As I See It? 6-22
Sunday, November 25, 2007

SHOPPING WHILE BLACK: When Your Own Do You Wrong ... Black on Black Racial Profiling
By Jasmyne A. Cannick
(November 15, 2007)
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     *On a much-needed mini vacation to Las Vegas to visit my family, an interesting situation happened to my younger sister Jorjanna and I while we were out shopping.
     Now when we left her place it was our intention to go to the Buffalo Exchange to see what vintage items we find.
     However, on the way I spotted a Zappos shoe outlet store and begged her to take me there since I had never been to one.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am serious about my shoes.
     I love and to have the chance to check out an actual store was more than my pocketbook could handle, lol.
     Being that cooler weather is settling in and that my work takes me from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. on a regular basis, I've been scouting online for the perfect pair of boots, hence the excitement at going to Zappos.
     So with my sister and nine-year-old niece Erica in tow, we head into Zappos to check out their boot selection.

     Now I wear between a 9 and a 10, it all depends on the shoe.  However, my 5'3" 130-pound petite sister wears a 7, and my niece a 6.  Needless to say, we quickly separated off to different aisles to check out shoes.  My niece choose to go with "Little TT" and left "Big TT" to find out if the boot she was looking for was in stock.
     The entire time I am perusing their shoe collection, not once was I asked if I ever needed any service, but I didn't trip.  I actually didn't even recollect that until the series of events I am about to lay out for you unfolded.
     About ten minutes into my search for the perfect boot my sister comes to me and says that she has to go to the restroom.  I told her okay and that I'd watch Erica.  By then I had zoned in on a pair of 9 ? red Kenneth Cole boots and was searching for an employee to get the left shoe so I could try them both on.  I told Erica that "Big TT" needed her fashion advice while "Little TT" handled her business.
     So while Erica and I weighing the pros and cons of the red Kenneth Cole boot my sister comes running up to me looking both very frantic, frustrated, and upset.  She says that we need to go and that I shouldn't spend my money here.
     Now my sister Jorjanna is the sweetest person, aside from my Grandmother that I know, maybe almost to a fault.  She's always cheerful and happy, yeah, nothing like her big sister, lol.  So for me to see her so upset I wanted to know why.
     She said that she didn't think anything of it at first but that when we separated and were looking at shoes on our own, that she was asked more than four times by various employees if she needed help, to which she politely replied no.  However, when she went to the back of the store to use the public restroom, one of the employees came in after her and my sister overheard the tail end of a conversation on a walkie-talking wherein the employee said "Who? The Black girl that just went into the restroom," before realizing that my sister heard her.  When my sister finished in the restroom, she came out and realized that she forgot to put on her lip gloss and as she reached in her purse and turned around to go back into the restroom the same employee who just asked if she needed any help accosted her yet again.  By then, my sister said she got it and she quickly made her way back to where my niece and I were.
     While my sister is telling me what happened three of the employees were standing a few feet away watching her.  This angered her and so my sister said, "Yeah, I'm talking about you."
     I told my sister to come with me as I grabbed the boots, my niece's hand and headed to the front register.
     I asked the girl working the register to get the manager for me and was told the manager was already headed to the front.  When the manager got there, I told my sister to tell her what happened.  My sister recounted what happened and ended by asking the manager point blankly did she look broke to her.  My sister wanted to know why she was being followed and profiled the way she was.  She assumed that maybe in their eyes she looked broke and like she couldn't afford to be there.  I wanted to know too.
     The manager stated that it was because of my sister's purse.  So then I explained that I just gave her that purse the same day and had brought it from Los Angeles in two different colors, red and black.  My sister asked if her purse was too big and the manager said yes.  So my sister and I start looking around the store.  We were the only Blacks in there shopping at the time.  We spotted a Caucasian woman who had a purse that was slightly larger than my sister had and pointed that out to the manager.  My sister also added "But I guess since it's a Coach bag that makes it ok."
     After the exchange between my sister and the manager, my sister said she needed to go outside because she was too upset.  She also said that she didn't want me to buy the shoes.
     After my niece and my sister exited the store, I proceeded to buy the shoes.  I pulled out my credit card and my I.D. and handed it over.
     The employee asked me where I heard about their store and I replied, "From my sister, yeah the one that you guys were racially profiling.  She brought me here."  Then the employee asked if anyone on the floor helped me to which I replied, "Not really.  But the girl with the curly hair retrieved the mate to the boot for me to try on.  Yeah, the same girl that was hassling my sister."  The employee said that her name was Tameka.  I made a mental note of that (as you can see).
     As I was signing the credit card receipt, I asked for a business card for the store, thanked them, and walked out.
     My sister, who was waiting for me on the outside, couldn't believe that I had bought the shoes and so I explained.
     You see I could have put the boots back and left the store.  And in the back of my mind I could hear them saying now, "Those broke Black fill-in-the-blank didn't have any money anyway," or something to that tune.  But why give them the satisfaction?  I also know that people in their position love when you get belligerent and loud.  I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of either, although I think my sister was getting there.  We made our point; I bought the shoes and we went on about our business…for the time being.
     There are several things about what happened that really trouble me.
     The first being that the store employees were Black women, not white, Asian, Latino, or any other race.  The women hassling my sister and the store's manager were African-American women.  Women, who in my opinion should know what it feels like to be racially profiled.
     My sister didn't look like a shoplifter, assuming there's a specific look for a shoplifter.  She looked like any other woman in a shoe store shopping for shoes.
     In fact, just to show you the irony of the whole situation.  My sister was recently awarded by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce with their 2007 Customer Service Excellence Award.  This award is created and managed by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority to encourage and reward excellence in customer service in all aspects of local business.  At a luncheon last month, my father along with my sister's fiancé, boss, and co-workers proudly watched as she accepted her award.  She received the award because enough people had written into the Chamber about her work ethic and cheerful attitude, she's a chiropractor's assistant.
     Therefore, to go from that to what I just described above was a real shocker for her and damn near brought her to tears because fortunately for her, in her life she's never experienced that before.
     Not to mention that we had our niece with us who is only nine-years-old and didn't quite understand why "Little TT" and "Big TT" were so upset.  Erica is a biracial child who is very fair skinned.  Now she may never have to experience what many darker skinned Black men and women face everyday, but on this day, she learned what it means to be Black in some people's eyes.
     My sister now understands why I bought the shoes and once I got outside, I took out my digital camera and took the above picture of the Zappos store with the intention of writing about what happened on my site today.  Not because I have anything against Zappo's, my bone is more or less with the sistas who worked at this particular store and their attitude.  I am not saying that it's expected for other races to treat you indifferently, but let's face it, it happens more often than not.
     We mostly hear about cases of "DWB," Driving While Black, the practice of police targeting Blacks, usually Black men, for traffic stops because they believe that they are more likely to be engaged in criminal activity. But it happens to Black women as well.  Hence, what happened to my sister and what happens to countless Black women around the country.
I'm not that naïve to believe that Blacks are never guilty of shoplifting.  However, I do believe that if you're in the business of preventing shoplifting, there's a way to watch people in your store without embarrassing them and letting everyone in the store know what you are doing.
     My sister didn't deserve what happened to her and the attitudes of the employees didn't indicate that they gave a damn, but perhaps their boss will, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, and everyday people like you and me that know what it feels like to be profiled unfairly.
     Zappo didn't make any new fans out of me and my sister, in fact, they lost a customer…for life.  Yes, that pair of red Kenneth Cole boots will be my last purchase from Zappos.  Again, it's not a personal attack against Zappo, but as we all know, first impressions are lasting impressions and customer service employees are the gatekeepers.
About the Author

At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, and politics as played out in the African-American community.  She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.comor   

Note:  A response from Zappos will be in the next edition.


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