Shopping while Black: what would you do?

    How familiar is this scenario: You walk into an upscale, big-city boutique on a bright, Saturday morning. As you stroll through the store, thumbing the merchandise and checking prices, you notice the sales staff watching you. Or even worse, following you around.

    ABC News reports that 60 percent of Black people have experienced some form of retail’s version of racial profiling. Amazingly, this common issue for Blacks doesn’t really move White people all that much, at least not the ones visiting the trendy, New York store that housed the network’s cameras for a "What Would You Do?" experiment. A team of actors–one playing a store clerk, another playing a security guard and one playing the Black shopping victim–invaded Soho’s Unpomela boutique to stage mock racial profiling vignettes. Click here for the footage.

    The experiment kicked off with a loud, emotional confrontation between two of the actors–the White store clerk and the Black patron. As the Black woman was considering a scarf, the White actor came towards her and said, "I’m not sure you can actually afford something like this. Let me fold this back." The actor-clerk continued her verbal assault with "Ma’am, people like you, they can’t afford something like this" and "If you need to shop in Harlem, go shop in Harlem. You’re not shopping in our store!"

    The actor-customer played along, acting indignant, embarrassed and surprised, all at once. If that wasn’t bad enough, the woman was forcibly frisked by the White actor-security guard, who said, "Put your arms out, please. It’s not the first time, I’m sure. You know what I’m talking about."

    The first time ABC News enacted this farce, a couple of White Britons were shopping very near the incident, but didn’t get involved. John Quinones, host of "What Would You Do?," approached the women outside of the store and asked why they stood by. The answer was simple, "She has nothing to do with me," said one of the women.

    That sentiment was echoed throughout the experiement, as the actors performed their skit for roughly 100 different customers yet only about 20 intervened. Some looked interested, others indifferent. One White couple from Long Island, New York seemed to agree with the profiling. After watching the Black woman get escorted out of the store, the clerk-actor approached the shopping couple and said "She looked very suspicious. I had two ladies like that come in last week and just look like they’re going to do something." The man’s reply was "She probably played the Black card, right?" Yeah, you read us right.

    But when John cornered the couple outside of the store, he seemed to have grown a heart and said "Oh, I felt so bad for." Uh-huh, we’re sure you did.

    The video showed just three instances where people did stand up for the woman. Two of them involved other minorities. When Lizabeth Sanchez, a Latina woman, watched the customer thrown out of the store, her face was visably disturbed. And when the clerk approached her, just as she had done with the White couple before, she questioned the clerk and accused her of racism. Soon, Lizabeth was crying and John had to come out to tell her that it was all an experiment– but one not so far from the truth.

    Other patrons who stood up for the woman included a Black man who forced his his family to leave the store after witnessing the woman being accused. Also, a couple of White shoppers encouraged the abused shopper-actor to file a complaint before leaving with the woman and a large group of similarly enraged patrons.

    Watch the video and tell us what you think: Have you ever been a victim of shopping while Black? Would you defend a person who was obviously being racially profiled?

    –Whitney Teal




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