This is how a shopping trip to buy a belt should go: You see a belt you want. You go to a store to buy the belt. You pay in cash or credit/debt or with a check (if you’re still paying for things with a check for some reason), and the cashier checks your I.D. if necessary. Thank you, have a nice day, enjoy your new belt.
Here’s how a shopping trip to buy a belt should not go: You see a belt you want, which happens to be a designer belt that costs $349. You go to a store to buy the belt, and that store happens to be Barneys. You give the cashier your debit card, and the cashier asks to see your I.D., which you hand over. The clerk rings up the purchase and doesn’t say anything to you as you leave, but after you leave the store two undercover cops stop you, and then tells you that your debit card isn’t real and that Barneys called them to report you. Confused, you do everything the police ask you to do, including allowing them to search your bag and handing over all the I.D. you have on you. You also answer questions from them like, “How could you afford a belt like this?” and “Where did you get the money from?” The police handcuff you and take you into custody where they hold you for 42 minutes and then let you go after verifying that your debit card is authentic and actually belongs to you. Also, you’re a 19-year-old black college student studying engineering from Queens who works part-time.
This happened to Trayon Christian, and he’s filing a lawsuit against Barneys. He also went back to the store to return the belt.
Photo: Stacy Huggins
Sunday night I was walking home from the train, slowly. It was 11 p.m. I was tired. I was going to walk into my apartment, stumble into my room, drop my bag, fall into bed. It was going to be really good. I couldn’t wait.
A few blocks from the station, I noticed there was a man walking a few feet behind me. I was aware of him because I am a woman, and when you are walking in the dark, you notice the other people on the block, and where they are in relation to you. I had been listening to music on the train. I’d pulled one earphone out as I entered into the night, street smarts, safety. When I noticed the man behind me, I took both out. I didn’t turn around but I did turn my head enough to see him in my periphery. Tall, large, broad shouldered. Black. That’s all I got. I kept my pace.
New York recently ran an essay by Questlove about all the times people have crossed streets or held purses tighter when they are around him, even in the elevator of his building. He says he understands, he’s a large guy, he must look scary, but it hurts, it must. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to speed up when there’s a black man walking behind me, don’t want to instinctively hold my purse tighter. And so I consciously don’t speed up, don’t change my bag to my other arm. Sometimes I walk through the housing projects near my house instead of going around them, for the same reason. I don’t want to walk around them.
We live in a racist society. I have some racist instincts. I want to ignore those instincts, to shut them down.