Era of Hidden Racism

I packed the sweaters into my Eco-friendly reusable bags, hopped into my fuel-efficient car and motored to the Jos A. Banks store in Clifton to exchange three sweaters I got at s good deal from the retailer’s online store for my fiancé. Two seconds after the chimes signaling that I’d entered, I wished I’d just sent then back through the mail. I’d purchased them because in my haste to do laundry after a long week at work I didn’t notice he’d placed cashmere and wool blend sweaters in the basket. The mistake became apparent when I transferred the clothing to the dryers and saw sweaters were now only large enough to fit my fiancé’s 9-year-old son. So when I saw the 70 percent off sale at Jos A. Banks online, I jumped at the chance to make amends. I logged on to PayPal, completed my nearly 200 dollar order for seven sweaters and waited for the packages to arrive.

Unfortunately, the half zip sweaters, which were ordered in the same size as the V-Neck didn’t fit. Therefore, I decided to exchange them for a large size. Two white men turned around when I strolled into the Jos A. Banks location on Route 3 in Clifton early on Saturday morning. The older gentleman smiled but walked away, over to a white man looking to purchase a suit. The short younger man with black hair, glass and a stout bill brushed passed me and stood behind the previously unattended registered. “How can I help you?” The sales associate asked as his eyes scanned my body. “I called the Jos A. Banks 800 number and was told I can exchange online purchases at the store so here I am,” I said with a smile. Then, I began opening the bag I removed from my shoulder with the sweaters. “Do you have a receipt?” He asked, failing to look directly at me. “I have the e-receipt I got when I made the purchase and the PayPal receipt.” “Those aren’t real receipts,” he snapped. “Jos A. Banks doesn’t have the best online security so those could easily be fake. I’ve seen that a lot from some people in this area.” “Excuse me,” I said, stunned by his accusation. “I purchased these sweaters and came here to exchange them, that’s all.” “Well you have to understand, in this area we get certain people who shop lift merchandise and then return it for the cash which is why we need receipts. You know what people I’m talking about, I’m sure.” “I’m showing you a legitimate order number you can look up on your computer,” I stammered. “But you know what, l can exchange the sweaters through the website instead.” I went to grab the sweaters off the counter and noticed his hand was on the other side. He tugged and pulled them to him then turned his back. “What’s that order number?” He asked. I blurted out the order number, glancing back at the other sales associate wondering if he was going to interject. Rather, he pretended he couldn’t hear our exchange. “I see the order here,” the sales associate said appearing to be surprised. “The only thing I can do for you is exchange the sweaters by printing out a ups label. We don’t have these sweaters in the store so you will have to send these back and re-order the larger size.” Like I want to spend money here, I thought. “Well, I’ve already packaged these up,” he continued. “If you will hand over your card I’ll order the new ones. I’ll try to keep the price the same.” I didn’t want to give him my card but I felt as if I didn’t he wouldn’t believe that I could afford to shop at the store. So reluctantly I handed it over. The sales associate passed over the receipt and I neatly tucked it away. All I wanted to do was leave when he once again explained how I should understand the types of people living in nearby towns who steal and why he had to ask so many questions and be so careful. Does he really think I’m going to condone this behavior? I thought. I noticed the white man who was in the store at the same time as me was not regaled with the same story.  I squirmed uncomfortably, desperately holding my tongue so I didn’t play into his idea of typical black behavior by acting angry. I did interject though. “You know I work for ABC and we investigate crimes all the time, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for these thieves.” The shock on his face was priceless. I smiled and turned to walk away. “Just call me when my sweaters come in,” I said as I walked out the door, satisfied that I shattered his image of the young black girl who he presumed came in to scam him. #racism #BlackLivesMatter #JosABanks

About the Author:

Nika C. Beamon is the author of the memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House.   She also wrote the 2009 well-received book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married (Chicago Review Press). She is a working journalist in New York

One comment

  1. Grrrrr. There is NO defense, no explanation good enough. You were profiled plain and simple and I will share this to expose “the kind of people” who work at that store: racists! I’m sorry you endured that but I’m proud of you for keeping your cool and being better than those fools behind the counter.


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