Even when we play by the rules, which the overwhelming majority of us do, African Americans are profiled and harassed — not just by police, but also by other groups that are supposed to be serving us.
Profiling is also carried out by restaurant servers and store clerks, some of whom make harmful assumptions when they serve people of color. That’s what happened to three young African Americans in Barney’s and Macy’s, respectively, when they made purchases in the New York-based stores.
A trio of cases
Twenty one-year-old Kayla Phillips alleges that she was stopped by four plainclothes officers after purchasing a $2,500 orange suede Celine bag at Barney’s.
Nineteen-year-old Trayon Christian, who said he was stopped by police after purchasing an expensive belt from the store, was allegedly placed in a holding cell for two hours while police checked the validity of his debit card.
Robert Brown, star of HBO’s “Treme,” filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department after he was stopped by at least three plainclothes officers, accused of using a fraudulent credit card and detained in a holding cell inside New York’s Macy’s store.
I think it’s time to take action against the new discriminatory policy known as “shop and frisk,” because no person of color is immune.
I wish I could say I was surprised. Unfortunately, I’m not.
What I’ve seen
As an African American who can afford to make the occasional expensive purchase, I’ve often seen those who are supposed to facilitate such purchases act with what I can only describe as resentment. It’s ironic, really. Those who are hired to serve discriminate against those whose hard work has yielded financial success.
Last year, a manager in the Louis Vuitton store in the King of Prussia Mall got indignant when my wife questioned the symmetry of the stitching on a $900 bag I was preparing to purchase for her. The store lost the sale. I ended up purchasing the bag at Saks.
A worker in Macy’s decided it was his duty to follow me when I came in to buy a coat. No problem. I purchased my coat elsewhere.
But there are other solutions beyond individual actions. We need to do more.
Lost profits make a point
It’s my belief that people change their behavior when they’re hit in the pocketbook, and according a 2011 report by Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), African Americans are uniquely positioned to fight discrimination using the power of the almighty dollar.
African-Americans’ buying power is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015, according to The State of the African-American Consumer report.
“This growing economic potential presents an opportunity for Fortune 500 companies to examine and further understand this important, flourishing market segment,” the report says. “Likewise, when consumers are more aware of their buying power, it can help them make informed decisions about the companies they choose to support.”
The report is right.
African Americans must be aware of our buying power, and rather than treating stores and products as if they are the prize, we should adjust the paradigm. Our dollars are the ultimate prize, and stores and brands cannot be allowed to treat us with disdain when we are spending our hard-earned money with them.
How much money do African Americans have?
We spend $1 trillion annually. In fact, if African Americans were a country, we’d be the 16th largest in the world. That is a tremendous amount of power, and that power is only growing.
The number of African-American households earning $75,000 or more grew by nearly 64 percent, a rate close to 12 percent greater than the change in the overall population’s earning between 2000 and 2009, according to the Nielsen report.
That’s economic power, and in a capitalistic society, economic power is king.
It was economic power that began to crack the hold of discrimination in the Jim Crow South through the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And it is economic power that can begin to make change today.
Apologies not enough
It’s no longer good enough for stores to discriminate and then issue apologies.
It’s no longer satisfactory for individual court cases to be filed.
If we are truly to be an equal society, then perhaps it’s time to awaken the sleeping giant of African-American buying power. If African Americans want to defeat the new discriminatory practice of “shop and frisk,” then let’s put our trillion dollars back in our pockets.
It’s time for us to boycott once again.