Tuesday, 20 March 2018 17:17

They Followed Me at Kohl's

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I can see why we are increasingly preferring to shop online instead of visit stores. No one wants to be treated like a criminal when you are simply shopping for shoes. And shopping while Black has become hazardous to your health.

I am a shopper. I love to go shopping. Just like a lot of other Black women out there, and women in general for that matter, I don’t always buy. So when I visit a store, I sometimes spend more time looking and trying on or comparing things – I find this the best part of shopping… the anticipation of finding something great and making a purchase!

So, when I came home for a visit after a 20+ year absence from my hometown and living in Australia, my Dad wanted to show me his favorite department store where he frequently shops. So he took me to Kohl’s in Swansea, MA which is just around the corner from the gym he goes to.

I had never been to a Kohl’s before, and it looked huge from the outside so I was looking forward to seeing the range of products and prices they had and if I could find something to buy.

Dad was busy showing me how the store is organized into departments and where he buys his sports stuff. He showed me how the prices of the goods in the clothing section are displayed on little screens with the regular and discount prices, and how much savings you can get. He brought me through the homewares, kitchen appliances and the finally to the shoe section, where he was going to buy some new sneakers. It all looked pretty good to me and we were laughing about all the things Mom would buy if she were with us. I noticed that the store was quite empty and noticed only another few other shoppers, all white women.

On the way to the shoe section, Dad had picked up on someone following us, but I was so busy looking at stuff and being amazed at the range of products I didn’t notice.

In the shoe section, I found some boots I liked and decided to try on a few pairs. There was no salesperson in the area and the shoes had no prices on them, so I asked Dad about it. He said there was usually someone there. I noticed a couple of white women also in the shoe section, also casually looking at things just like we were. But other than that, the area was not staffed and was deserted.

Since there was no one there to help us, I left the boots on the shelf and started leaving the section. As we walked up the aisle, I noticed a guy in a side aisle just kind of standing there in front of the shoes. He had a baseball cap on and looked to be a stout, heavy Hispanic-looking man. We walked towards him and he didn’t look up. Dad said “I think that guy is following us. He started following us when we were in the homewares section.”  Now, I fully understand that some people steal and the need for stores to have security and cameras to protect their inventory. However, if they make the mistake of racial profiling shoppers, and doing it to the wrong shoppers, there will and should be consequences.

We walked passed the man and lo and behold, he turns around and walks right behind us. RIGHT BEHIND US within a couple of body lengths. He wasn’t even trying to hide what he was doing. Following us around like we are criminals.

I walked a little while then I stopped. And he stopped. Just stood there.

I turned around, looked at him and he was right up on me. I said “Who are you? Are you following me? REALLY? Do you think I’m going to steal something?“

He looked down at the floor without looking at me. So I repeated louder “Are you following me? This is ridiculous. Welcome to America. Aren’t there enough other people for you to follow around instead of harassing me and my 86 year old father?

I turned my back on him and walked towards the door. I'd had enough. Dad looked back and said the man wasn’t following us anymore. But as we walked towards the exit (through the jewellery section) another man picked up where the first guy left off, stood behind a rack of clothes and continued to watch us as we walked out.

I was upset all the way out the door. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

It feels horrible to be profiled and followed around like a criminal. It is an affront. It is upsetting, it is demoralizing, it is angering. Especially when you know you were followed around because of your race. And of that I have no doubt that was the reason.

I reached out to Kohl's through their customer chat, told them of my experience and expressed my disappointment. As I am not afraid for people to know who I am, I told them who I am and directed them to Nappturality. I can only hope Kohl's will review their practices and policies and become more sensitive and considerate to their customers in future.I can see why we are increasingly preferring to shop online instead of visit stores. No one wants to be treated like a criminal when you are simply shopping for shoes.

I encourage all of you to report similar experiences to the stores who do this to you and not to let them slide, thinking this is OK. Don't ignore it. Talk to them about it. Talk to each other about it. It is easy to get tired and give up, but you can't. None of us can, especially in the current environment.

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 March 2018 19:38
Patricia "Deecoily" Gaines

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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