I have some questions…a couple of suggestions (apologies to Lin-Manuel) for Nordstrom Rack. According to the story in The Washington Post, here is how things went down:
Three young teen black boys shopped at your Brentwood, MO Nordstrom Rack, two of whom were looking for items for their prom. Employees followed them around the whole time, which they found unacceptable, so they left. One old white woman shopping at that same store had a problem with them being there…which becomes clear when they return to retrieve a hat one of them forgot (he’d taken it off to try on a shirt.) She assumed they were “bums”and shoplifting, and verbally assaulted them as they tried to pick up the hat.
“Now they’re confronted by an elderly white woman in the store who says to them, ‘Would your parents and grandparents be proud of what you’re doing?’ ” Pruitt said. The woman also referred to them as “a bunch of bums,” according to Pruitt.
The boys asked to see a manager, and were told by employees they could not. They left a second time. Once outside a manager flagged them down, and they returned and told him their problem. They have money to spend. They aren’t bums. Manager invites them back in, they shop, get in line to pay. As they are paying for their items – paying for their items!!! – they hear an employee on the phone to the police reporting them for shoplifting.
In the meantime, old shriveled up racist Miss Daisy is waiting in line behind them, which is apparently unacceptable because Mr. Manager opens up another register just to check her out so she can leave. He also takes the trouble to walk her to her car. Don’t worry. I’m gonna get back to that.
The three kids go outside, wait for the police to arrive, and when they do, show the cops their purchases, their receipts, and the cops say they are free to go.
Story gets press, Nordstrom brings in boys and their families to apologize, and promise new training for employees. Of course, their *policy* is not to have employees call the police unless it’s an emergency, and in this case, the employee did not adhere to the policy. The boys would like the situation resolved by Nordstrom doing good deeds for other kids. Because they are good people despite the fact that white people are trash to them 24/7.
↓ Story continues below ↓
When the men met with Pruitt, they said they wanted to help develop programs through the Boys & Girls Club — where they first became friends — and create opportunities for young people to find jobs. Punishing Nordstrom is not their goal, he said.
Well, *I* would like to punish Nordstrom, but more than that – I would like to punish Miss Daisy.
Okay, there are many questions I have, but the first ones I already know the answers to. So does everyone in the galaxy…
1. Why were they following the boys around? (MELANIN.)
2. Why did they leave? (Dignity.)
3. Why did they return? (Retrieve forgotten hat.)
4. Why did they ask to speak to manager? (RACIST ABUSE BY OLD LADY)
5. Why were they not allowed to speak to manager? (MELANIN)
6. Why did manager flag them down outside? (Money, PR)
7. Why did they return to shop? (Prom needs.)
Here are where I begin to have trouble finding answers.
8. Why, when the kids were purchasing their items, did an employee CALL THE POLICE on them for shoplifting???
While the men were paying for their items, they heard staff employees say they were calling the police. Pruitt said the men left the store and waited for the police to arrive.
What the actual fck? They were paying for their items!!! This makes no sense.
9. Why did they call the police on the kids when the MANAGER had invited them back in to shop? Did the WHITE hand not know what the OTHER WHITE hand was doing? Unless I’m misreading the venerable reporting in the esteemed Washington Post, this entire scene reads like a total clusterfck.
10. Why did the manager open up another register for the racist white lady who had abused the kids? Because she did not want to wait in line behind them? Is it because they were proving her wrong in front of her very eyes? Is it because she felt inconvenienced? As if the kids themselves hadn’t been inconvenienced (and degraded) enough by being followed by Nordstrom employees, leaving the store, coming back in, getting abused by you, asking to speak to a manager, being refused, leaving again, getting the manager to come to them in the parking lot, and THEN going back in to finally make their purchases? Yeah, Miss Daisy, your wait in line must have been some inconvenience.
11. Why did the manager walk the racist white lady to her car? Did she or he believe she was in some sort of danger? Was she his grandmother? Was he getting her phone number to invite her to lunch? What was going on there? I mean, I think I know, but far be it from me to assume…
Here are my completely unsolicited, (and probably problematic in some way,) suggestions for Nordstrom. You’re trying to improve, right? Here is what I would have loved to see happen in this situation – and maybe some ideas for what to do in the future.
1. I know you, as a company, have apologized to these young men. They’ve behaved graciously and maturely throughout the entire episode, and you recognize that. However, what steps have you taken to reach out to the old white woman who caused the kids this embarrassment and distress?
Have you notified her that she is no longer welcome in your stores? Have you asked her to explain herself to you? Have you invited her to your offices to explain to her the hurt she has caused these kids, and by extension, your brand? Have you flagged her name and photo so that next time she comes into the store, you forcibly whisk her away to a dark room and make her watch “Thirteenth?”
How you, as a national store, a national brand, and a financial influence in this country handle the racists in your midst has an impact. Don’t. fcking. excuse. it.
2. Instruct your employees to protect people over profits. Imagine what might have happened had your employees been trained with these priorities. Think of the impact: three black teens shopping happily for prom, a racist white woman calls them bums, and an employee responds to the white woman, informing her that that behavior is unacceptable. “We don’t permit anyone to abuse our customers.” Imagine if the kids heard your employees tell that racist piece of trash, “Everyone is welcome to shop here, except racists. I’m afraid I will have to ask you to stop talking to these customers or leave. This is your only warning.” She might leave in a huff. You might lose her purchase. But believe me, your name would be in the news for a very different reason today, and your sales would not suffer.
3. What if you’d simply made the old white woman wait in line behind the young men instead of treating her like she was special (she’s not) and opened up a new register for her? If she was unhappy about waiting in that particular line, perhaps you could have placed her in a DIFFERENT LINE THAT WAS ALREADY OPEN, preferably a LONGER one. Give her that choice. “Wait behind these nice kids and shut the fuck up, or move to the end of a longer line, lady. Those are your choices.”
4. What if, instead of walking her to her car, you walked the kids to THEIR car? Loudly thanking them for their patience and understanding, so the old lady could hear? Apologizing for the unpleasantness she, and the Nordstrom employees had caused them – again, loudly enough so she could hear?
5. Train your white employees to ask questions of white people who are complaining about other customers who happen to be black or non-black POC. Train them to be confident saying “No” to these white people. Tell them, SHOW THEM their job depends on it. And I specify your white employees on purpose. These are the ones with the most privilege. These are the ones who will not be accused of having a grudge or chip on their shoulder, or a bias against other white people. As shitty as it is, it is mathematically the case that a white person’s word holds more weight in this world than a black person’s. Especially in situations like these. White people have a responsibility to use their power and privilege in this situation. Nordstrom, if you’re going to make a change, convince your employees of this.
They can take a cue from Next Door, which has at least attempted to eliminate racial profiling on the site by forcing people who report suspicious activity to answer questions helping them to identify what is truly behind the complaint.
“Can you describe the complaint in detail?”
“Can you be specific?
“Can you describe the item you believe was shoplifted?”
“Can you tell me what the person was wearing?”
“Can you tell me anything about the person other than their race?”
These are things Nordstrom employees could have asked to at least put the older woman on the spot…made her uncomfortable, forced her to examine her complaint, yes, even embarrass her. God knows these kids must have felt embarrassed on some level. They were pissed off enough to leave when the employees were following them around the store.
6. I cannot believe I am having to say this, but if a Black person asks to speak to a manager, FCKING PRODUCE THE MANAGER.
7. I TOTALLY believe I am having to say this, but tell your employees who not to call the cops on black people they think are shoplifting. Recognize the country we live in. It is not colorblind. It means something different to and for black people. And if it turns out they were shoplifting? You can handle the loss (I’ve seen what you charge for socks) better than an innocent kid can handle being humiliated again and again and again for being inside black skin. Understand this.
7. Certainly not last, but maybe least likely to be saluted on its way up the flagpole…is this idea:
Have your employees follow around any little old white ladies who might be in the store instead.
a. There is ample evidence they will abuse other customers, especially if they’re black – these women are old and cranky, and born in the era of legal segregation. We can expect them to be racist.
b. They likely live on a fixed income, so they have an incentive to shoplift, amirite?
c. You can make sure they do not call the cops on black kids – the impulse that makes white people more dangerous to black folks than nearly anything else in this country.