Then & Now: Retail Racism
This is the first post in our “Then & Now” series in which we highlight an example of business-related discrimination in Black history and pair it with a similar event(s) during our modern day. We share these comparisons to demonstrate the continuing fight for Black justice after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Despite popular conceptions of America existing as a “post-racial” society, racism lives—and thrives–to this day, representing the need to further our pursuit of equity for all.
Then & Now: Retail Racism
By contrast, in Washington, DC, Woodward & Lothrop was known for its separate entrances, elevators, restrooms, and drinking fountains. On the workforce side, Black applicants for certain department stores, such as Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago, were overlooked because of their skin color. Indeed, a company representative told Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations that Black workers would “negatively affect the character, atmosphere, and flavor” of the store.
Missouri’s Brentwood neighborhood. The three teens were followed around the store by employees, prompting the boys to leave. One of the friends forgot his hat inside the store, but when the three of them returned to Nordstrom Rack to find it, an older white woman called them “a bunch of bums” and asked whether their families would “be proud of what [they’re] doing.” Lee, Rogers, and Taylor left a second time, but they decided to return and shop there anyway to “demonstrate to them that we aren’t thugs.” In the checkout line, however, the boys overheard employees talking about calling the police. As expected, when the police arrived, the officer discovered that nothing had happened at the store. Thankfully, the teenagers weren’t injured or taken into custody during the ordeal, but what they did experience was an emotionally and psychologically exhausting example of boldfaced discrimination from Nordstrom Rack’s employees.
The 2018 Brentwood incident is only one of many contemporary examples of retail racism. From a woman being stopped and searched at a Macy’s in San Jose, California, to former President Barack Obama being followed while shopping at department stores, Black shoppers are still made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in retail settings.
All this is why at Inclusive Journeys, we aim to shift workplace culture so that all shoppers feel welcome. With the Inclusive Guide, users can share their experiences at different businesses and rate them based on inclusivity-focused criteria. Other users can then see these reviews and determine whether they want to support a business based on its inclusivity rating. However, if a business receives a low rating, we want to help by offering diversity, equity, and inclusion training and resources so that the company can work on cultivating a more inclusive, equitable atmosphere. We strive to make workplaces better holistically—on both the customer side and the business end.
Support our journey to end retail racism and systemic oppression more broadly. You can sign up to start reviewing businesses at inclusiveguide.com.
Favro, Marianne. “San Jose Woman Accuses Macy’s of Racial Profiling in Stop-and-Search Incident.” NBC Bay Area, 15 May 2018, nbcbayarea.com/news/local/san-jose-woman-accuses-macys-of-racial-profiling-in-stop-and-search-incident/178016/. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.
Lisicky, Michael. “Racial Injustice Outlived The American Department Store.” Forbes, 6 June 2020, forbes.com/sites/michaellisicky/2020/06/06/racial-injustice-outlived-the-american-department-store/?sh=14d07bbf7623. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.
Seipel, Brooke. “Nordstrom Rack apologizes after calling police on 3 black teens who were shopping for prom.” The Hill, 9 May 2018, thehill.com/homenews/news/386859-nordstrom-rack-apologizes-after-calling-police-on-3-black-teens-who-were?rl=1. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.
Singletary, Michelle. “Shopping while black. African Americans continue to face retail racism.” The Washington Post, 17 May 2018, washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2018/05/17/shopping-while-black-african-americans-continue-to-face-retail-racism/. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.