Barneys Case Stirs Talk of 'Shopping While Black'

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 02:03

 

The usual scenario involves suspicious glances, inattentive clerks or rude service — not handcuffs.

Yet when a black teen said he was wrongly jailed after buying a $350 belt at a Manhattan luxury store, it struck a nerve in African-Americans accustomed to finding that their money is not necessarily as good as everyone else's. Shopping while black, they say, can be a humiliating experience.

Much attention has been paid to the issue over the years — Oprah Winfrey complained that a Swiss clerk did not think she could afford a $38,000 handbag, and even President Barack Obama has said he was once followed in stores. But according to shoppers interviewed Monday, many people don't recognize how prevalent retail discrimination is, and how the consistent stream of small insults adds up to a large problem.

"It's one thing if you don't understand. But don't ever tell me it doesn't happen to me," said Natasha Eubanks, who shops often at high-end stores in New York City. "You can't assume it doesn't happen just because it doesn't happen to you."

Sometimes, Eubanks said, it takes clerks more than five minutes to simply acknowledge her presence. Or they brush her off after a token greeting. Or they ask her question after question: "You're a black girl up in Chanel. They want to know what you're doing here, and what you do for a living."

She says she has dealt with this type of treatment at least 20 times in New York City.

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