Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I Was Racially Profiled at Banana Republic

I naively thought I would never (personally) experience much racism despite being Hispanic. Yes, I know what the state of the country is. Yes, I know that immigration is a hot topic amongst the Hispanic community but it hasn't been a source of stress for me as it has for other people since I was born here, both of my parents became naturalized citizens decades ago, one of my big brothers became a naturalized citizen about a decade ago, and the rest of my siblings (brothers and sister) are all legal residents. I had experienced some racism online -- only on Twitter, really -- but I chalked it up as trolls being trolls and moved on.

As some of you longtime readers (and personal friends) may remember, I nearly signed a contract with an agency when I was 20 (that I walked away from); I think the term "racially ambiguous" describes why they were so keen on me. Most of the time, people who meet me for the first time don't know what race I am. Sometimes they'll stand there in shock when they hear me speaking fluent Spanish, usually because they (apparently) assume that I'm white, Asian, or mixed but not 100% Hispanic. I'm fair skinned (with a hint of an olive complexion) most of the year since the sun and I aren't friends (I have a sun sensitivity). I tan (and burn... and freckle) easily when I'm out in the sun for a long time without sunscreen or any covering. Basically, I've had some superficial things work out in my favor that has kept some comments at bay.

Yesterday, Mom and I went on an uncharacteristic shopping adventure. It's uncharacteristic because I honestly hate clothes shopping. I "window shop" online before I go to the stores because I'm an introvert and an HSP who doesn't like crowds. Since I've been able to maintain my normal weight range after being underweight for a long time (party time! lol), I can start purchasing clothing that fits. That means I need to update my wardrobe.

We went to about 8 stores or so. We spent hours trying on dresses, skirts, and blouses... and I spent a lot of time driving from place to place. Since I'm nearly 5'8" and the trend is short dresses, it was so hard for me to find anything that was knee length (or, at least, not more than 2 or so inches above my knee), that fit, and that didn't look depressingly drab. You ladies who tend to dress modestly know what I'm talking about. Mom has the opposite problem at 5' even; everything is too long on her and the petite section doesn't offer much she can work with.

The second-to-last store we went to was Banana Republic since I'd seen a blouse online that I liked and I wanted to try in the store. Yes, I know it's more expensive than your average mall store but I tend to go for stores and brands that cost a bit more but will last for longer. Ann Taylor and, its sister store, Loft, have been my go-to stores since I graduated from high school. Since I'm a bit older and I heard that BR's clothing was a bit expensive but that it lasts a long time, I thought I'd check it out.

After finding a great blouse at Loft (an addition to the 10-item wardrobe idea I got from The Daily Connoisseur's Madame Chic series), we walked over to BR. A really nice guy greeted us. "Welcome to Banana Republic!" he said. We thanked him. I immediately started looking at the clothing at the front of the store. A woman (who I'm assuming was the manager) came over, greeted us, and let us know that everything was 30% off and that it was the last day of the sale. We thanked her as I went to look at some blouses. She hung around a bit and said that we should let her know if we needed anything. I thanked her as I kept browsing.

As we started moving towards the front-middle portion of the store, Mom pointed out a blouse that would've been a great addition to my closet while I was checking out the cardigans (cardigans are a staple in my personal style). I tried to find one my size. "Let me know if you want me to start a dressing room for you," I heard the saleswoman telling me as soon as I picked up my size from off the rack. "I'm good for now, thank you," I told her.

I walked further into the middle of the store, seeing a dress that I really liked. It was floor length but perfect for the summer -- light and breezy. I looked at the price. A bit more than I would've normally paid for a dress but it was on sale and I could see myself wearing it for years to come.

"I can take that into a room for you if you'd like," the woman again said.

I turned around, surprised. "Oh. No, thank you. I'm still browsing," I answered with a smile.

"Can I, at least, take that shirt you're holding to the back and get a room started for you?" she persisted in a tone that was making me uncomfortable.

"No, thank you," I reiterated. "I like to hold on to things while I try to make up my mind if I want to try them on."

It's true. It's a habit I picked up. As someone who worked in retail (at Wet Seal) while in high school (and for months after HS graduation), I know what a hassle it is to have someone take a ton of clothing into the fitting room and then have them walk away with none of it, leaving a mess in the room. If I like the item I'm carrying after 5 minutes, I'll try it on. If not, I'll return it to where I found it, making it easier for salespeople to keep their store in order.

I walked across the area I was, looking at the bright colored blouses. I noticed some girls were taking pictures of the clothing and I was surprised that no one was saying anything to them. Many stores frown upon that (again, saying it from experience). I noticed the saleswoman seemed to be following us, folding and putting away clothing wherever we were, keeping an eye on us. "Huh," I said but tried not to think about it. I had been feeling uncomfortable since the last time she'd spoken to us but I tried to shrug it off, thinking that maybe I was being paranoid.

As we got to the back of the store, it was obvious that she was following us. "Look at this. It's a pretty dress but the material is too heavy for the summer weather," I said to my mother in Spanish. This time, the woman was only a foot away from me. It seemed she didn't like that I was speaking in Spanish. Again, she mentioned taking the blouse from me and getting a room started for me. I glanced her way and the look on her face was unnerving. I, again, said, "no, thank you." I tried to browse some more but I just couldn't continue.

"Let's go," I said to Mom.

"Aren't you going to try on that blouse?" she asked.

I shook my head. "I don't think I want it anymore."

We walked out and went to two more stores before calling it a day. Although the day had been pleasant, that experience had been really uncomfortable. As Mom and I got talking, it became clear that we had been racially profiled. Though there were several other customers in the store, the woman seemed to be fixated on just us, following us where we went. I mentioned to Mom that I felt like she was constantly on top of us, like a helicopter hovering over the scene of a crime. She felt the same way. She's more perceptive than I am so she started on her own impressions, which echoed mine. She didn't bother any of the other customers, all of whom were (that we could see) white.

It took me a while to accept that it had been racial profiling. I looked back at my retail training... at seeing racial profiling for myself... at what we had experienced that afternoon. I tend to look for the best in people and tend to not jump to conclusions but I couldn't come up with convincing enough excuses. The facts were there, even if I was trying to deny them.

I broke my Lenten Twitter fast/promise to put up a (somewhat) snarky comment and tagged Banana Republic in the tweet when I finally accepted what had happened. It was done partly out of anger and partly to help others who've experienced racial profiling to speak up. It is NOT okay to do these things. If they had wanted to simply make sure I wasn't going to put anything in the one bag from Loft that I was carrying, I would've gladly left it at the front for them to look after while I shopped.

Mom is one of the hardest working people I know... and one of the most honest ones as well. She's found hundreds of dollars at work but she's never kept it to herself; always giving it to the administrator at the hospital where she works at. In fact, at another store we went to before BR, Mom was carrying a couple of bags (she had a more successful trip than I did) but stayed at the front of the store so they wouldn't think she was stealing. We left those bags in the car before going into BR and I was carrying only ONE small bag.

I would never even contemplate stealing anything. I can't even take free pamphlets without double checking that it's okay to take them and making sure I don't have to make a donation. I kept the blouse at shoulder length, another habit I picked up post retail work. I know what I can afford and what I can't and I would never venture into a store if I knew I couldn't purchase anything. I'm not even a big shopper, preferring to shop only one one item has been worn so much that I need to replace it.

The color of my skin (I'm a little tan right now; we've been having warm, sunny SoCal weather), my race, nor what language I speak should make a person think the worst of me. I've forgiven the woman and I pray that she sees the error in her ways. Being Hispanic doesn't mean I'm going to steal. It doesn't mean that I can't afford the overpriced (yes, I said it) clothing that I know will last a long time. It doesn't mean anything except that my parents and my ancestors came from both Europe (Spain and possibly Ireland) and the Americas (Mexico).

I'm not bitter. I'm not angry (that lasted a full 5 minutes yesterday). I don't want anything from Banana Republic nor am I expecting even an apology from them. In fact, in their reply to my tweet, they simply told me to contact customer service without an apology; the first time I've ever received a tweet without an added apology from a big brand. Look at their twitter feed; they've apologized to nearly everyone else but not my tweet. I'm disappointed and sadden that this happened but I'm very grateful that I've managed to go 31 years without anything of the sort happening before. I'm lucky which, unfortunately, is something others can't say. Be kind to one another. Don't assume the worst in others. There's enough hatred in this world; don't contribute to it.

Anyway, I should really go try to study for the third anatomy and audiology exam that I have coming up on Saturday. Prayers appreciated since it's a big one. :)

I hope y'all are having a lovely week thus far!

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D


AnneMarie said...

Oh man, that's awful! I am so sorry that you had this horrible experience. Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that you would be the victim of racial profiling, just because-in my naivety-I always assume that since there are probably tons of Hispanic people in California (and in much of the U.S.) racial profiling and racism towards Hispanics wouldn't happen. I really hope that more people can become aware of their attitudes towards people of other races, so that we can all grow in respect for each other.

Emmy Cecilia said...

AnneMarie - I thought I'd replied to this comment but apparently not? Sorry!! Yes, you'd think that with the amount of Hispanics in L.A. there wouldn't be much racism, but, oh it's alive and well here, too. I share your hope that people will become more aware of how their actions affect others, especially those of other races.