Macy’s – institutionalized racism?

18 Oct

A vignette about racism in New York:

A few people sitting near me in a crowded subway carriage started chatting the other day (this would, of course, never happen on the London Underground where only *weirdos* and *freaks* ever make eye contact), and me, being a friendly soul, soon joined in with them.

The young woman leading the discussion was Afro-American as was another older, well-dressed woman (probably in her fifties) sitting next to me. They started talking about racism. Here’s roughly how the conversation went:

Young woman: I wish store keepers would leave me alone when I walk into their stores instead of following me around like I’m going to shoplift something just because I’m black!

Older woman: (sigh) I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Me: Are you serious, they still do things like that nowadays here in New York?

Young woman: Yes, of course, it always happens if you go into a store and you’re black. Macy’s in particular is notorious for following around black customers. I just want to say to them, hey, I’ve got money, I’ve got credit cards, leave me alone!

Me: Oh my Lord, they’re such a bunch of racists! I can’t believe it.

Older woman: Yes, actually, it doesn’t make any difference how old you are either, they still follow me around too!

Me: I’m so naive, I thought this kind of racism doesn’t exist any more.

Young woman: Don’t even get me started!

End of conversation as I had to get off the train.

Message to Macy’s: Get your act together and quit demonising your black customers. Who knows, your profit margins (which is all you really care about at the end of the day) might look even more buoyant if you treated all your customers respectfully.


14 Responses to “Macy’s – institutionalized racism?”

  1. Jean-Yves October 18, 2010 at 18:26 #

    Can we generalize this underground conversation between two women to racist instructions that may be eventually given to Macy’s employees? We know that in big department stores there are lots of thefts particularly concerning small items which cannot be protected by any electronic device. For this reason employees are asked to look after people who may be suspicious. If a white client is followed, will he say it is because of his white skin?

    • rebeccainspace October 19, 2010 at 11:15 #

      Hi J-Y,
      Yes I see your point and you’re right, of course I don’t know if it’s an actual ‘policy’ on the part of Macy’s (and they would never admit to this anyway), or just a coincidence that both these two black women experienced.
      But it sounds like they were both talking about them and a lot of other Afro-American people they know who have all had the same negative experience at Macy’s and other dept stores, so we can come to the conclusion that it’s probably not just a simple coincidence…

      • Elle October 22, 2010 at 04:35 #

        That was one of my last job, writing policies. You could not have such a policy written, if only on a legal point. They would not have to ‘admit’, it would be known.

  2. Abigail October 19, 2010 at 05:33 #

    To Kill A Mockingbird all over again, sigh….

  3. alexei October 19, 2010 at 14:19 #

    I had a similar thing happen to me – ie I was extremely unsubtly followed by the staff – when browsing in Kosher Kingdom, dressed in my Charles I outfit. I have heard other Civil War re-enacters talk in similar terms, and have urged them to boycott the shop and use Kosher Paradise instead, which only discriminates against Chinese.

  4. Elle October 22, 2010 at 04:29 #

    Yeah, Reb it is all about economics, you have got this one right, hence I am not sure if it might be the way persons perceive the same situation differently.
    I do not doubt that lady, however, and you probably know generalisation is dangerous (II W W), and the start of racism itself.

    When Lee and I went into Macy’s, not only they were great with us but we ended up with a lot of freebies from them.

    That’s my experience and you know how aware I am about racism and particularly about antisemitism, and as for the latter that is something USs are not.

    • rebeccainspace October 22, 2010 at 10:59 #

      I bet Lee charmed the socks off those American sales staff

      • Elle October 23, 2010 at 03:50 #

        Lee send you his love and hope you are still playing basketball.

  5. Vic March 22, 2011 at 15:52 #

    Hi Rebecca,

    Many thanks to you for exposing how this behavior continues to serve as status quo as it relates to Macy’s Loss Prevention operations. We are currently in litigation with Macy’s for false arrest; a story soon to gain as much national attention as it did in 2003 with Sharon Thomas in New York-except this case is worse to include a cover-up of evidence. They do not want this story being released-but we will soon do so anyway. I am a former presidential appointee and my spouse is an attorney. Once, we are ready to release the story, I will be happy to share it with you for your blog.

    Thanks for doing this.


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