Although I am disturbed by the recent displays of racial profiling associated with Barneys New York Department store, I am not at all surprised.
I have lived in New york City all my life thus far and I am far too familiar with racial profiling especially when it comes to these major department stores.
I would like to draw your attention to the 1991 murder of 15 year old Latasha Harlins
shot and killed by 51 year old Korean store owner Soon Ja Du.
She was believed to be stealing a soda for which she was shot in the back of her head for and died instantly with $2 in her hand.
Such a senseless way to die as was the case with Trayvon Martin. These two African American children where brutally slaughtered in the guise of self defense.
Their assailants believed these young black teens to be a threat to their safety and found justification in taking their lives.
Our great American justice system found these homicides justified and neither the killer of young Trayvon Martin nor the killer of young Latasha Harlins would serve any prison time for these crimes.
George Zimmerman was found not guilty and Soon Ja Du although convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter was only sentenced to probation, community service and a $500 fine.
These tragedies will forever stain in the fabric of our society. Racism shows its ugly head in many forms.
But could it be that racism is merely a social alarm system?
Is it racist for a white person to be afraid of a black person? and vice versa?
I lived in Canarsie Brooklyn for a few years (in the early 90’s) and I will admit walking through them blocks on a late night was pretty spooky. I can honestly say I was a little afraid of the white people there.
I was afraid of what they might do or things they might have done in the past. Maybe it wasn’t any of these people per say but my social antennas where up as I walked down them dark Canarsie blocks to get to my home.
I grew up most of my young life in Brownsville Brooklyn. I admit it was a pretty rough neighborhood. There was a lot of violence but because I lived there as a child I felt safer than as a young adult walking through Canarsie.
At the time Canarsie was regarded as a “good” neighborhood and Brownsville was more of a hotbed for drugs and violence.
Needless to say when I spent days with my Grandmother who lived in Brownsville Projects I learned some important cultural values.
My Grandmother was tough. I thought she was just mean but she had a lot of respect through out the neighborhood and she never held her tongue.
She would keep her front door open in the projects and although I didn’t think this was very safe no one ever tried to break in her home to rob her or cause her harm.
Its insane to see how some of these desperate criminals could brutally violate these elderly people and in the safety of their own homes no less.
A few decades later Brooklyn is much more gentrified. There are areas in Brownsville where I would have never expected to see any white people unless they were police.
But today as our neighborhoods grow and develop one would think that our communities can benefit from this growth of diversity.
What becomes apparent is the deeply embedded social alert system that you see in these new neighborhoods and it very well may be associated with a natural defense mechanism.
It resembles that instinct of the animal to protect what they believe is theirs be it property, beliefs and not limited to its personal safety, protection of life and liberty.
These days you are likely to have a young African American male like 19 year old Trayon Christian walk into a high end Department store like Barneys New York as opposed to a Dr Jays or VIMS (a more low end department store) and actually spend what some may think is an exuberant amount for an accessory.
Christian spent $300+ on a famous designer belt and shortly after was detained for suspicion of stealing that very same belt. He was released with no charge and is now filing a suit against the NYPD as well as Barneys New York.
Following this incident the News reports how 21 year Kayla Philips was aggressively approached by New York police officers after buying a famous designer hand bag for the inviting price of $2,500+. And yes once again at a Barneys New York Department store.
Many have been quick and firm to speak out in protest against Barneys Department store. Rapper Jay-Z has also come under fire for his current business association with the famous department store chain.
Some ask how can the iconic rapper can do business with Barneys in light of these latest incidents.
Then others go as far as to say its just a publicity stunt to sell his new line of apparel.
I personally believe this won’t have any affect on the practices of Barneys Department nor the products they sell.
There is a aura of suspicion every time an African American enters a store that is catered to the rich or so called high end designer products.
Just weeks ago billionaires Oprah Winfrey was discriminated against while attempting to purchase a $35,000 designer handbag. Everybody knows Oprah can cover that expense but the storekeeper saw fit to offer the network owner a bag of lesser value.
As embarrassing as this my be it speaks volumes of the truths of racism.
I won’t be surprised to learn that this has happened to many other people whom haven’t spoke out yet maybe because they are either embarrassed or just grown accustomed to the discrimination.
It does not surprise me that many store owners do not expect black people to be able to afford the expensive finer things in life.
What does surprise me is that despite the known fact that black people spend enormous sums of money on designer items many of these stores and designers alike do not want black people to shop there let alone purchase and even adorn their products.
There was an old rumor that designer Ralph Lauren didn’t want black people wearing his apparel and Reebok supported Apartheid. I don’t know if this has any truth to it but there where similar stories as well.
My girlfriend Lisa was recently the victim of racial discrimination.
She has always been a fan of Louis Vuitton as well as Gucci designer handbags and accessories to name a few.
In High School she was one of the few “fly girls” who actually had the authentic handbags while many others could only afford the knock offs (imitation).
Lisa has an older sister who is into high end fashion and wouldn’t stand to see her little sister in any fraudulent apparel. She was infamous for giving her little sis somewhat expensive gifts.
One birthday her big sister bought Lisa a Louis Vuitton make up bag. Lisa already had the same bag so she decided to return it.
When she got to the store she was aggressively quizzed and made to feel like she had stole this item.
Although Lisa had all the proper paperwork as far as receipts and had followed whatever return policy this store had she was still discriminated against and later told that she could not get cash for the return only a store credit.
Needless to say this was fine with Lisa who opted to get a different Louis bag instead.
The irony to this story is all the while they where probing Lisa there was another least suspicious Asian women who managed to walk out of the store with an even more expensive Louis Vuitton bag.
I guess we can never judge a book by its cover….