SHOPPING WHILE BLACK: UK EDITION
I have to admit that when I was growing up my view on race was so distorted that I didn’t even realise that certain situations went against me for no real reason. Growing up during the late 90s and early 2000s there was talk of multiculturalism. Black people were welcomed by all communities, hell, everyone was welcome. And then I grew up and realised that isn’t the case at all. The tide began to turn during the start of the Great Big Immigration Crackdown and the (supposed) influx of Eastern-Europeans. They were taking all of the jobs, housing, causing overpopulation. Everything was their fault.
So much for multiculturalism.
Still even with that, there was no racism in the UK! Nope. I was just being followed around by security guards for no real reason. The slightly patronising questions I received were just people being polite. Naturally, as I became an adult I realised that certain people weren’t being followed around in stores….
I only just discovered this phrase (shopping while black) this year. And it is just so perfect. It seems to be a predominantly US term, probably because it appears to be much worse over there. The UK stores tend to take a…laidback approach whereby the shopper sullenly exits the store feeling helpless because while they were followed around they weren’t actually accused of stealing anything.
Security guards are one thing though. I expect unreasonable and biased behaviour from them. That’s UK level SWB. Or so I thought. I entered Boots the other day, armed with a rather large shopping bag. I was wearing dark clothing and a hat because my hair was a mess. I imagine that I was just ticking the profiling boxes. Hat. Tick! Brown skin! Emphatic tick. Bag. Tick, tick, tick. I was surprised not to see the guard around. This branch of Boots comes with the kind of guard that magically appears in each aisle you’re in. Anyway, as I entered the store and moved to the section where the Vaseline was. Or where it was supposed to be! Boots ain’t what it used to be! How is it that they have one tiny column dedicated to E45 products but not even any store brand petroleum jelly?
That should really have been the sign that I had no business in the store but nope, Observant Worker was about to open my eyes for me. I spotted her when I went into the aisle and I saw her look at me. I ignored her and stopped in front of the E45 products because I could tell where this was going. I pretended to be interested in them — because you can guarantee that wasting your money on any branded products in Boots will leave you crying on the floor when you next enter Superdrug or any reasonable store and realize that you’ve been swindled out of an additional £1.50 or more. This woman walked towards me and gullible ol’ me was thinking that perhaps she was going to offer to help.
I even had a question for her – IN THIS DRY, COLD WEATHER, THERE NO VASELINE. PLS HOW CAN THIS BE? – but she walked past me. I was thinking ‘Well, okay, maybe she has shit to do‘ but this woman stopped right beside me. There was probably less than a metre between us. At this point I was just getting annoyed. Is this a new strategy? Personal shopping for the would be criminals? We get a babysitter but without any help or semi comfortable interaction. I was ready to leave when I saw she wouldn’t budge, but actually, I was still convinced that they had to have something resembling Vaseline somewhere. So I turned and had a look at the other side of the aisle, all while tracking the worker who was just standing there watching me. I don’t think I even picked anything up. She eventually moved and I just shook my head and moved to leave the store.
Now, while I get that they have a duty to make sure people don’t steal, this is bizarre to me. The time these people spend stalking innocent shoppers around the store is time in which actual thieves can come in and do their business. When I see this kind of thing happening I don’t even return to the store. If I had a chance I would have asked that worker if there was a problem. Customer service doesn’t need to be five star but I think people of all shapes, sizes and colours should be able to browse without being made to feel like a criminal. It’s demoralizing and frustrating to be treated like one just for having the temerity to walk into the store. Some people may say it isn’t a race thing but I have seen certain people walk into stores and remain peaceful with no guard on their tale.
Everyone knows that security staff are given certain profiles to be on the lookout for. It’s wrong. It’s institutionalised discrimination in the name of preventing a crime. The sad part is that we have to accept it. I have to play Which Aisle? with a bunch of useless people every week. There was one instance where a guard literally followed me from aisle to aisle. I made sure to case the entire store.
Next time, I’ll have to get one of them to hold my basket for me, that way they get to see all of the action upfront.