupid Palin is and how the TPers are terrorists.

    It's just speculation, but it's as safe a bet as going all-in when your opponent needs a one-outer to win.

    Could be wrong and these store folk could be hardcore righties who are transplants from the Carolinas and just despise black folk. Though for the purposes of this comment, I'll assume we're dealing with the typical white highbrow New Yorkers.

    If so, this is the most dangerous enemy to all people in America -- the we're-better-than-you, haughty, authoritarian, supposedly enlightened white folks who typically chastise others and truly believe themselves to be beyond discrimination.

    In my estimation, they're the worst type of bigot. They're the folks with disdain for ideological impurity and who have exceedingly low expectations for minorities.

    This is just me speculating with the little I know about it from hearing it on the news a couple of days ago and reading your post. But what I'm guessing happened is that someone alerted the officer of the shopper. What I'm guessing happens in many of these situations is that the bright white intellectual shining lights behind their counters see black people, suspect they can only be there to steal, and instead of daring to approach them to help them, because they fear being assaulted, they call for help. Then promptly return home to prepare for 8pm book club.

    The typical picture painted of a racist in America is a dirty white Bible-thumping right-winger who's going to follow and harass black people and won't be able to resist accosting them in such stores instantly. The reality seems scarier.

    I fear--and, again, total speculation on my part at this point--that racism will never be defeated in America because, by and large, the battle is waged on the wrong field. Some of the biggest racists around, some of whom I personally know, are self-obsessed intellectual elites who truly believe they're egalitarians because they champion more inner city school funding, food stamps, single mother assistance programs, etc. Yet they're the same people who, at this point, outright avoid the elevator if there's a black person in it and then publicly flame a white guy who wears an Obama mask.

  3. @Josh...These two quotes sum up my sentiments:

    Malcolm X: "The white conservatives aren't friends of the Negro either, but they at least don't try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the "smiling" fox."

    “One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.”

    And quote originator unknown: "We do not have permanent friends nor permanent enemies, we do have permanent interests"

  4. I do wonder what Malcolm would say in today's age where, at least in my opinion, the foxes have become increasingly slier and have increased in population to the point of needing a good culling, whereas the wolves have started dying out and popping up in fewer packs of limited strength.

    The only tweak I'd make to that analogy these many years later is that I see foxes in both parties. I think Obama as President has skewed perception and now typical foxes--with their sly and cunning and totalitarian dreams--appear to be more like wolves. But that's only the juxtaposition warping the image.

  5. @Josh...don't get it twisted, the only reason MX thought the foxes (northern liberals) were more dangerous than the wolves (southern confederates) is because of deception not intent. To be clear, the wolves, make no doubt about it, can not if they tried hide their contempt and hatred....on the other hand, foxes, in their slyness, lead you to believe they are your ally or friend.

    MX often would state: South is anywhere south of the Canadian border. I tend to agree.

    It's funny and confusing how you state Obama as president has a skewed perception. Please explain. When I think of skewed perception I think of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, Donald Trump, Birthers, Tea Party folks in government, Jim Demint, Joe "You Lie" Wilson, Allen West, Eric Cantor, John Boehner etc. etc.

  6. Pre-Obama, the people being libeled as outright racists now (wolves, in the context presented) weren't thought such. At least not to this level. Not that they were ever thought to have cared about minorities or any interests other than their own, but not outright Klan-style racists; rather, more of the fox role. After Obama, damn near any opposition becomes a wolf.

    What went from typical "they don't care about us," self-interested righties in the pocket of big business, have now supposedly insta-evolved into a new animal. My point: I don't buy it. I believe it's just the new backdrop. When Hillary wins in 2016, which looks like a good possibility, these folks will go back to just being what I believe are the foxes. The new cries: misogynistic, damningly-traditional, but with the same criticisms and same principles. The absence of a black President will see a near extinction of the racist (wolf) label.

    1. Your post has revisionist embedded: are you telling me Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Rev. Jeremy Wright, Al Sharpton werenot raising the issue of race pre-Obama?

      Are you telling me we collectively did not call Rush Limbaugh a racist pre-Obama?

      Were you asleep with the Imus fall out over "nappy headed hoes"?

      Were you asleep when the Jenna Six march took place?

      If you think I have not called Fox News on their racial overtones pre-Obama, you need to read my archives. In fact, please read the archives of other black and brown bloggers pre-Obama.

      Please do not water down the post-Katrina coverage to just Kanye West's "they do not care about us": Many screamed (just watch Spike Lee's Katrina doc,) racism at the top of their lungs!!

      You are indeed entitled to your opinions but not to your own facts. You can not contort facts to fit your opinion -- especially in the google age when we can at a finger tip discover the true facts.

      Are you tellin

  7. I had forgotten about this particular discussion. My bad.

    I think you misunderstood me. I don't mean that no one was finding racism or accusing folks of racism or that there wasn't racism, etc.

    Let's be real. Racism objectively exists. And though racism exists, some people can find it in a cheeseburger. But that wasn't my point.

    I was attempting to fit those words--wolf and fox--into my context. But let me try it another way.

    The average, everyday Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, and general anti-government non-liberals were not often thought racists to any large degree. A lot of government and such was considered racist with Katrina, sure. Or at least not caring about black folks. And, obviously, the race marketeers present a case as if there's a Klansman in every closet.

    (I didn't mean to imply anything about Katrina whatsoever. "They don't care about us" was said more in the context of white folks in general being seen as the "fox" and not the "wolf.")

    But an Obama presidency has catapulted the average, everyday whiner and TPer and anti-government schmoe to the level of legitimate racist in the eyes of many.

    A person griping about Bush's spending, Bush's fascism, Bush's wartime activities, etc, it considered a lot of things -- racist obviously wouldn't be one of them. A person griping about Obama's spending, Obama's socialism, Obama's wartime activities, etc, is not often considered anything but a racist.

    My point: Having Obama as President has transformed a lot of folks who would be considered the fox, at worst, into suspected growling, gnarling wolves.

    And when Hillary wins in '16, which I think will be the case, average folks thought now to be simple stupid partisans will suddenly become misogynists per perception.