OPINION: ‘This was true profiling’

My experience with racial discrimination

Ray Payne, Staff Reporter

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Think of the most preppy, non-threatening, looking black person possible and that was me. On this day I went to a scholarship interview, from there I picked up my older sister and took her to her dentist appointment.

I needed to kill some time, and Lowes was nearby, so I decided to go explore there. Because I’m weird, I decided to go through looking at various things for my future house. Most of my friends at the time couldn’t fathom planning out farther than the next week, and here I was looking at appliances and cabinets.

I’m always harassed when I go to stores. I never thought it was because I was black, but because I was young and probably couldn’t afford what I was looking at. Today was different, something was off and I couldn’t quite figure it out at the beginning. I didn’t understand why it took two different employees to ensure that I was fine while looking at plants, or why I literally had the same employee ask me “Can I help you with anything” in at least three different aisles. 

At this point I was thinking to myself, ‘No way is this happening.’”

These employees were coming from everywhere it seemed. I just wanted to look at appliances in peace. At one point I was looking at electric water heaters thinking to myself, “Oh, this will be energy efficient and will go great in my house,” when two employees came up and asked me what I was doing. So, I told them that I was just checking out the water heaters—it’s not like I could steal something like that even if I wanted to.

But that wasn’t a good enough answer I guess, because right as I thought they were going to walk away, they took a few steps back and watched me. Noticing this, I said aloud “Okay then,” and moved to a different side of the store.

At this point I was thinking to myself, “No way is this happening.” I was looking at doorknobs when they decided to confront me about their suspicions. First a young white employee came up and asked me what I was looking at, if I needed help, and if I was intending to buy any. After telling her no she backed away but never took her eyes off me and I asked “Is there a problem?”

Then here comes this man who I assume was a manager. He was much larger than me and quite intimidating. He put his hand on my shoulder and gripped tight and said, “Now I can’t let you take any of this product today, this is my section, you will not steal from my section boy.”

I told him I had no intention of stealing, but he ignored that and responded with “Why are you doing this? Don’t bullshit me. You don’t need to live this kind of life boy. What are you on? What drugs are you on?”

I contemplated listing off all of my prescribed medications just to be a smartass. But held back, realizing this was getting serious. What happens next amazed me. A black woman with two kids walked by and he pointed at them saying, “Are you with them?”

They looked nothing like me and had an extremely lighter skin tone than me. This shocked me, because at this point I realized that this was true profiling. The worst part was that this man, the one accusing me of theft, was also black. I expected him to be understanding.

I once had thought that you can’t be racist and prejudiced against your own race, but now I’ve seen different. He looked at my shocked face and said, “Listen now you need to just get out, we already called the police, you’re not stealing any of our product and you won’t buy any either, just leave.” The angry employees surrounded me, none of them were on my side. They all proceeded to escort me out of the store.

I’ve seen a lot of racism and I’ve been places where I wasn’t welcomed, but this was one experience I’ll never forget.