Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I love America except when I go shopping

First off let me say, I love this country, its ideals and promises. And yes it is the land of opportunity. This is the the front line for human progress. There is no other in the world. And it will continue to be so for a long time to come as long as its citizens work together to make it so.

However some things still elude this great nation because it is not necessarily free for everyone. Recently I heard of a disturbing story of some Sudanese refugee children, we are talking here the Darfur kind, who felt deeply unhappy in America. I put it down to a cultural shock in their case. But their biggest complaint was that they could not recognize each other from the children they knew before they came to America. They felt the consumerist culture had changed their once close friends and felt incredibly lonely in the New land. Well that is understandable.

On my part, I feel I can live almost anywhere. I am quite travelled and have an ability to settle in real quick and get comfortable wherever I have been. I thought I would settle easily in America and on an individual level, I have. I get on well with individuals of all stripes on a one on one basis. But alas my optimism to settle in is constantly tested by, you guessed it, systematic racism. People do racist things and even never realize that they interact with me in the way they do simply because of my skin color. My experiences are wide and varied.
From the extreme like being made to work in 100 degree temperatures because I was 'stronger' than my Latino colleagues to being asked to sing for my boss. (And NO! I didn't do the monkey dance either).
Anyways, I was just thinking about the vast opportunities this country has for one to pick. And I have done my share of picking. But if when someone like myself becomes successful or financially sound, how are you supposed to go spend what you have earned happily if walking into a store feels like walking into a Maximum security prison to visit an inmate? You know what I mean, all eyes and cameras on you plus a guard stalking you in the isles.
Here is an nth letter I am writing yet to another store where I felt treated poorly simply because of the color of my skin.

And with this post I will serialize my Shopping while black experiences. I am almost guaranteed of an encounter every time I enter a store that is not familiar. As for the Asian stores, I stopped a long time ago.
Some have told me that my natural hair sends the wrong signals. It doesn't help either that I keep it short so from behind I look like a Black man. This look has made cops slow down their cars to take a close look at me. A few have suggested I do something to my hair and that even a weave would make people more positive! So it looks like to live "happily" here I have to change my physical appearance. Really?

Here is my latest complaint. Will wait and see if I get a reply. BTW, the clerks were 3 Latinos and an East Indian.

Customer Service.

On February 28th 2009, I went to the Staples on Santa Monica and Vermont in L.A. I got chased down the Isle because I had a backpack on. My intent was to purchase the TI-89 Calculator ($160)and leave.
While taking my backpack to the counter, I noticed 2 other customers walking around comfortably with theirs. I asked the store clerks about the need for me to put my bag at the counter while others were moving around with theirs. Their response was that they tell those who they happen to see to leave their back packs behind. This in light of the fact that one of the other back pack customers was right at the counter seeking help. He happened to be Latino (and so was the other lady). I happen to be black. Out of the three of us they saw me!

To me, this was a clear case of racial profiling and I mentioned this to them which they obviously denied.
I was very disappointed with this treatment. I am sure this is not company policy but you guys could go to great lengths to train your employees to stop harassing and profiling black shoppers.
I can honestly tell you that many of us are wary of going into stores like yours because of the treatment we anticipate to get. We share our stories and word gets around real fast. I think it should be in the interest of your business that this behavior is checked.