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Shopping While Black
10/30/2013 2:20:37 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

I am sure if I were to take a “Shopping While Black” poll most Blacks would be able to share some not so nice and even embarrassing stories of incidents that happened to them while shopping. The same can be applied to “Eating While Out”. Blacks most often come under the radar no matter where they shop or dine.

The case of a Black teen who bought a $350 Ferragamo belt at Barneys in NY was accosted by undercover cops because they said “he could not afford such an expensive purchase”. According to the news, he was arrested and detained even after he showed them the receipt, debit card and his identification. He later filed a lawsuit.

Oprah Winfrey was recently in the news when she attempted to purchase a $38,000 handbag and the clerk insisted she did not want to see that one thinking she could not afford it. High profile cases and celebrities’ incidents are big news. However, it’s the average shopper or diner that goes unnoticed. While I think of myself as an average shopper, my checkbook says otherwise, let me just share a few of my embarrassing moments “Shopping While Black”.

One of my most horrifying experiences was at J C Penney when they were located in Charlestown Square Mall. I took my son shopping to purchase some jeans for his birthday. Being a single mother, I had to invest every penny wisely. None of those designer stuff for him. Knowing how Black shoppers were targeted, I taught my son to stay near me whenever we went into a store. This particular night it was near closing time so I wanted to make the best use of our time. We picked out a pair of jeans and I escorted him to the dressing room and I told him I would be across the aisle in the ladies section. I thought I would just browse around while he tried on his jeans. I told him when he was finished trying on the jeans to remain by the dressing room if I weren’t back. As fate would have it, the jeans did not fit. He walked out of the dressing room with the jeans and tag still on to the rack where we found the jeans to see if he could locate another size that would fit. A store detective saw him with the jeans on with the tag walking around the racks and called North Charleston Police Department. The charge was shoplifting.

Knowing that the store would soon close and thinking I had given him enough time to try the jeans on (less than 10 minutes), I hurried back and waited outside of the dressing room. The store’s staff had just rolled the security bars on the doors half way down to allow last minute shoppers to make their purchases and exit the store. Since my son had not appeared and the store was about to close, I summoned a clerk to check the dressing room. The clerk said he wasn’t in there. I panicked. I am thinking my son must have been kidnapped--a mother’s worst nightmare. He knew our shopping rules and he would never leave a store on his own without me. He was only ten years old.

The clerk was calling for last minute shoppers to make their purchases. It was five minutes after closing and my son could not be found. I gave them a description of my son and what he was wearing and no one came forward to say they had called the police. I searched the store again and decided to walk outside to see if he went to the car. As I got within several feet of my car, I saw a police car circling and saw my son in the backseat. Well, y’all mothers can just imagine how I felt. My stomach was tied up in knots and my legs were about to give away. I almost fell to the ground. I could hardly see through my tears as I drove over to the police station.

My son’s birthday had turned into a nightmare. He was a straight “A” student. Why would he leave his pants in the dressing room and attempt to walk out of the store in pants with tags on them? He would have to be crazy, right? And if that wasn’t crazy enough for y’all, my son knew how crazy I was so did he think he would get in my car with new jeans that I did not pay for? He was released on his own recognizance and given a date to meet with an officer. We met and the case was thrown out “citing my son’s stellar school record”. What if he had not had a “stellar” record”? How many of our teens get caught up in similar Shopping While Black “gotcha” moments?

My son has not forgotten this experience and neither have I. I just know how to handle these “suspecting” clerks. I put my hundreds of dollars of merchandise on the counter and walk out. You might want to do that as well. Your dollars should not be welcome where you are not. Y’all with me?

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