Shopping while Black, the ultimate in personal humiliation whether your goal is recreational retail therapy or securing much needed items. The shopping while black experience strips you of your retail goals and your humanity as store clerks in retail establishments decide that based on the color of your skin you are a threat to the merchandise they are charged with selling.
On the surface, the shopping while black experience seems petty and bothersome but hardly a civil rights violation worthy of press coverage and discussion. After all, even Oprah is stopped when she is shopping while Black. If a lesser and well known Black person experiences this phenomena, sure it is annoying but is it really a big deal?
It is a big deal. Shopping while Black and all of its ugly cousins are rooted in a system that cannot see the individuality of Blacks as worthy and equal. The lingering notion that somehow Blacks are just a little different is part of the continuing legacy of white supremacy that has been bred into most white Americans through centuries of structural racism and inequality that have not vanished. Sadly most are unaware of how deep the roots are of their supremacy because for most, how can you even be aware of that which you cannot even name?
Yesterday the story broke of a 19 year old Black college student Trayvon Christian, who earlier this year after working and saving his money went to Barney’s in New York City and purchased a $350 designer belt. During the transaction he was asked to show his identification to verify that he belonged to the credit card that he was using to purchase the belt. Despite producing valid identification, Christian was stopped by undercover cops who had been called by the clerk, who was concerned that the transaction was fraudulent. Even the cops were reportedly concerned after all, “how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt?” The kid found himself handcuffed and hauled down to the police station where it was later determined that no crime had been committed; he indeed was the rightful owner of the credit card used to purchase the belt.
For many who read the story, the takeaway was why was he buying a $350 belt? Wrong question. Why does society continue to see people of color specifically Black people in a one dimensional lens where even when we play by the rules and do all the right things, our actions are still seen as suspect. Frankly the desire to own a $350 designer belt is no different than the desire to own a $700 iGadget or the purchase of a daily $5 latte, the difference comes when our one dimensional thinking about race decides who can legitimately participate in such endeavors.
Racism in 2013 is largely a structural affair that picks and chooses who is worthy and who is not, yet in the end we all lose. Trayvon Christian learned that his relative youth and skin color made him unworthy in the eyes of those who hold the power but if we can get beyond the surface maybe one day, we can dismantle this system piece by piece. So that one day when a young man of color who saves his money up to buy something special can go home and simply wear his designer belt without middle aged ladies like me needing to write about it.