I Was Racially Profiled and This is What I Did
This morning, after I dropped the girls off at school, I donned my mom uniform (jeans, t-shirt, flip-flops, purse and sunglasses) and went out to run some errands. I needed to get them done and get home before noon because this weekend has the potential to be just ridiculously crazy-busy. I need to get prepared. So, off I went.
Image Credit: gregavedan.com via Flickr
On my list of things to get were gift bags and birthday cards for the three (yes! three!) birthday parties that we are attending this weekend. Also, laundry detergent (for my never-ending piles of laundry), a wreath for my front door, some shorts for the girls and whatever else tickled my fancy. Clearly it was time for a stop at my favorite big box store, which I am not going to mention by name (although, if you read my blog, Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter often, I'm sure that you will be able to figure it out) because the occurrence that I'm about to describe to you isn't specific to this store. It just so happens that this is where it happened today.
Once in the store, I got my cart, and headed toward the gift wrap. As I approached I noticed that they had expanded the selection to the first two aisles. I started down the second aisle and saw a male customer standing in the area that I wanted to browse so I decided to start on the other side to give him a chance to finish. I found one bag then rounded the corner to the second aisle and the man was still there. I smiled and said "Excuse me" as I walked past looking at the gift bags.
He returned the smile and said, "No problem," but he was checking me out. Noticeably... like head to toe! For a moment I thought to myself, "Yes, Chica, you still got!" I know, and by now you know, that I'm a nut. Not to mention that once I looked at him, I realized that he was young enough to be my son younger brother, so, he probably was not there to try to pick me up; but he kept looking at me very intently. My phone rang in my purse and he looked at it very carefully; he was studying me. I was uncomfortable. I finally found the right sized gift bag appropriate for a soon to be 8-year-old and apologized for walking in front of him so many times. He smiled politely and I walked away in search of birthday cards. And Starbucks.
With my decaf, iced Americano with cream and classic in hand, I went to pick up the detergent then strolled right down the aisle toward garbage bags, and there was the guy from gift wrap again. I picked up my garbage bags and walked past, neither of us acknowledging the other. The girls needed shampoo and conditioner, which I picked up and then went to find them some summer shorts. On the way, I passed the mystery shopper three times. Apparently we were shopping for the same things? Except, I realized that he had no cart nor any merchandise. I had a pit in my stomach and my head was killing me. A clear sign that I was becoming stressed. When I got to the girl's clothing, I bent over to pick up some shorts on a lower shelf and stood up just in time to see the mystery shopper walk by and then I knew. I knew exactly what was happening. I was being followed by security. I had been profiled.
This was nothing new. It has happened before in different stores, and I dare say that it happens to most people of color at some point in their life. It's kind of like being pulled over for Driving While Black for Black males. It's a fact of life. It's uncomfortable and infuriating, but most of the time I ignore it. However, today was not a day that I could ignore it. I have no idea why, but you know how on some days somethings just gets under your skin and you can't let it go? Today was that day.
I get it, honestly. I think. Once, when I was in elementary school, my mom and I were in an upscale store when an over zealous security guard made the mistake of making himself a little too noticeable while following us around the store. Mom was irritated, but as I recall, we were searching for something specific that I needed for Easter -- shoes or a dress, perhaps. When we went up to the register with our merchandise, the sales lady made it a point to tell my mother that the selection was not on sale and would be full price. That was when my mother "blessed her soul" which is a polite way of saying that she put the sales lady in her place. She pointed out that not only could she read, but that she could definitely afford what she was purchasing. "Furthermore," Mom said, "You wouldn't have said that to a White woman and the security officer wouldn't have followed a White woman around the store! Now do your job and ring me up, please." After that we left, and I felt so ashamed, Not ashamed of my mother, but ashamed that the store employees had assumed that we were "less than". Being Black meant that we were "less than". And apparently, it also meant that we were prospective thieves.