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Shopping while black: African Americans continue to face retail racism


Rashon Nelson, left, speaks as Donte Robinson looks on. Their arrests at a Starbucks in Philadelphia quickly became a viral video and galvanized people across the country who saw the incident as racist.  (Jacqueline Larma/AP)

If you’re black, you just shake your head thinking this can’t be 2018.

And it can’t be the 21st century because there’s yet another story about a black person being discriminated against for doing what so many others take for granted.

A black student at Yale was questioned by police after falling asleep in her dorm lounge while studying.

Here are the details of that story: A black Yale student fell asleep in her dorm’s common room. A white student called police.

Two black males at Starbuck for a business meeting were arrested. Their crime? Waiting while black.

The outcome: Two black men arrested at Starbucks settle with Philadelphia for $1 each

The police are called on two men who were trying to work out at a gym.

Read more: LA Fitness employees called 911 on two black men they said didn’t pay. They had.

Then last week there was this: Nordstrom Rack apologizes after calling the police on three black teens who were shopping for prom

“Three black teens shopping for prom at a Nordstrom Rack in Brentwood, Mo., near St. Louis, faced the police after store employees suspected they were shoplifting, calling further attention to incidents of racial profiling in commercial spaces over the past month,” reported The Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel.

Nordstrom said it was sorry and promised to work on ways to prevent such a thing from happening again.

“After all of this was said and done, Nordstrom cannot fix society on its own as it relates to these stereotypes,” St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt told The Post.

In a paper published in the Journal of Consumer Culture, Cassi Pittman, a sociologist at Case Western Reserve University, said racial discrimination alters African Americans’ experiences as consumers.

Read more: San Jose Woman Accuses Macy’s of Racial Profiling in Stop-and-Search Incident

“Retail settings are often sites where anti-black bias is made evident, requiring black shoppers to navigate racial hierarchies while procuring goods,” Pittman writes. “Second, discrimination alters the experience of shopping, arguably raising the costs and reducing the rewards derived from consumption. When a store’s sales staff is hesitant to serve black shoppers or suspects that they are prospective shoplifters, shopping no longer becomes a form of leisure.

Read more: More Evidence That Black Shoppers Are Subject to Racism

In another paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers examined racial discrimination in a retail setting:

“To investigate racial discrimination in the marketplace, we conducted a field experiment to examine both overt and subtle forms of retail discrimination. ‘Customers’ browsing in high-end retail stores asked a salesperson if they would remove a security sensor from a pair of sunglasses before trying them on in front of a mirror. Although the request to remove the sensor was granted in all conditions, the salespersons showed greater levels of suspicion (i.e., staring, following) in the black conditions, especially in the male-group condition. These findings are consistent with current field research examining subtle biases toward other stigmatized groups,” the researchers wrote.

President Obama once said: “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

Minorities also face retail price inflation.

Read more: The Price Is Racist: When Minorities (and Women) Are Asked to Pay More

ABC’s “What Would You Do?” looked at shopping while black. Watch the video.

The show revisited the topic again. Watch: Black Customer Is Racially Profiled While Shopping In High End Store

So, what would you do?

When shopping while black happens to me, I take my business elsewhere. And I hope the time will come when the color of my skin doesn’t result in retail racism.

Color of Money question of the week
Have you been the victim of retail racism? Share your story. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put “Shopping while black.”

Live chat today
Please join me today at noon (ET) for a live discussion about your money. I’m happy to help you find an answer to a financial dilemma.

Here’s the link to join the conversation.

Five signs your mom is faking her reaction to your Mother’s Day gift
Last week, I asked what was the worst Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever gotten? Were you hurt? Did you laugh about it, at least later? What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten.

The responses were so heartfelt and funny that I decided to pull many of the comments into a column. Read more: Moms dish on the best and worst Mother’s Day gifts

I teared up at the salad spinner story. It has both a happy and sad ending.

“Worst gift ever: Dust Buster hand vacuum from my husband on my first Mother’s Day,” one mom wrote. “Best: Theater tickets with prearranged babysitting so I could go.”

Color of Money columns this week
Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money.

In addition to this newsletter, please read and share my weekly personal finance columns.

— No, an allowance does not teach your children how to manage money

— The end of credit card signatures is not good for consumers

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Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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