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'Shopping while black': Yes, bias against black customers is real

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Name a store, any store, from Fifth Avenue to Main Street, and I’ll bet that I can find a black person who has experienced discrimination there. The beauty chain Sephora recently became the focus of criticism when the singer SZA accused one of its employees of racially profiling her, but this was just the most recent high-profile incident. Retail racism is nearly endemic to shopping.

A 2018 Gallup poll of black Americans found that nearly two-thirds perceived that blacks are treated less fairly than whites while shopping – a figure that has steadily increased over the past decade. When asked about being treated unfairly due to their race in the last 30 days, more blacks reported unfair treatment while shopping (29%) than in any other circumstance – even interactions with the police (21%).

Experiences of “shopping while black” include everything from slights, like being ignored in favor of a white patron, to serious attacks on dignity and liberty, like being detained and questioned after making a purchase or handcuffed on suspicion of shoplifting.

Contrast this with the experience of the prototypical ideal consumer, the middle-class white woman. A 2006 ethnographic study of toy stores not only found that middle-class white women were often given preferential treatment, but also that the police were never called on them, even when their behavior was aggressive.

Evidence from the forthcoming book Shopping While Black: Consumer Racial Profiling in America, by the criminologists Shaun L Gabbidon and George E Higgins, suggests that store clerks tend........

© The Guardian