For those of us with brown and black skin in America we know that there is nothing post-racial about America even in these Obama years. Yet if we focus on the racial slights and insults that happens every day (and they do happen every day, make no mistake) we would simply be too overwhelmed to function. However there are times when we cannot ignore what is so blatantly in our face and what follows is a letter written by my spiritual little sister who yesterday suffered the indignity of being racially profiled at Sephora in Madison, WI. Interestingly enough, Madison has a reputation for being an open minded and liberal space yet what happened to my friend shows that even so-called bastions of liberalism need to examine themselves. This letter is being sent to Sephora, but I also asked Natalie if I could share it in this space.
I’m in the process of completing a PhD. I’ve traveled the world. In addition to English, I speak three languages. I am upstanding citizen who has never had a criminal record.
On average, I spend about $300 a year at Sephora. Additionally, because of my loyalty to your store, I’m a VIB member.
Yet, apparently, neither store loyalty, nor educational background, nor worldly sophistication are enough to preclude me from being racially profiled and harassed for being a Black woman by your employees.
On at least three separate occasions, a white security guard at the affiliate Sephora store in Madison, Wisconsin—where I currently reside, followed me. When it happened to me the first time, I dismissed it. I assumed that, surely, everyone in the store is subject to the same level of scrutiny. At first, I thought I was overreacting. You see, contrary to popular belief, Black Americans do not want to look for racism everywhere. Because our judgment concerning veritable acts of systemic racism has, historically, been called into question, we do our best to “ignore” it. We want, desperately, to believe that what is happening to us cannot be real, even as these acts of anti-black racism are unfolding right before our very eyes.
And, then, on May 16, 2013, when I went on one of my regular jaunts to Sephora—this time to return two items that were not working for my skin, it happened again. The same security guard began following me, hovering over me from a distance, and clearly positioning himself so that he could monitor my every move. To make sure I wasn’t “imagining” this, I decided to “test” him by doing circles around the store. And, surely, he followed my every move. The man clearly had no intention of being discrete about his profiling of me. Mind you, he paid no attention to the other white customers, many of whom were clearly much younger than me and who, perhaps, would have more reason to shoplift than me, an established 36-year-old Black woman. If shoplifting is, indeed, a real concern for Sephora, then everyone should be monitored. Needless to say, the entire experience was humiliating, and had me on the verge of tears.
I am writing to let you know that I will no longer patronize your store until the racial profiling of Black customers ceases and the security guard who follows me—and most likely other black customers—is dealt with accordingly. Additionally, as an academic and blogger with access to a network of well-connected bloggers and writers on a national and international level, I will be posting this letter on-line to alert everyone I know as to the discriminatory practices of Sephora and its employees.
Importantly, Sephora should welcome every paying customer, regardless of educational background, socioeconomic status, appearance, or racial origin. I shouldn’t have to use my educational background and economic status as a trump card to demand that your employees treat me as a Black woman with dignity and respect.
Formerly a loyal customer,
Natalie L. Belisle