An iconic retail store on Madison Avenue in New York City, has become the uncomfortable target of racist complaints leveled by sales persons and customers. These complaints have given rise to an investigation by the attorney general’s office.
Stories have surfaced with accounts of staff and security singling out black shoppers to criticize and stereotype. If a person wore slovenly sweats into the store, sales clerks would feign interest but expect no sale. But most of the targets were black. This attitude has apparently segued into a sense of racial stereotyping, but former employees have indicated they kept silent for fear of losing their job. One ex- employee, who is black, reported that such comments would be given in her presence. She tried to ignore them and walk away, wondering what they were saying about her behind her back.
The store allegedly profiled black shoppers by assessing the level of fame they had. The ones who looked poor were shadowed heavily. Yet everyone makes mistakes. Even Oprah Winfrey was recently stopped in another city by a well-meaning sales clerk who recommended she put back the expensive purse she had picked up in favor of a less expensive one.
There have been two recent cases of alleged racial discrimination, one by a 19-year-old student who was trying to buy a designer belt, as well as a nursing student, 21, who had a similar situation with an expensive handbag. Both have resulted in lawsuits against the police department and the retail store.
An upper echelon store has less staff, leading to selectivity as to who they will approach. They, in turn are watched by their management. Sadly, it might be having the opposite effect. One consultant for law enforcement and business concludes that while security cameras follow minority customers, thousands of dollars are walking out of the store on the legs of middle-aged white woman.
The taint of race discrimination should be eliminated everywhere, but in iconic retail stores, management is better off keeping track of a customer’s behavior, rather than the color of their skin.
huffingtonpost.com, “Barneys Racist Culture Deeply Ingrained In Store, Insiders Say” Kim Bhasin, Julee Wilson, Nov. 07, 2013