I Was Racially Profiled and This is What I Did
This morning, I was alone -- my younger kids at school and my older ones wherever -- so I didn't have to worry about embarrassing them. On the other hand, I did think that what was about to happen could have been a very powerful teaching moment for all of us. You see, I had moved past just wanting to call out someone's BS. I wanted to have a positive impact on a really negative situation. As I headed toward the check out, I passed by my friend and stopped directly in front of him. I introduced myself by name and asked him how long he had been working in security. He was genuinely flummoxed. I almost laughed because I couldn't believe that he honestly thought that he was being sly. I then asked him what about me made him follow me around the store waiting for me to steal something? "Did I do something during our first encounter in the gift wrap aisle that made me seem suspicious?"
He said, "Not necessarily."
"So, what about me made you follow me?" I continued. By now he was a deep shade of red and I almost felt sorry for him, but not really. He told me that he pays close attention to all of the customers in the store. "You follow all, each and every customer around like that?" I asked.
"No, not really," he agreed with me. Yet, I pressed on as to what about me could have made him so suspicious. He would have rather been anywhere else, but standing there with me. That's when I asked him to talk to the manager with me. Not to get him in trouble, but to clarify some things.
Ultimately, this is what happened: I explained how I thought that I had been profiled as a potential shoplifter based on the color of my skin, the affluent neighborhood and the time of day. They gave some weak rebuttal, apologized profusely and eventually admitted that there was some validity to what I had just said. I then pointed out some of the dangers in their approach, the most obvious of which is that there may be shoplifters that don't fit that profile who go unnoticed and uncaught. Additionally, they are perpetuating a stereotype of African-Americans not belonging in certain neighborhoods, not being able to do their shopping like any other SAHM (during the day) and just being prone to being a thief. They saw me as being "less than". However, unlike when I was a kid, I wasn't ashamed. I was angry, and this time I had the opportunity and wherewithal to push back. Momma would be proud.
Hopefully, the next time that security officer observes another potential shoplifter, it will be through new eyes and with a new approach. I want to believe that I did some good here, and that one day my young children will not be faced with this situation. I'm doubtful, but hopeful.