Shopping While Black: A Story of Racial Profiling

It’s time to Break It Down!

I cannot imagine that there is a black man in America who has not heard of, or does not know someone who has suffered the indignity of racial profiling.  In fact, if I had to hazard a guess, I would suppose most black men have endured the sting associated with that repugnant act, live, and in living personal color.  I certainly have.

Though the story always hits home when it is personal, it tends to have a broader and deeper resonance when the party involved is a “known entity” or has a higher than normal profile.  Such is the case with “Treme” actor Rob Brown.

According to Brown, while shopping at Macy’s Manhattan Flagship store, he bought a watch for his mother.  He made the purchase to commemorate her college graduation, which coincidentally, he was en route to attend.  The price of the $1300 watch, (relatively expensive, but not so much when compared to the nearly $40K purse Oprah was allegedly denied an opportunity to purchase in a Swiss Boutique a couple of months ago), apparently in conjunction with Brown’s skin color caused a Macy’s clerk to suspect Brown’s may have been using a fraudulent credit card.  At least that is what Mr. Brown’s surmises.

By Brown’s account, he completed the transaction to purchase the watch.  Because it was a display model, the clerk needed to remove some excess paper and glue residue from the watch.  Meanwhile, Brown walked to a nearby store and initiated a purchase of a pair of sunglasses.  While in the midst of this purchase, several white males, at least one of whom flashed a badge, approached him.

They began to lecture him about a stolen credit card, and told him he was going to jail.  They “cuffed and paraded him,” he said, through the Macy’s store, and took him to a room for interrogation.

Eventually, the detectives or security team gleaned enough information to determine that they had detained Brown in error.  They then took Brown, a graduate of Amherst College, to his mother’s graduation…which he missed, by the way.

Macy’s issued a statement in its defense insisting that none of its employees were involved in the arrest.  They added there was “no record” of any employee contacting authorities about Brown’s purchase of a luxury Movado watch.  Wink-wink!

While that is certainly within the realm of possibility, the likelihood that the security detail materialized out of thin air, before the sunglass purchase was complete, but after the watch, alleging credit card fraud, with no prompting from Macy’s seems like one huge-A stretch.  Having already admitted I have experienced profiling, and on numerous occasions, I admit I am inherently a cynic on this question.

The Brown incident is not an isolated case in the Naked City.  Recently, two blacks sued Barney’s, another lionized New York shopping institution, for racial profiling.  In Brown’s case, he sued Macy’s for racial profiling, and the New York City Police Department for unlawful stop and search.  As this world turns, it is still clear, like driving, we must consider “Shopping While Black: A Story in Racial Profiling!”

I’m done; holla back!

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