When I was growing up, there was a local furniture store that my family and I would go to. We would walk in, and one of two things would happen. First, we would be ignored and not acknowledged or helped. White families came in after us and were immediately greeted with big wide smiles. They were offered sparkling water and ushered to see the latest living room set.
Or second, we would still not be greeted and would be followed around at a distance, as my younger brother and I sat on couches and explored furniture sets. I distinctly remember a white associate with a fierce brown ponytail wrinkling her nose at us, asking us to keep our hands off the couches. Meanwhile, little white children jumped on a myriad of mattresses, squealing loudly and proudly in the other section.
As a young child, I knew that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was different. We were different. And we were treated differently. And there was nothing I could do about it.
Buzzfeed's article Anthropologie Is "Whitewashed" From Top To Bottom, From How It Treats Its Black Staff To How It Profiles Shoppersuncovers the deep racial profiling happening in Anthropologie stores. It validates what Brown and Black people always knew: if you think you are being followed around in a store, then yes, you are.
I believe that most people and organizations deserve second chances. We all make mistakes, and what matters the most is how we show up, step up, and act afterwards.
I can vividly remember on two occasions being followed with Black and Brown friends in Anthropologie stores in Massachusetts. Again, that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as thoughts would race through my head. I had brushed my hair and even sprayed away messy fly-aways. I had put on lip gloss and eyeshadow. I had even put on a cute outfit.
What did I do wrong? Did I touch something I shouldn't have touched, or did I act suspicious? Was I just imagining it all?
Anthropologie's employees were told to follow customers around suspected of shoplifting and refer to them as "Nicks" & "Nickys," using these code words. According to the Buzzfeed piece, the customers that were followed around were disproportionately people of color, particularly Black customers.
Anthropologie instructed associates to follow "the suspect" and to extend extra customer service to them as a way to keep watch. This bordered on harassment as they would communicate to each other over headsets and say, "My friend Nick is walking towards the back now. Can someone help him please?"
Many were uncomfortable with the code word "Nick," derived from the British slang term for shoplifting. Considering how often it was used, it sounded too close to a racial slur.
Finally, Anthropologie confirmed their policy in the following statement:
"Our shoplifting policy previously instructed associates to use the code names 'Nick'/'Nicky'/'Nicole' to identify potential shoplifters. It has been brought to our attention that this policy was misused. We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the reports of racial profiling in our stores, and we profusely apologize to each and every customer who was made to feel unwelcome."
Guess what? I am not heartbroken. I am angry. I am furious.
I am glad my white friends are also saddened and disturbed like Anthropologie is. Some are shocked, devastated, and heartbroken. I hope you choose to spend your money elsewhere until they can win our trust back. For every dollar you spent at Anthropologie, go and spend it with a Black-owned business please. Don't know any Black-owned businesses? Here's a list from New York Magazine. And if you need more recommendations, well, try Google.
Guess what? I am not heartbroken. I am angry. I am furious. I am seeing red. And yet at the same time, I am validated. I am vindicated. I am relieved.
So please don't pretend that I am not being followed around in your store. Because I am being followed, I am being watched, I am being tracked. Because you perceive me to be different. The color of our skin, our hair, a red bindhi on our foreheads, the sound of an accent, our dress, the jingle of bracelets, our nose rings, and a visible tattoo.
These perceived differences then become synonymous with being suspicious. Now I have been identified as suspicious, and now I am clearly a shoplifter. I am a thief. I am here to steal your overpriced coasters, flimsy journals, and heavily scented god-awful candles. To stuff them in my bag and sprint out the door.
Please don't call me Nick or Nicky. Or whatever you feel you can nickname me. The only person who has the right to call me anything on this Earth that she wants is my mother. You don't have that right to rename me.
And for our white friends, if you don't think it could ever happen at your favorite store (because you don't shop at Anthropologie and never would) think again. They got caught — with dozens upon dozens of associate and customer stories. And the company's own statement confirmed that they had a policy which enabled and allowed for racial profiling. Talk to any Brown person or Black person in your life and they have a story for you — about how they weren't welcome in a store in 2020 because of the color their skin.
So please don't pretend that I am not being followed around in your store. Because I am being followed, I am being watched, I am being tracked.
As a former customer of Anthropologie, I am furious. As a Diversity and Inclusion leader, I am eagerly waiting to see what meaningful policies, programs, and practices they will put into place. I believe that most people and organizations deserve second chances. We all make mistakes, and what matters the most is how we show up, step up, and act afterwards.
And please. Please don't call me and others for "free" Diversity and Inclusion advice and to pick our brains on what you should do as a company next. Please hire someone to lead and do this critical work for you. And please ensure you value and pay them accordingly.
Anthropologie, in the meantime, we will be buying our overpriced linen pants, circular tote bag, and shooties elsewhere. Until you can show us that we are welcomed, embraced, and treated with respect in every single one of your stores.
WRITTEN BYMita Mallick