THE BLOG
11/05/2013 04:40 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Macy's and Barney's Incidents Should Teach Us: Dollars and Sense

Have you ever been in a store, and had to deal with the mysterious looking gal or guy following you around the complete facility? What African American doesn't have a story, where some unknown guard challenged you or followed you out of the store. What about the annoying stores that make you pull out the receipt on the way out the door, and have the security guard ravage through your purchased goods? For most African Americans, shop and frisk is a normal experience that usually is followed by a little anger, that triggers a temporary one-person boycott, and then the experience is filed away in that horrible memory space long to be forgotten.

In 2000 there was an incident in Dearborn, Michigan at Fairlane Mall, a man leaving a Lord and Taylor store whose young child was suspected of shoplifting a $4 bracelet was killed. Macy's is currently facing several lawsuits as well as a prominent lawsuit from African-American actor Rob Brown. Barneys of New York faces accusations that police are now targeting folks who leave its store. All of these occurrences have something in common -- black folks being racially profiled.

At a young age just going to the candy store, gas station, or liquor store, mama told me "Always keep your receipt and always let the clerk bag your goods." Why? Because you are suspect number one and ever since then even if I buy something as small as a candy bar, it has become a practice of habit to ask for a bag and receipt. For I, like many African Americans always have that fear that profiling and accusations would somehow follow me out of the store. Living in this fear is not abnormal for African Americans; most of us have pretty well adjusted. Just today I was talking to a friend of mine who is also an African American and he began to recant his own personal experience of profiling in a major chain store.

National Action Network Brooklyn Leader Kirsten John Foy and National President/Radio/TV host Rev. Al Sharpton recently have been on the front lines of this issue of racial profiling and rightly so. Wherever there is an issue in our community, no justice no peace's official logo and organization is soon to follow. Although, this issue seems simple, its solution is often very complex. If you target the police, they say the store told us to do it; if you target the store they say the police acted on its own. Fingers go to pointing, settlements get paid and the issue is over. However, the complexity of the problem is deeper than a settlement or even a policy change. The real question is how do we defeat the psychology of the problem that leaves African Americans worried about a receipt for a 99-cent candy bar or death over a $4 bracelet.

Now, I'm a Martin Luther King Jr. intergrationalist and after all, we do have a black president in the White House and shopping where you want is a part of the justice that lunch counter sit-ins lead by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) students fought for. However, there is another way we can force change in the retail industry, build some cultural collective economy and even affect black-on-black gun violence.

Retail success depends heavily on the entertainment and sports industry and most trends are set are by hip-hops artist, sports figures, moguls and their children. Imagine this, what would happen if these trendsetters, would be more intentional by limiting access to their products, and brands to small business? Maybe, African-American consumers should be more intentional at purchasing these products from small businesses where the suspect stigma doesn't exist. After all, Dr. David L. Birch of Massachusetts Institute of Technology writes in his book; Job Creation in America: How Our Smallest Companies Put the Most People to Work, about how supporting small business grows the local economy and shrinks unemployment numbers. Now, in September, United States Department of Labor stats say that African-American unemployment is 13 percent. I'm not an economist but it seems pretty obvious, that if we who face this relentless problem of profiling at large chain stores and malls purposely focused our buying power to our smaller retail stores, we could affect change in a couple of different ways -- like, forcing the larger retail industry to work harder to court our dollars and business, creating jobs in our community, promoting entrepreneurship and who knows lessen the catalyst for the violence that's caused by the urban drug economy. I'm always ready to march against injustice, but this is one of those spaces in our community where we don't just have to chant "No Justice, No Peace" but we can be the change by adopting a policy of "Teaching Our Dollars, Some Sense."

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